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Ashland High School alumnus gives $650,000 toward field

In the wake of a $650,000 donation from Ashland High School graduate and Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, the Ashland School District appears to be stepping up efforts to outfit Walter A. Phillips Field with synthetic grass.

During the most recent Ashland School Board meeting Sept. 8, Superintendent Jay Hummel told the board that an architectural design is in hand and that Guthrie has made a “solid commitment” toward the project. Now, says Hummel, the next step is to find other donors who are willing to help fund a project that the district hopes will come in at under $1 million.

Southern Oregon University recently completed its own revamping of Raider Stadium. That project, which included a new synthetic playing surface as well as new track and landscaping upgrades, cost $2.3 million.

“We are looking for other donors at this point and we have confidence that we’ll be able to close that gap this month,” Hummel said during the meeting. “We anticipate coming back (in October) with both the design as well as the contributions to balance out and ask for permission to go to bid.”

Ultimately, Hummel added, the goal is to break ground shortly after the 2014 football season comes to an end in order to have the new field ready for the 2015 fall sports season. The Ashland High football team’s final regular season home game is Oct. 31 against Eagle Point, and if the Grizzlies qualify for the Class 5A state playoffs their last potential postseason home game would be played in mid-November.

Once installed, the field can be used to stage multiple events and activities that were previously off limits at Phillips Field, where overuse combined with poor drainage quickly turns the grass into a soggy mush. The field would likely be lined for multiple sports, including football, soccer and possibly lacrosse, and may also be used for physical education classes as well as practices for other sports, such as baseball, says AHS football coach and physical education teacher Charlie Hall.

“Year-round, it would be a great benefit for (students),” Hall said.

Yet to be determined is the exact size of the field. There’s plenty of room to fit the football field, but soccer field dimensions vary. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the width of a high school soccer field can range from 55 to 80 yards, while the length can range from 100 to 120 yards .

Ideally, Phillips Field’s soccer dimensions would be on the larger end of that spectrum — Ashland High athletic director Karl Kemper says they’re shooting for a 70-yard width — but the visitors bleachers on the south side likely pose a costly road block.

“The field, as designed at this point, would be as wide as it can possibly be without moving those bleachers … substantially,” Hummel said. “We’re still looking at whether we can move them and push them back a ways. We looked at it very hard, at the idea of moving them entirely and maybe moving them to the other side, but it is really cost prohibitive and significantly changes the field.”

In the past, Ashland High has allowed use of the field for events not associated with the AHS football team, but access has been limited in recent years because the grass has proven unable to withstand much use. Ashland Pop Warner teams used to host games there on Saturdays throughout the fall, but that changed after a jamboree combined with an unfortunate rainstorm to leave the field in ruins.

“Clearly, Walter A. Phillips Field is one of the best venues in the state, I believe,” Hall said. “But we have to stay off of it, we have to tell people they can’t use it because we want to protect the turf.”

Kemper echoed those sentiments.

“Right now, we get very minimal use out of our grass football field,” he said. “There are real limitations on how much we can use it and truly, a synthetic turf field you have unlimited use, and so more kids would get to use it.”

Ashland High remains the only 6A or 5A school in Southern Oregon that does not have an artificial field.

Guthrie, 35, graduated from Ashland High School as valedictorian in 1997 before going on to Brigham Young and, following a mission, Stanford. After excelling at Stanford he was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the 2002 Major League first-year player draft. The hard-throwing right-hander played for Cleveland, Baltimore and Colorado before being traded to the Royals in July of 2012.

Guthrie finished the 2012 season with a flourish and was 15-12 with a 4.03 ERA the following year. After the 2013 season, Guthrie’s eighth in a row with at least 175 innings pitched, he signed a three-year, $25-million contract.

Later this week, possibly Friday, Guthrie is expected to start on the mound for the Royals in the American League Division Series against the Anaheim Angels. After 11 years in the majors, it would be his first postseason appearance.

"This is a great opportunity and a tribute to the Ashland School District that one of our alumni wants to give back," Kemper said after Guthrie’s offer first became public in December of 2013. "He obviously has fond memories of his time in Ashland. He was a valedictorian, a three-sport athlete and a stellar citizen and he has an opportunity to give back and he's very selflessly offering to do that. It's a beautiful thing."

Daily Tidings sports reporter Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.

Kansas City Royals starter and Ashland High alum Jeremy Guthrie throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning of a baseball game Friday in Chicago. A 1997 Ashland High graduate, Guthrie has donated $650,000 toward a project aimed at installing synthetic turf at Walter A. Phillips Field. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)