Same territory, but new turf at Poly

Addition of artificial playing surface, lights brightens city football players' days, nights


Damond Durant raked his right foot over the left hash mark of the bright green artificial turf near the 50-yard line of Lumsden-Scott Stadium on Thursday.

"I feel like I'm faster and smoother on this surface," said the 5-foot-5, 118-pound Poly freshman, hardly looking the part of a football standout in his skin-tight, sleeveless white shirt and matching shorts.

Yet two days earlier during the first day of practice on the Poly-Western athletic complex's newly renovated field, Durant imagined himself to be the 6-5, 240-pound quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I was standing in the end zone thinking, `I'm Ben Roethlisberger' - that's how it is being on a field like this," said Durant, 14, referring to the Sportexe surface - the same that adorns the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium. "This other freshman told me to throw him the ball, then he ran a fly pattern. I dropped back and I hit him with a perfect pass. Even though I've never played on anything like this before, when I'm on it, I feel like I can do anything Roethlisberger can do."

For today, at least, Durant could take his place alongside NFL stars such as Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, who are expected to be on hand during a 3 p.m. celebration signifying the completion of the stadium's $1.258 million renovation.

The project, completed by Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., has produced the city schools' first turf field and its second lighted facility thanks to donations from the Ravens, other businesses and private contributors.

"When you talk to [Ravens] players about their memories from high school, almost each one talks about playing under the lights and what it meant to them," said team president Dick Cass, who will join the Ravens cheerleaders, Mayor Martin O'Malley, city police commissioner Leonard Hamm and interim city schools chief Charlene Boston at today's event.

Each of the city's 18 football teams will play at least twice at Lumsden-Scott, which has city schools athletic director Bob Wade recalling his days as a Dunbar senior in 1963 when Vince Bagli broadcast The Game of the Week from the now-defunct Kirk Field.

"Kirk Field seated maybe 2,500 people. It was the place everyone wanted to play," Wade said of a venue that is now the parking lot of a Cloverland Dairy in Northeast Baltimore. "Decades later, we have a field that's even better - where city kids can live out their NFL dreams and fantasies."

The field's four light towers were installed April 17, with the remaining construction completed from June 3 to last Monday. The long-dormant plumbing systems in the public restrooms have been resurrected, as have those in the home and visiting locker rooms beneath the bleachers. The bathroom stalls have been replaced.

The surrounding fence and a wall on the visitors' side of the field have been brightened with a fresh coat of royal blue paint. The press box has new siding on its outside and houses a new countertop. The concrete bleachers have been re-caulked and waterproofed to resolve leakage below into the locker rooms. A new concession stand was delivered last week, when the reconstruction of the ticket booth also was completed.

"The field has an excellent drainage system and someone working full time to maintain the grounds," said coach Roger Wrenn, who recently watched more than 100 boys practice in near 100-degree temperatures. "I've never had this many players be involved this early in a preseason practice."

The new field "has a noticeable effect on recruiting," said assistant coach Frank Johnson. "There were 15 more freshmen out for this year's team. Being able to not only play, but practice every day on the same type of field that the Ravens play on - that's a major attraction for these kids."

Johnson will get no argument from freshman Avery Griffin.

"One of the first things I did was sit down on the ground and rub my hands in the grass, and it was so soft," said Griffin, a slender 6-1, 170-pound player who pretended to be the Oakland Raiders' Randy Moss while catching Durant's pass in mid-stride near the 40-yard line. "I stopped at about the 40-yard line, looked up into the stands and thought what it would be like with a crowd watching. It's going to be exciting to experience that in a game - like you're in the NFL."

That was the sentiment of Cal Disney, 60, vice president of Whiting-Turner, who considered the project a labor of love and whose company employs a number of Poly alumni such as project manager Al Tyler and site coordinator Mark Sawyer.

"The kids in the city have an opportunity to have that kind of feeling in similar surroundings as those at the Ravens' stadium," said Disney, a 1964 Poly graduate who played quarterback for two years under coach Bob Lumsden. "The highlight of my football career was having the opportunity to play at Memorial Stadium on Thanksgiving Day against a school like City. But we never got to play under the lights on our own field at Poly, so I'm somewhat envious."

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