Gene Cox Stadium getting new turf field, score board

18 June 2018

When football players jog onto the field, when high school bands perform their halftime shows at Gene Cox Stadium this fall, they'll notice something different.

There will be no spots of grass that erode to dirt. The puddle that never quite dried properly will be gone. There will be no sprinkler holes.

For the first time in its 50-year history, the place to be on Friday nights during high school football season is getting a major upgrade. The grass field is being replaced with artificial turf. Twenty-five-second play clocks and a new scoreboard are being installed in the 6,000-seat stadium.

"I felt like it was past time for us to do something at Gene Cox Stadium that our kids would be proud of and our community would be proud of," said Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

The field is similar to one installed at Thomasville High School in Georgia last year. The $700,000 field, paid for with money from the district's capital outlay budget, will have a cushion under the turf that will help prevent injuries. Its materials will keep the field cool and offer more stable footing for athletes.

The 30-year-old scoreboard is being replaced with an $86,000 upgrade that has video capabilities and advertising — ad sales will help recoup the cost, Hanna said.

The field will pay for itself over the next eight years because of the reduction in manpower and maintenance costs, Hanna added. There'll be no need for watering, mowing or swapping in rye grass in the winter. There also will be opportunities to rent out the stadium, located on Paul Russell Road. The district will put in more bids for statewide competitions.

"This just opens doors for us because it will be such a nice facility and people will want to play on it," said LCS Director of Student Activities and Athletics Ricky Bell. "I think our kids are going to really enjoy playing on it."

The field, used by all five high schools and some of the middle schools, will be painted for football and soccer. Lacrosse and flag football games can also be played on it. Band students won't wear out spots during performances or competitions.

"Teams that play spring sports and winter sports can have the same consistent surface the fall sports have," Leon High School Athletic Director Mark Feely said. "I think everybody Is going to be super excited to play on it, and I’m really looking forward to August."

For Godby High School football coach Corey Fuller, it's an upgrade from his time spent at the stadium. He remembers playing for Rickards High School and beating Leon, which had a strong hold on football under the late Lions legendary head coach Gene Cox, the stadium's namesake. He hasn't told his athletes about the upgrades, but he thinks they'll appreciate it, since it prepares them for artificial turf at colleges.

"They'll be excited about it," Fuller said. "I don't think people realize the importance of sports and the amount of lives it saves and changes."

The field will be unveiled by the district in early August.