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CdM adds two turf fields, new track with athletics facilities upgrade

Corona del Mar coaches and staff Jeff Perry,
Corona del Mar coaches and staff, from left, Jeff Perry, Bryan Middleton, GW Mix, Dennis Wilbanks, Damien O’Brien, Dan O’Shea and Bill Sumner pose for a portrait on the new track at Corona del Mar High School on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Several sports teams at Corona del Mar High School had been without a home since the end of the 2018-19 school year, but no longer.

Construction is complete on a $14.6 million renovation project that has brought two lighted, artificial turf sports fields and a new rubber track to the campus.

“The completion of this project is a true testament to the vision of our board, support of our community, and work of our facilities team to provide students with high-quality facilities to learn and compete for many years to come,” Newport-Mesa Unified School District Supt. Russell Lee-Sung said in a statement.

Bleachers located at the main track and field have a seating capacity of 664, while the back field has portable bleachers that can accommodate 200 spectators, district officials said.

Each field also has its own scoreboard, and the facilities are enclosed with fencing.

Sea Kings coaches whose programs will benefit from the new facilities spoke to the difference of playing on turf as opposed to natural grass.

Damien O'Brien, left, GW Mix and Bryan Middleton on the back turf at Corona del Mar High.
Damien O’Brien, left, boys’ soccer coach, GW Mix, boys’ lacrosse coach, and Bryan Middleton, girls’ soccer coach pose for a portrait on one of the new fields at Corona del Mar High School on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“It’s a lot more predictable,” GW Mix, who has headed the boys’ lacrosse program since 2010, said. “Trust me, we called it the Magic Dirt, in lacrosse here. We won a lot of games on this field because we had practiced on it and we were comfortable playing on it, and many of our opponents weren’t.

“The Magic Dirt was good to us, but we’re excited just to have a facility [and] the fences where the balls won’t go all over the place. We won’t lose 20 lacrosse balls at practice.”

As the project was going on, teams would have to bus to practice. The CdM soccer teams were playing matches at Bonita Creek Park in Newport Beach. Prior to that, Bryan Middleton, the school’s girls’ soccer coach since the 2002-03 season, said it was not necessarily a given that a home game would be played on campus if rainy conditions made the field unplayable.

“We’d either play at Estancia or Bonita Creek Park, but having our own facilities like this now, I mean 100 percent if we have the home game, we’re home,” Middleton said. “It’s a huge advantage to be able to train on turf and play on turf, and if there’s rain, you’re still playing the game because these things will drain properly and we’ll be able to play the games and not have to worry about mud-balls or anything.”

Middleton enjoyed a brief passing session with CdM boys’ soccer coach Damien O’Brien Thursday on the back turf, where the former said he would likely have varsity contests played because he believed the field to be wider.

Middleton added that having two turf fields could open the possibility for the school to host soccer tournaments.

Bryan Middleton, the girls' soccer coach, kicks a ball around on the new soccer field at Corona del Mar High School.
Bryan Middleton, the girls’ soccer coach, kicks a ball around on the new soccer field at Corona del Mar High School on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Ground was broken on the project in June of 2019, which meant the CdM football program opened training camp that year at Davidson Field on the campus of Newport Harbor High School.

CdM football coach Dan O’Shea compared the way his team traveled to other schools to practice that year to “a roving circus.” It didn’t faze the Sea Kings, as they went undefeated in winning the CIF Southern Section Division 3 title and the CIF State Division 1-A championship.

O’Shea expressed his excitement about the upgrade, saying, “We are thrilled to death, and we just cannot wait to get to practice on it in a full capacity, and hopefully the health situation allows us to do so.”

He added that he felt that the track’s brilliant shade of Sea Kings blue gave the facility “incredible appeal,” a sentiment shared by CdM athletic director Dennis Wilbanks.

“It’s good,” Wilbanks said. “I like it. It’s us. Let’s go!”

The state-issued regional stay-at-home order was lifted on Monday, returning counties to the four-tiered system regarding their coronavirus transmission. Orange County is in the purple tier, under which current guidance states that cross-country is the only fall sport within the CIF Southern Section that can compete.

Dennis Wilbanks is the Corona del Mar High School athletic director.
Dennis Wilbanks is the Corona del Mar High School athletic director.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Bill Sumner, the longtime cross-country and track and field coach at CdM, enjoyed a makeshift ribbon-cutting ceremony for the track and welcomed his athletes to the field for the first time on Monday.

“We had a battle because what happened was the kids were happy to be out there, but then they were miserable,” Sumner said, referring to less than ideal wind conditions. “We had a 40-to 50-mile-an-hour wind, and the temperature was in the low 50s, so that made it a bad day for a good experience.”

Sumner praised the finished product as “good, quality work.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” District Board President Karen Yelsey said. “Much of the credit for the vision of making this CdM track and field a reality goes out to Coach Bill Sumner, who led the initial charge and never gave up. The entire board is thrilled to hear how excited all our student-athletes are to now call this their home.”

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