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Eisenhower Athletic Director Steve Thompson is a proponent of artificial turf at his school's football field. However, cost is a tough obstacle to overcome.

Signing his name on checks to other schools was getting old for Jason Crutcher.

Every time the MacArthur athletics director would send out his boys or girls track team to travel an hour east or west, Crutcher would look out at his track and couldn’t help but feel the Generals were missing out.

MacArthur had a perfectly usable track, but no FAT system, the timing system needed to run any track meet recognized by the IHSA.

Now, that’s not a cheap purchase and runs a little north of $10,000. But Crutcher did the math, and figured within three years of running meets the FAT system would pay for itself. The district bought in and now MacArthur can bring in other schools to Decatur for meets.

It’s emblematic of Crutcher’s big-picture vision. And he now has another upgrade in his sights, one even more significant – artificial turf fields.

“Our wish is, if they have the money for it and they’re willing to do it, start on it this spring,” Crutcher said.

This isn’t something that’s just come up this summer; turf has been on Crutcher’s mind for a couple of years now. There are the typical reasons that schools have come up with when turf is mentioned – using it for P.E. classes and other sports, a field that handles weather better and cutting costs long-term.

But Crutcher sees the outdoor sports facilities at nearby schools and the competitive disadvantage DPS has to overcome.

“Another key component is Mount Zion, they set down turf and Maroa has turf,” he said. “For people moving to Decatur … people are looking at athletic facilities to determine where they’re going to move to. And they’ve seen a big swing in people moving to Mount Zion and Maroa and not Decatur, and that might be a reason why.”

“We’re trying to pursue by upgrading our outdoor facilities to match our indoor facilities a little bit,” Eisenhower AD Steve Thompson added.

Just as Crutcher has talked to the school’s maintenance department to figure out the cost of keeping the current fields in shape, he’s talked to realtors to figure out what matters to those who move into town.

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And on DPS 61’s new superintendent Paul Fregrau’s first day on the job, Crutcher set up a meeting to discuss the possibility of turf as a way to make the city schools more attractive to students and parents.

“I told the super, it’s sad that they’re not worried about the 8th grade math teacher or the 9th grade science teacher, they’re worried about athletics,” Crutcher said.

Now they’re putting together more information on the benefits. Crutcher’s hopeful that what he presents makes a good case.

It’s certainly a pricier proposition than the FAT system – the fields Crutcher has looked at come out to $775,000 and that’s before the machinery needed to keep the turf in good shape. But the idea is the same: Make an investment now and reap the benefits down the road.

“I’m just trying – and I know Thompson’s on board with me – but speaking for MacArthur, I’m trying to make MacArthur where if somebody wants to come and sees our facilities, they want to come here because of our facilities. Right now, we don’t have that.”

It’s not just football that Crutcher sees as a direct benefit. Maybe it wouldn’t produce a state-level soccer team like the one the Generals had in 1999, but it would help lure athletes who play for MidState and want to play on turf.

“If you’re playing soccer on turf and you have a nice facility, we might benefit from that,” he said.

There have been steps taken in improving the city fields. MacArthur has fence purchased and on site, ready to replace the current one that includes barbed wire on top. Upgraded bleachers and press box are projects for the near future as well, perhaps as soon as the 2018-19 school year.

And right now, the idea is turf for each school. Having one to share would not only provide a number of logistical concerns of who could use it when, but the idea of not having a home field doesn’t exactly appeal to Crutcher.

This is all still in the preliminary stages. But the idea’s been kicked around for a while now, and Crutcher’s hopeful the project might gain steam soon.

“At least we’re talking about it and getting the ball rolling,” he said. “Like I said, we’re still putting our information together and bring it to the superintendent and see what they think.”

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