Hillhouse Team Overcame Practice-Field Challenge

When the James Hillhouse High School football team played its first game on brand-new renovated Bowen Field, the scenery was in contrast to where it spent the season practicing—on the “torn-up” dusty outfield of the school’s two baseball fields.

Despite the challenges, the team finished its season in late November with an 8-2 record and ranked 36th among all football teams in the state, according to MaxPreps, a website that tracks high school sports statistics.

The Academics had to manage practicing on less than ideal surfaces while renovations to the football field were in progress.

“We’re dealing with a lot of dust; there’s no grass on that field,” head football coach Reggie Lytle said during a practice in November. “If some kid has asthma, sometimes we have to stop practice to take care of their needs first.”

Although the team was practicing on a baseball field, that didn’t stop Hillhouse from performing offensively. The team scored a total of 61 touchdowns and produced 4,313 total yards on the season, while averaging 41 points per game.

After waiting three years, the team started playing games again on Bowen Field on Nov. 26, beating rivals Wilbur Cross High School 40 to 20 in the annual Elm City Bowl. (Click here for a full story on the Bowen Field renovation.)

It was a long time coming.

Bowen Field, the sports complex adjacent to Hillhouse High School, has different sections for different sports and activities. The facility consists of a football field, a stadium, a track, a baseball field and even lagoons and trails in its nature areas.

Since the fall of 2012, the football field closed to start construction on a new renovation, forcing the team to practice on Bowen Field’s baseball field, where difficulties have emerged for the football team in their practices.

Before the renovation of the football field started, Hillhouse used the main playing field to practice and play their home games. Once the renovation is complete, a new practice field will be part of the complex.

Practice Conditions

Due to the dirt on baseball fields, when the football team practiced during the season, the dirt from players running around turned into dust and the players breathed it in, a barrier football players are not used to after playing on grass and turf surfaces.

Team captain Tyler Williams said practicing on the baseball field slowed the team’s drills during training.

“Between all the dust flying around, it starts to get in everyone’s face, everybody’s mouth and everybody’s throat,” said Williams during one practice in November. “Which takes time away from our practice, cause we got to clear our face and drench it down with water. Then we try and get all that dust out of our eyes, which slows us down.”

Offensive coordinator Carl Bond said practicing on the baseball field had its ups and downs.

“The bumps, the dirt, the dust…everything, its a lot of challenges,” Coach Bond said. “But it helps in a way because, if you can survive on this, when you get on the good turf you’ll be good.”

Coupled with the conditions of the field, Bond said players were often tripping and stumbling when performing their football drills, raising concerns over the safety of the athletes every time they step onto the field.

“That’s everyday,” said Bond on players falling. “Some of it is actually themselves, but a lot of it is the turf also. It varies, but [this field] is torn up.”

In addition, the team also considered the weather on practice days. On rainy days, the outfield becomes a mud pit. And with those muddy and slippery conditions, the team moved practice inside Hillhouse’s field house.

Senior Terrence Mallory said playing inside the field house restricted the amount of room the team can operate and perform in.

“We haven’t had contact all week,” said Mallory during a rainy November week. “It’s just hard practicing [inside] without having no [room] to practice. We can’t perfect our craft, we can’t go all out and go hard in practice like we want to.”

Listen to Coach Lytle talk about the weight room conditions in the audio clip below.

This article was reported by Southern Connecticut State University students as part of a partnership between the Multimedia Journalism class and the New Haven Independent.

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