JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – A steady, cold rain pelted the bright green turf at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point on Friday afternoon.
The inclement weather didn’t diminish the positive vibes and smiling faces of the people gathered in the seats in the right-field concourse.
City of Johnstown Recreation Director Tony Penna Jr. addressed a gathering of community leaders, politicians, media and stadium tenants as the new artificial playing surface officially was unveiled.
The $421,733 project by FieldTurf began in August, but was delayed several weeks due to a pandemic-related work stoppage at the out-of-state company. The rolls of turf finally arrived earlier this month, and the project was completed.
“It’s amazing,” said Tom Smith, Bishop McCort Catholic High School principal and football coach. “I want to give thanks to the City of Johnstown for putting together such a beautiful stadium with the turf and the scoreboard. It’s going to be a tremendous environment.
“For kids, it’s very important in today’s world of sports. They want to be in a positive environment, an exciting environment. And, this sets the stage for that.”
Bishop McCort – which rents the stadium to play football, soccer and baseball – had played its home football games at various sites this season. The Crimson Crushers had dates at St. Francis University, Shade High School and Greater Johnstown’s Trojan Stadium.
Friday night, Bishop McCort and Westmont Hilltop played the first high school football game on the new turf. Bishop McCort won, 32-20. The Crimson Crushers celebrated both senior night and homecoming.
“We held out for weeks,” Smith said. “Typically, it doesn’t happen that you hold senior night and homecoming on the same night. We did that on purpose, hoping we could be here to open the stadium up on our last game.”
‘Worth the wait’
Representatives of the Johnstown Collegiate Baseball League, Johnstown Oldtimers/AAABA Tournament, the Johnstown Mill Rats, the Flood City Thunder and Pitt-Johnstown joined Bishop McCort as stadium tenants at Friday’s event.
“Definitely worth the wait,” Penna said. “I think when it was tore up, you realized how many people use it and how valued it is to the community. The color of it, the way it looks, it’s just fantastic. We’re excited to unveil this to the community.”
Flood City Thunder football player Shareef Blough didn’t mind the rain as he left the shelter provided by the concourse to walk on the surface.
“That new turf is nice. They did a real nice job,” said Blough, a graduate of Forest Hills High School and former Point Stadium “Play of the Year” nominee. “It’s at least 10 times better, and I didn’t even get to run on it yet. I’m excited.
“This definitely proves that this is important to the community and they want to show community outreach. No one is alone. You need something to do. You want something to do. We have it here.”
The new scoreboard, which debuted during the Mill Rats and JCBL seasons in the summer and the 76th AAABA Tournament in August, now is “wired,” Penna said. He noted that the city addressed connectivity issues that resulted in the scoreboard frequently going offline during baseball season.
The oversized board displayed digital logos of Bishop McCort Catholic and Westmont Hilltop in advance of the scheduled football game.
“The new scoreboard is fantastic and that highlights everything,” Penna said. “Also, the paint on the field is now removable.”
Previously, the football field yard lines or baseball foul lines could still be seen during the next sports season.
“We can put some solution on the lines,” Penna said. “When it’s baseball season, you won’t see football lines. That’s a neat feature. The new brightness and the color of the place, how soft it is, and for the kids playing on it, it’s a much safer surface.”
‘Great place to play’
Johnstown Director of Public Works Jared Campagna previously said work installing LED lights on the stadium towers is set to begin on Nov. 1.
Penna confirmed that the work will proceed.
“They’re already working on the lights. On Nov. 1, as soon as McCort is done using them, we’re going to have new LED lights,” Penna said. “We will have a new sound system.”
Penna also said the pitcher’s mound will include a significant upgrade.
“For baseball play, we’re going to have ‘The Perfect Mound,’ which is a turf mound,” Penna said. “We won’t have inconsistency with the mound. It’s turf. You can replace the heavy-use areas. It will always be quality. Over the years, the pitchers have had problems with the clay mound. This is what the big-time parks have, and now we have it, too.”
Chris Pfeil has been part of the region’s baseball scene for decades as a player, manager and general manager at the high school and collegiate league levels. Pfeil was impressed by the new look of a stadium originally built in 1926.
The previous artificial turf was installed in 2007 and outlasted the traditional 10-year lifespan.
“It’s exciting for all the groups that are involved down here,” said Pfeil, who is general manager of the Martella’s Pharmacy JCBL team and baseball coach at Bishop McCort Catholic. “The city making an investment basically assures that for the next decade or decade and a half, we’re going to have a centerpiece in Johnstown for athletics, concerts and other events. It is a huge investment in our community and it was much-needed.
“Again, the investment by the city gives the kids a great place to play. This is something for everyone in this area to be proud of,” he said. “Sometimes people look at the cost of everything, but you can’t really put a value on quality of life and what this stadium means to this area.”