LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The NFCA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 Netting Professionals / NFCA Field of the Year award. Garnering recognition are Tharaldson Park (North Dakota State University), Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium at Cottrell Park (University of North Georgia), Ed Kruse Stadium at Morck Softball Field (Texas Lutheran University), UC Softball Park (University of the Cumberlands), Bosque River Park (McLennan Community College) and Panther Stadium (Washington Union High School [Calif.]).
This award, made possible by NFCA Official Sponsor Netting Professionals, recognizes top fields/stadiums in the nation for their flawless grounds maintenance and exceptional playing surfaces. These locations are selected by the NFCA Awards committee for NCAA Divisions I, II, and III, NAIA, NJCAA Divisions I, II, and III, Cal JC, NWAC, and High School.
NCAA Division I: Tharaldson Park (North Dakota State)
Renamed in 2018, Tharaldson Park has been home to the North Dakota State softball program since 1996. In 2018, the on-campus stadium’s two-year $2 million renovation was completed. It included the installation of FieldTurf across the entire playing surface, bullpens and batting cages, along with a full-padded outfield wall and bleacher seating for 183 spectators was added down the right field line, bringing the capacity to 735. In addition, the first renovation phase featured a new grandstand with 552 chairback seats, a 10-person pressbox with broadcasting booths, a camera platform, and a new 10-inning Daktronics scoreboard with integrated sound system. According to head coach Darren Mueller, Tom Drietz and the ground crew did an incredible job of working the field into playing shape over the years and continue to this day. The addition of FieldTurf made a dramatic improvement to playing conditions, considering the fierce winters in the Upper Midwest.
NCAA Division II: Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium at Cottrell Park (North Georgia)
Home to the University of North Georgia softball team, Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium was constructed in 2008 and features a first-class facility for the Nighthawks. Maintained by head coach Mike Davenport and his staff, several improvements and upgrades have been made over the years to the facility which is a regular host of NCAA Division II Regionals (10) and Super Regionals (9) since 2009. More recently, it hosted the 2018 and 2019 Peach Belt Conference Tournaments. “The Hill,” considered one of the premier softball facilities in Division II, features 225 chairback seats and a constructed-terraced bank down the third base line for an enjoyable fan experience. In addition, the facility features a FieldTurf playing surface (since 2014), a three-piece press box, home and visitor bullpens, netting which has no obstructed views and a Formentco videoboard (new in 2020) in right center field.
NCAA Division III: Ed Kruse Stadium at Morck Softball Field (Texas Lutheran)
Constructed in the spring of 2014, Ed Kruse Stadium at Morck Softball Field seats 300 spectators and was the second university in Texas to install artificial turf, an attractive feature considering the Texas thunderstorms in the spring. Centrally located between San Antonio, Houston and Austin, Texas Lutheran’s home field includes Musco Lighting, 85-foot two-tiered dugouts and a six-foot dugout netting installed in 2018. The facility, which is maintained by head coach Wade Wilson and his coaching staff, is a frequent host of high school playoff games, along with being a NCAA Division III Regional site in 2018 and the home of the 2015 SCAC and 2020 TFL Fall Championships, respectively.
NAIA: UC Softball Complex (Cumberlands)
Recent upgrades have turned UC Softball Complex into a state-of-the-art facility. Key upgrades included an updated irrigation and drainage system which has increased the playability of the field in various weather conditions. Along with the drainage system installation and upgrade, Bermuda was laid around the dugouts in 2019 and a new 20-foot netting backstop was erected in 2017. The facility also includes Musco lighting, large dugouts (hanging lights and heaters), enclosed bullpens with field access and camera towers and a climate-controlled press box that can hold up to eight game-day staff. The field, which is a short walk from the team’s spacious locker room, is maintained by head coach Bailey Dillender, Jason Prewitt and Brad Shelton. It also features stadium seating, branded backstop padding and multiple other University branding marks around the complex.
NJCAA: Bosque River Ballpark (McLennan CC)
Built in 2000, Bosque River Ballpark had upgrades made to its facility over the past few years, which included the construction of a home bullpen and front dugout protection in 2019. A year earlier, the area around the infield was laser grated and re-sodded. The ballpark also features an infield mix with calcined top dress, five covered cages, covered stadium seating, two bullpens and protected dugouts. Head coach Chris Berry and assistant coach Jessica Smith put 20-30 hours per week into the maintenance of the field, which includes fertilizing, weed and ant control, along with an annual overseed in November consisting of a perennial three-way rye blend. McLennan hosts five to six camps per year with an average of 40 student-athletes per camp.
High School: Panther Stadium (Washington Union [Calif.])
Construction was completed on Panther Stadium in the spring of 2020. The facility was built on an old vineyard and is the new home to WUHS softball following 40 years of sharing a multi-purpose field that had a 10-foot backstop backed up to a busy street. Described a “Field of Dreams” stadium by head coach Tori Rich, the facility features two full-sized turf batting tunnels, two enclosed bullpens, LED lighting system controlled by an app, netting backstop, wireless scoreboard and extra-large dugouts. Maintained by Mariano Maravilla, the infield consists of a sand, clay and silt mix, while hybrid Bermuda and an annual rye overside make up the outfield grass. It is considered a fan-friendly community-gathering spot with ideal sight lines, a paved and landscaped parking lot, several restrooms, water bottle-filling fountains and a full-service snack bar. Additionally, there is a state-of-the-art climate-controlled press box/coaches office with plexiglass windows for an unobstructed view and a wired-in sound system.
ABOUT NETTING PROFESSIONALS
Netting Professionals exists to provide quality, customized netting products for baseball, softball and other sports. Johnny Burbank helped revolutionize the baseball backstop net industry with the installation of UHMWPE (AKA Spectra or Dyneema) fiber at hundreds of baseball and softball stadiums nation-wide. This fiber was first used by the Burbank family making shrimp trawl nets that would help conserve fuel consumption by shrimp boats in the 70s.
The netting expertise and customization abilities of Johnny Burbank combined with the design and innovative engineering abilities of Eli Rowe is un-matched in the sport netting industry. To complete the Netting Professionals team; Will Minor brings a wealth of baseball knowledge and experience as a college player under Hall of Fame Coach Dusty Rhodes at the University of North Florida, and from many years as a high school baseball coach. Netting Professionals is able to work together with architects, engineers, builders, coaches, athletics departments, and municipalities to make facility and stadium netting systems the best they can be.
Johnny Burbank, Eli Rowe, and Will Minor are continuing a legacy of hand-made custom netting deeply rooted in the Burbank family as far back as 1915. Three Generations have seen the changes in the family netting business from handmade seine fish nets of the early 1900's to ultra-high performance baseball backstop net systems of today and the future. Johnny Burbank and Netting Professionals continue to improve on these backstop and sport net systems by utilizing the latest technology and quality netting materials.