High School Sports

St. Joseph’s building a level playing field: Volunteers help create a home for inaugural football team

David Cassatt dug his fingers into the soil, exposing a pre-drilled hole.

“This is where the goal post will go,” he said, crouching at the back of one end zone at the new football field at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy.

Behind him, a football facility is emerging for the school that will play its first varsity game this Saturday afternoon in the shadow of Mount Nittany.

The visiting team will stand where pine branches recently hung. The playing surface was shifted 13 feet in one direction and 4 feet in another to make room for its 120 yards of length and 531/3 yards of width.

A large rock “as big as my truck,” Cassatt said, was removed to make the far end zone level.

A brand-new press box was half painted Wednesday in the school’s blue and orange, the colors the St. Joseph’s Wolves will wear when they charge onto the field for the 2 p.m. clash with Mercyhurst Prep, the first of 10 games on the schedule for the fledgling program.

“It’s been a mad scramble to get our field done,” said Jeff Wheeler, the school’s director of athletics. “A lot of hair has been lost in the last three weeks.”

Wheeler said the school approached several existing local field operators to see if the Wolves could share a home in their first season. Eventually, it became obvious that no such arrangement would be available.

“Nobody could rent us their field,” Wheeler said. “Obviously, the schools here have multiple teams using their fields. With the time commitments they have, it would have been difficult.”

So the team will play right behind their school.

“It was supposed to be our practice field,” Wheeler said, “but we decided to turn it into the game field.”

The work fell largely to Cassatt, a general contractor who owns DC Lighting and Signs, and a small army of volunteers. Cassatt has donated his time and experience.

“We basically had three weeks to do this,” Cassatt said. “We’ve been here from 7 in the morning until 8 every night.”

A team of parents is to arrive this morning to assemble the bleachers, which will seat 300. There is also plenty of room around the field for lawn chairs.

On Wednesday, Cassatt and an employee were testing a scoreboard, donated by Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School in Altoona, that will hang in the end zone near the school.

“It was purple, but we sanded it all down,” Cassatt said. “We’re making sure it works well, then we’ll paint it orange and blue.”

He said companies such as Triangle Building and Supply and Lowe’s have provided supplies. Best Line Equipment made a wood-chipper available.

Boalsburg Fire Company watered the field, while Harris Township “has been wonderful” about streamlining the process for obtaining work permits, Cassatt said.

He estimated that some 25 parents and others — “all volunteers” — have been helping with painting, squaring and lining of the field, running electrical wires, pruning and cutting of trees, mowing and other duties.

“A month ago, they had no place to play,” Cassatt said. “It didn’t look like a football field until Tuesday night, when they lined it.”

Another final detail will involve setting up a public-address system.

Cassatt said the crew elected to build its own bleachers rather than rent them for as much as $15,000 for the season.

“We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty,” Cassatt said. “It’s going to be tight. But we’ll get it done. We’ll make it happen.”

There’s not a lot of parking at the former Boalsburg Elementary/Harris Township High School. But there’s plenty of room just down the street at Nittany View Park.

And when the Wolves play their second home game Sept. 20, temporary lights will be in place to allow for a prime-time showdown with Curwensville High.

The team has just 18 on its roster for this maiden season. But if the young players show the desire and determination exhibited by those preparing their playing field, they should be more than a handful for the opponents on their schedule.

“Everything I’ve seen at that school has impressed me,” said Tony DeGol, secretary for communications with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. “Everything they’ve set out to do, they’ve done.”

St. Joseph’s will also have varsity wrestling in the winter and baseball in the spring, DeGol said.

“There’s such a spirit of family and teamwork and cooperation at that school,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for them with all of these athletics programs coming on.”

Exciting and nerve-racking, Wheeler said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next two days,” Wheeler said. “But we’re confident we’ll be ready and have a good season.”

He added: “I can take a deep breath as soon as that ball is in the air on Saturday.”