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Latrobe Memorial stadium expected to be ready for Wildcats' season

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Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Twenty-four days before Latrobe opens its football season against the perennially-powerful defending conference champion Gateway Gators, the Wildcats need not fret about missing out on home-field advantage in their hopes for an upset.

“Oh, yeah, the field will be fine,” Greater Latrobe athletic director Mark Mears said of the Latrobe Memorial Stadium natural turf. “It's just a matter of the grass continuing to regrow and strengthen, but the field will be fine for the Latrobe football season.”

Mears was speaking Friday morning. The annual Steelers training camp “Friday Night Lights” practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium originally scheduled for late that evening was canceled because of disease to the turf.

The turf, said to have been affected by either pythium blight or gray leaf spot, has been receiving treatment.

“We were close to being fine for tonight,” Mears said Friday morning.

“We had to kill disease that had killed some grass, and the new grass hadn't gotten strong enough yet,” Mears said. “We had make sure the footing was perfect when you're talking about NFL players, so we didn't want to take a chance. But the bottom line is that by the time we get to (Latrobe) game week, we'll be fine.”

Latrobe is scheduled to host Gateway Aug. 30.

“Absolutely, we'll be ready,” district director of facilities and operations Ken Millslagle said. “We were treating it all along but with all the wet weather after it had been extremely hot, it took a toll.

“If you drive by, you wouldn't even know it was an issue, but when you go on the field — we're talking about professional football players here. We don't want anybody getting hurt at what is supposed to be a fun event. But from the standpoint of the high school, there's no reason it won't be all ready in time for our season.”

High school camps are permitted to open this week with heat-acclimatization workouts, per PIAA rules. But Latrobe doesn't use its stadium for practices.

Future issues with the field could be alleviated because the district is in the process of building a new sports facility at the high school that will be used for other sports besides football and track. Although weather — and not overuse — is the apparent cause for the current issues, having additional fields figures to help the district avoid similar situations in the future.

In a press release, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the team “looks forward to returning to Latrobe Memorial Stadium next year.” Mears echoed that sentiment.

“I firmly believe it'll be back next year,” Mears said.

“The Steelers doing this is an unbelievable relationship with Latrobe. We certainly appreciate all they do to for the town.”

The district charges admission for the annual practice (it was free when moved to St. Vincent College this year), and Mears estimated the money generated to be between $20,000-25,000. But he stressed that neither the district nor its athletic department budgets for that revenue and that it is more of a bonus for the school.

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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