Gill-Montague earns national award for football field renovations

  • The football field at Turners Falls High School, which was selected as a winner of the 2021 Fields of Excellence Award. Contributed Image

Staff Writer
Published: 3/10/2022 6:57:20 PM
Modified: 3/10/2022 6:56:46 PM

When the track at Frontier Regional High School was being renovated last fall — which runs around the football field — the Frontier Youth Suburban football teams were looking for a place to host games for a weekend on short notice. 

The Gill-Montague Regional School District stepped up, but had a lot of work to do to get the football field at Turners Falls High School ready for game action. The field at Turners hadn’t been used for football in three years as the program began co-oping with other schools after the 2018 season, its only action some soccer games. With COVID and other retirements cutting into the maintenance and field staffs in the district, a small group took on the task of getting the field ready for football games in one week. 

The staff, led by head of maintenance in the Gill-Montague district John Grace, got the field in pristine shape by cutting the grass and repainting all the football lines. For the effort, the school was selected as a winner of the 2021 Fields of Excellence Award given out by Pioneer Athletics. 

“It’s a big honor to get this award,” Grace said. “It’s not just something a local store gives out. It’s a national thing and you really have to work for it.” 

This is the second time the Gill-Montague district has won the award, as it was also honored in 2011. 

Pioneer Athletics announces 100 winners annually for the award, but the top prize is getting it on the Pioneer Athletics calendar. By being on the calendar, it signals you are one of the 12 best in the country, and the Gill-Montague district will be represented on this year’s calendar. 

“Pioneer understands that excellence in athletic field maintenance goes unrecognized and often, underappreciated,” Pioneer Athletics said in a press release. “The Fields of Excellence Award Program honors outstanding athletic fields and the hardworking field crews who diligently maintain them.”

Going up against schools from all over the United States that have more resources made winning the award that much sweeter. 

“We went up against some schools in the South who have much larger staffs and irrigation systems that we just don’t have here,” Grace said. “We’re playing way out of our league with our staffing and what we have to work it.” 

While Grace led the effort of getting the grass cut and the lines painted, he wasn’t alone. Jason Salls and Mark Sullivan volunteered to help as well as Turners Falls athletic director Adam Graves, turning the seldom used field into a functioning field. 

The Frontier Suburban team ended up playing three games in one weekend on the field in September, including one under the lights. 

“It’s amazing to see what our fields looked like then and what they looked like once we were done,” Grace said. “We’re doing stuff that’s getting awarded next to schools that have a lot more money and a lot more help on maintaining their fields which makes this rewarding.” 

While the football field was what won the award, Turners Falls High School takes pride in all of its fields. Just last year, a brand new backstop was installed behind the softball field, a field that ended up hosting state tournament games and any of their other fields could have been selected for this award. 

“Our football field, our field hockey field, our softball field, we play everything at night and everything is lit up,” Graves said. “Everything is done the right way and we try to make everything as nice as possible for the kids to play on.” 


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