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Valley Christian’s football stadium getting complete makeover to keep up with the times

Rendering of future Valley Christian stadium.

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

Over the past decade or so, more high schools have converted the playing surfaces of their football and soccer fields from grass to field turf. Now, you can add Valley Christian High to that list as it broke ground on May 28, replacing the grass with what will be the more popular field turf.

On May 13, the school had a farewell celebration at the stadium with a plethora of former coaches, players and other personnel who competed on the field in cross country, football, soccer, track and field and cheer. Called the Impact Stadium Project, renovating the stadium and other athletic facilities has been in the works for quite some time. V.C. got the approval on a 4-0 vote with one commissioner absent at the May 1 Planning Commission meeting and had to wait for a final vote from the city council at its May 23 meeting.

“The best I can tell is about 10-12 years ago, we had renderings made of everything, mostly for the field,” said Troy Stahl, Superintendent of Valley Christian Schools. “We expanded it to include the bleachers, the press box and a stadium entry off Dumont Ave instead of coming through a couple of different spots on campus. We have not changed the field design much from then, but definitely the stadium entrance, which will allow us to enclose this part of the facility, is a new feature to the plan.

“The timing wasn’t right [10 years ago] because we have a master site plan and this was down the road a little bit in that plan,” he later said. “As things developed and we got other projects completed, we could finally turn our attention to the stadium. We had some significant interest from our major donors, which allowed us to kick it off, and that’s how we’re here tonight.”

“We’re leaving a lot of history on this field,” said girls athletic director and former girls soccer head coach Kim Looney. “For football, for soccer, for track and field, a lot of memories for these families out here. I think it’s a great and unique opportunity that we can say goodbye to this field. But you have to keep up with the times. As much as we have kept our grass and been like, ‘this is what we’re going to do’, it was time to raise the money and get this stadium up to par a little bit. It’s sad to see it go, but it will be exciting for what the future holds for all our teams.”

The project is divided into four phases with Phase I already underway, which includes digging up the current field and installing the new field turf. Stahl says the bulk of the funds have been raised to the point where Phase I can get started. The field will be widened a little to accommodate soccer better and the all-weather track surface will have four lanes.

Stahl says one of the goals they had was to make sure what lanes they currently have were of proper length, and right now, it’s a little bit short of the proper distance. So, expansion of the field was needed to make sure the length is correct and to do that, only four lanes can only be put in.

“We’re kind of landlocked right now with our field, and if we expand our track at all, we’ll lose our tennis courts and potentially some baseball centerfield impact,” said Stahl. “We just don’t have room to make center field any shorter than it is.”

The reason the project is divided into four phases is because the bleachers are on back order, according to Stahl. The goal is to get the field ready by August 1 with a two-week buffer so the football team can practice on it ahead of its Aug. 23 season opener at Gahr High. The first home game will be on Sept. 6 against Baldwin Park High a week later, V.C. will host Cerritos High on Homecoming night. Along with the new field turf surface, new Musco lighting, called DarkSky lighting, will be installed.

He added that in all likelihood, the asphalt will be laid and poured, but probably won’t have the track surface installed until late winter or early spring. Phase II won’t begin until the soccer season has been completed, which will be in March and will involve the entire bleacher and press box system coming out and a new one coming in.

The capacity won’t increase much, but the bleachers will be higher up and the press box will be more horizontal than vertical. It will have a viewing deck on top so the V.C. coaches can coach from outside. Historically, V.C. coaches have chosen to be outside instead of using the traditional coaches room inside most high school press boxes.

Stahl says Phase II should be an eight to 10-week process and the school even considered that the soccer season would be played without bleachers so that they could continue with the project. But the school doesn’t want to shortchange the soccer athletes just because it wants to hurry in the completion of the stadium project.

“There’s no real difference in doing it in March versus November,” said Stahl. “It doesn’t gain us anything for the spring. So we thought, why disrupt soccer? The bleachers are back ordered anyway. They’ll be on the new field, but the fans will still be sitting in the old stands one more season. It also allows us to do a little more fundraising.”

The concrete underneath the existing bleachers will be dug out and the brick portion from the end of the bleachers on the north side to the current opening walkway to the field will either stay intact or it will be recreated, according to Stahl. The wall will continue to have “Crusader Field” as it’s a testament to the athletes who played on the field before the school changed its nickname to Defenders. The wall will be a little shorter than it currently is because the opening to the field has to be wider.

The existing canteen will stay where it is and for now, the small building near the canteen where V.C. merchandise is sold will also stay where it is. Stahl says somewhere down the road, one phase would be a new building to house a new weightroom, possibly a locker room and a training room. But he says he’s not sure what will be torn up as it relates to the area near the canteen and he’s quick to add that it’s going to be expensive.

What stays will be the light poles and the scoreboard, which was bought a few years ago, and the flagpole at the south end of the stadium, which was brought over from the Los Angeles Coliseum following the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, or one of the Special Olympic Games.

“We just hope to have a positive impact on our community by providing our student athletes and coaches and the community with a new, updated facility,” said Stahl. “It’s several years past due and we’re really hopeful that our community can step up and bridge the gap financially to help us complete the project, and we’re excited to kick it off.”

After the installation of the all-weather track surface and the new bleachers and press box, the final stage will be construction of a new entry gateway off Dumont Ave. with new walkways. Currently, spectators enter through one entrance by the tennis courts and another one by the middle school. Part of that phase includes a new turf area behind the bleachers for physical education classes during the week and for children to play during the football and soccer events.

Since V.C. is an entirely donor-based community, funds were raised without tuition dollars. While an exact cost wasn’t known Phases I and II were expected to cost approximately $1.5 million each with the other two phases expected to cost approximately $750,000 each.

“We don’t want this to impact the family’s ability to send their children to Valley Christian,” said Stahl. “So, our donors, both people who have kids here currently, but also people whose kids have been through here and now their grandkids are here, have stepped up. We probably have 90 percent of the funds, and we have about 10 to 12 percent to go yet, and we hope to raise in the next year.”

Among the dignitaries on hand at the farewell celebration was the legendary Mike Wunderly, who spent 38 years at the school as the head football coach, teacher and principal.

“The celebration is great,” he said. “I’ve always said one of the things that maybe they should concentrate a little bit more on is celebrating themselves. And this is great. These people coming out here and renewing old acquaintances…I think it’s great. I’m glad they’re able to do it. Personally, and [former soccer coach] Fred [Wind] might echo this, we like the grass. We played on it a few times [when we were coaching] and to me, it was no different. Kids, I think, notice a difference. They used to tell me they like running on the turf, but they’ll rather fall on the grass.”

Despite his differences between grass and field turf, Wunderly said it will still be great for V.C. because the field will be lined all the time and there will be a ‘V.C.’ logo at midfield with ‘Valley’ in the north end zone and ‘Christian’ in the south end zone.

Wunderly was also quick to point out that in his 24 years as the school’s football coach, V.C. never played a home game in the rain. He also said his teams never practiced on the grass field. They always practiced in the area between the baseball and softball fields because they didn’t want to tear up the football field for soccer.

“Our kids back in that day really took a lot of pride in that field,” said Wunderly. “They took a lot of pride in it, and when they got out there on a Friday night, they hadn’t been there all week. So, that added to the excitement.”

“I don’t think I did,” said Wind when asked if we envisioned playing on a field turf surface. “When I was a soccer player myself, I played on turf a few times, but I hated it because it was perfectly smooth and with no bumps. I never had an excuse for a bad hop or a bad pass.

“The jury is a little bit out on turf,” he continued. “I’ve been reading that some schools have been getting rid of it again because of the injury factor. But it’s going to look beautiful and will photograph really nice.”

Looney has coached V.C. in three CIF-Southern Section divisional championship games, all played on field turf. But in other games played on field turf, she remembered having to tell her players that the speed of the game was going to be faster. Her teams would have to change the way they fed balls to other players.

“It’s a different game for football; it’s a different game for soccer,” said Looney. “For our track kids, I think it’s going to be great for them to have something other than dirt and not have to worry about all the foot holes after it rains and all that stuff.”