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Maintaining and improving Illinois State athletics facilities

Duffy Bass Field

Duffy Bass Field

Throughout the spring, Illinois State Athletics facilities are some of the busiest places on campus. Whether its practices held on the respective fields or in Horton Fieldhouse and Redbird Arena, there seems to rarely be a time during the day where one of the teams is not trying to make itself better. It’s that time of year that not only the student-athletes and coaches look forward to, but so do the fans who have been cooped up all winter in their homes and finally have the chance to enjoy nice weather in great facilities to watch their Redbirds.

The task of making sure those fields and playing surfaces are ready for practices and contests falls on the dedicated ISU athletics facilities crew. Spaced out in different shifts throughout the day, they are constantly working on projects inside and outside of stadiums and fields to make sure they are ready for action. Once the day’s action is over and all practices and games have been completed, the crew is there again to clean things up to get it ready for the following day’s practice or competition. It’s a constant routine and one that this crew takes pride in.

The spring of 2020 is certainly different, as no games or practices are taking place in athletics facilities or on fields due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The once lively and energized facilities are now eerily quiet, but that does not mean there is not plenty of necessary work to be done. For Director of Facilities Hayden Young and his staff, the spring has been a perfect time to reflect and plan.

“It’s a perfect time for us as a group to sit back and prioritize projects right now,” Young stated. “We’ve been able to go facility by facility and work with our coaching staffs and leadership team to identify things we can get done right now to enhance those buildings and help our teams for when they return.”

While most of the University’s staff and all its students are working from home, there is still a dedicated group of essential personnel that are working hard each day to keep campus running during the stay-at-home order. They are working closely with campus leadership to prioritize projects and keep operations progressing at a high level.

The ISU Athletics facilities crew is one of those groups and has been collaborating with colleagues around campus to make sure athletics buildings are safe and maintained during the shutdown.

“It’s been a joint effort across campus between our crew, the building service workers (BSW) staff and the staff at the physical plant to clean and sanitize all of our buildings as thoroughly as we can. That was our priority once the buildings were shut down. With all this open time and without having to work around practices and intramural contests, we’ve been able to repeat that process several times to ensure the health and safety for anyone that is still working in our facilities.”

The daily routine of the athletics facilities staff changes from season to season, but one thing that doesn’t change is the amount of work it takes to maintain all those fields, courts, and running surfaces. Usually, the day-to-day upkeep leaves little time for the crew to work on side projects or future planning until break time or summer.

However, with very little action happening around campus these days the crew has be able to ramp up some projects that were needing to be completed.

“With the buildings empty and our staff having free reign, it’s been a great time to give each facility increased attention,” Young said. “A new softball batting cage was recently installed, and we also added new dugout padding at both the baseball and softball fields to upgrade those facilities. Also with no lifting going on at Redbird Arena, we’ve been able to re-do the weight room floor and platforms as well. These are all usually summer-type projects because we don’t have as much time at this point in the year. But we’ve been able to knock some of them out, which is a bonus.”

Now that outside vendors have been allowed back on campus as well to complete projects while adhering to social distancing and safety measures, other long-term projects have also resumed. The Horton Fieldhouse roofing project that began last fall had to be halted due to inclement weather conditions, but that project with Union Roofing has been re-initiated and is expected to be done within the next month or so.

After Redbird Arena went through its lower-bowl renovation last summer, other projects had to be put on the back burner a bit. One of those was refreshing the faded handrails in the upper deck, which have received a new coat of paint to match the rest of the arena.

One other yearly project, the Doug Collins Court resurfacing, usually does not take place until early August to allow for all the summer dance, cheer, volleyball and basketball summer camps to be completed. With all of those canceled until July 31, the court will be sanded, painted, and sealed very soon and be ready for when the Redbirds do return to campus to start competing again.

Young and staff are enjoying being able to get some of these crucial projects completed. Maintaining Redbird Arena, Horton Fieldhouse and Hancock Stadium is certainly a full-time job, but this small break in action is allowing the team to make sure these beloved structures are clean and safe.

“It’s a true testament to the hard work of our crew, the BSW’s and the physical plant staff right now. Our buildings are big and have a lot of areas that need attention, but they have banded together to do everything they can to make the University better even though we are going through a difficult time right now,” Young said. “Every nook and cranny of these facilities that may have been overlooked during the year due to other responsibilities has been swept, cleaned, organized and sanitized.”

There are still some other minor things that Young and his staff are trying to upgrade and tweak at the various facilities to make sure that when our student-athletes and coaches get back, everything will be ready to go for them. They’ve also received an assist from Assistant Athletics Director for Golf Course & Turf Sciences Travis Williams and his staff, who have focused their attention on the grass surfaces at Adelaide Street Field, Marian Kneer Stadium and Duffy Bass Field to make sure they are in great shape as well without all of the normal wear and tear they receive at this time of the year.

The goal has always been for Illinois State to have the best kept facilities in the Missouri Valley Conference. That is done through a lot of hard work, planning and collaboration throughout the year and certainly while teams are full in the competition seasons. No one knows when the noise and action will return to ISU athletics facilities, but when it does, they will be ready to go.

“We’re all excited to get back to some sort of normalcy around campus, whether that’s a volleyball contest on a Friday night, a football game on a Saturday or a soccer match on a Sunday,” Young stated. “We hope that the student-athletes and coaches come back with a lot of energy and get back into their routines quickly. We are certainly doing everything we can as team to make sure the facilities will be in the best possible shape they can be.”