Still no turf, but Glenelg will have football this fall

In one month, on Friday, Sept. 12, Glenelg football fans will be able to head into the stadium to watch their Gladiators take on visiting Wilde Lake while eating an order of Glenelg's famous fresh cut fries.

That's the good news.

The bad news, according to some within the school, is that the team will be competing on a field of grass and soil that has for two years now been slated to be replaced with modern artificial turf.

Such fields, which boast lower maintenance costs and a decreased risk of injuries, have already been installed at Atholton, Hammond, Howard, Long Reach, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake. This summer, the new surfaces were installed at Marriotts Ridge and Reservoir, but construction at Glenelg was halted due to issues with a septic field underneath the playing surface.

The water and sewage lines that service most of Howard County do not reach Glenelg, which was built in 1957 and is the westernmost public high school in Howard County by almost eight miles. In the early 2000s, the Glenelg football field was torn up so that a new septic field could be installed to facilitate expansion of the school.

"We have well water and septic, whereas no other high school in the county has that," said Josh Hatmaker, head coach of the three-time state champion Glenelg boys lacrosse team, and a 1997 graduate of the school. "When I played there from '93 to '97, that field was unbelievable. It was awesome. A couple years after I left they put that septic field underneath it and it just never took."

Centennial, Mt. Hebron and River Hill are the only three Howard County schools other than Glenelg without artificial turf fields, and those schools are scheduled to have turf fields installed next summer, completing a project that began in 2012.

"It's a tough situation because we've been slated to get turf at Glenelg for two years and this is the second year in a row it's not happening," said Hatmaker, who has also been an assistant coach on the football team since 2003. "I know the kids were disappointed and we're trying to make the best of a situation that we really don't have much control over."

In late July, the Howard County ground crews went to work reinstalling top soil and grass in preparation for the fall football home games. As of August 11, the field appears playable, with just a few bare spots to be filled in and the gridiron to be painted.

Dan Sageman, who became Glenelg's athletics and activities manager last year after coaching boys lacrosse at Marriotts Ridge since it opened in 2005, said that working through the issues inherent to the 56-year old high school have been challenging, but he maintains an optimistic outlook.

Sageman said that the county had every intention of installing artificial turf at Glenelg this summer, pointing to the fact that there was no contingency plan for one of the other remaining natural grass schools to take Glenelg's place, but that an unforeseen complication with the old septic field again derailed the project.

"They try to put these fields in in the eight weeks that school is out, and any delay, even due to weather, really puts the engineers in a tough spot," Sageman said. "But I'm a pretty positive guy. I'm excited for the future. "

Sageman lives in Carroll County, where none of the eight public high schools have artificial turf fields.

"We're blessed to be in Howard County, and we're blessed to have Western Regional Park" three miles north of Glenelg, he added.

Last year, the boys and girls lacrosse teams had to play all of their home games on Western Regional's artificial turf fields due to wear and tear on Glenelg's field during the fall.

"Everyone is like, 'Western Regional is real nice' and it is, it's a beautiful facility," Hatmaker said. "But it's not my home field. I graduated 15 seniors last year and they didn't get a home game their entire senior year. We did senior night up (at Western Regional). That's not only disappointing for them, it's disappointing for the parents. It's frustrating."

Hatmaker fears that his lacrosse team could be forced to play off campus again this upcoming spring, but Sageman has a plan to keep the field fresh for the spring.

"We're going to keep some of the soccer games off of it (this fall) in anticipation of the spring," said Sageman, who added that both soccer coaches — Andy Shearer and Julie Bortz — are on board with the plan.

Sageman also added that some soccer games, senior night for example, could be played on the stadium field at Glenelg.

"We just want to make sure we're not tearing up the field more than we have to," he said.

As for next year, Sageman is confident that Glenelg will join Centennial, Mt. Hebron and River Hill as the last quartet of Howard County public high schools to have the artificial turf fields installed.

"The engineers can definitely do the work. They just want to be sure of what's under the surface, and that there are no issues in the future," he said. "I'm convinced with the community that we have, and how we rally together, that we're going to get our field next summer."

As for this fall, Sageman is confident that there will be football on Friday nights at Glenelg.

"Football at Glenelg is a huge thing, with the marching band and the huge support from the student body," he said. "At this point you just have to be positive. Everyone deserves to play at home."

Hatmaker is hoping for the best moving forward, but tempering his expectations.

"Unfortunately the coaches like Butch (Schaffer) and I and Ginger (Kincaid), when we're told we're getting some kind of upgrade in our facility, personally, I don't get excited," he said. "Because I know that there's always some complication ... we've got such a good strong community, but it just seems like why is this happening over and over again."

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