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Medford grad donates $425K for new turf

Charley Cobb relished growing up in Medford and those who helped form a foundation for his lifelong love of sports.

Although removed from the community since graduating from Medford High in 1969 and subsequently attending the University of Oregon to play football and earn a degree in economics, Cobb has never forgotten those who helped set him on his path and now wants to give back.

Through discussions with South Medford High Athletic Director Dennis Murphy, Cobb has agreed to donate $425,000 to the school district to replace the 11-year-old FieldTurf at Spiegelberg Stadium in a project that is slated to start in December and be finished in February.

“It’s time to pay back,” said Cobb. “I enjoyed my time when I was in Medford and I enjoyed Fred Spiegelberg. He was a neighbor of mine and his kids were just great growing up. It’s just a good community.”

Ron Havniear, the district’s facilities manager, estimates the cost of replacing the outdated artificial turf field will total $475,000 and the district will likely dip into a reserve fund originally set up when the field was installed in 2004 for its eventual replacement.

“The donation is very generous and a huge help to the district,” said Havniear. “I think it really helps us out because it means we’re going to get a brand new field which is what we needed in the first place, but now we have a little bit more flexibility to potentially upgrade some other areas of need.”

The district’s reserve account is around $200,000, and Havniear said Cobb’s donation will allow the district to use some of that money for issues brought up this fall on fire code changes that forced part of the skybox at Spiegelberg to be closed. A new skybox may be in order, along with a modification of entry gates and other upgrades, including future plans of a new concessions stand and ticket booth.

“I don’t know that we’ve fully made a decision on where to spend that money,” said Havniear. “For right now, I think that money is sitting in Spiegelberg Stadium because there’s still a laundry list of upgrades required there and some things that haven’t been addressed in years we need to do there. The extent of work there could be very expensive, like with the skybox, and even something that you think would be an easy fix, $200,000 doesn’t go very far.”

Obviously, Cobb’s willingness to step up in a time when money is tight for every school district is much appreciated.

“For anybody to want to support school districts at this level is absolutely fantastic,” said Murphy. “You surely have to be extremely thankful and very appreciative of someone that wants to come back and give to the community, and in such a big way. I don’t know if you can say thank you enough.”

Cobb was a 6-foot-7, 245-pound lineman and post player during his Medford High days and earned all-state recognition in both sports. His wife, the former Nancy Piazza, was a Medford High cheerleader and graduated in the Class of 1970.

“She’s just as thrilled as I am to do this,” said Cobb, who owns Transportation Media, which involves a host of advertising and signage opportunities through Bench Craft, Gameday Media, Image Media and Sky Media.

Cobb, who lives in Lake Oswego, has previously made similar donations to Lake Oswego High, where his sons Michael and Mathew both attended and the family formed a close relationship with head coach Steve Coury.

With his contributions, Lake Oswego was able to replace its football field with new turf and completely revamp the press box. Also involved in his prior donation, which totaled more than $400,000, were monies used to increase the quality of programs for Laker Broadcasting, the wrestling team and the music department.

Murphy and Cobb began discussions on a donation in the past year, spurred on by the AD’s relationship with former basketball player and professional tennis star Jonathan Stark, who currently works for Cobb.

“They just said Medford needs a new field and money’s tight there like it is everywhere,” said Cobb. “Schools just don’t have the money anymore and I was absolutely thrilled to be able to do this. I’ve been very fortunate in my business that I’ve done extremely well, especially the last 10-15 years.”

“You get to a point with these fields where you need to replace it because they’re worn out and you can’t just add more rubber,” added Cobb. “And if you don’t replace it, people are going to get hurt.”

Private fundraising by the now defunct Medford Linebackers allowed for the installation of FieldTurf in the summer of 2004 and, at that time, the lifespan of the surface was put at around 10-15 years — although none had been in place at that time beyond eight years.

In addition to the turf, the group raised funds to resurface the track at Spiegelberg.

The $900,000 price tag for both ventures back in 2004 was significantly higher than what will be required this time around, mostly because a big part of the cost is the ground preparation for artificial turf.

“When it gets rained on, there’s never a puddle issue or anything like that,” said Murphy, who oversaw the initial FieldTurf project. “I think when it was done the first time it was done very well so I don’t think the preparation should be much of an issue.”

The new FieldTurf, which Cobb has first right of refusal to replace in another 10 years, will have the word “Medford” stitched in across midfield in white letters with black outline and, unlike the current alternating color patterns, will be solid green. Both end zones will be black, with “North” in one end zone stitched in red lettering with a white outline and “South” in the opposite end zone stitched in blue lettering with a white outline.

The setup will still be lined for football and soccer, with hashmarks stitched in this time instead of painted, saving the district in upkeep as it has had to repaint the hashmarks each year.

Stitched into sideline sections on the southwest and northeast edges of the turf in white lettering and black outline will be “Cobb Field” to honor the benevolent gift.

“I never want to take anything away from Fred Spiegelberg,” said Cobb. “Yeah it may say ‘Cobb Field’ on the edge but I don’t want to take away from Spiegelberg. That guy was one of the greatest guys in the world and should be remembered for all he did.”

It’s really in that vein of homage to individuals like Spiegelberg, Frank Roelandt and Barney Riggs, among others, that made Cobb want to make his donation.

“It started off at Hoover grade school with me, I just loved sports and the people that taught it,” said Cobb. “If people could ever see Medford football in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s … it was the king of everything and I dreamed of playing on that field. That was the dream, it was the ‘Friday Night Lights’ type of thing.”

Cobb also suggested that his $425,000 donation may only be the start of what he hopes to accomplish in his former hometown.

“It’s a good community and it was a pretty easy decision when they said they needed me to help,” he said. “I’d like to start with this and they need more help, I know, with a press box and some other issues and I’ll probably jump in again a year from now and help out.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry