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Athletes get ready to try out the stadium

In a few days, athletes competing for Oak Harbor High School this fall will have a new place to practice.

That’s when they can start drilling on the shiny new artificial surface of Wildcat Memorial Stadium. Teams will hold practices to get used to the new field while breaking it in at the same time.

Right now, the Oak Harbor football team is using the old War Memorial Stadium as a practice venue. Head Coach Dave Ward said he is glad there is such a facility available, although the old turf’s days as a varsity practice field are literally numbered.

The scene of athletes taking the field will come as workers scramble to put the finishing touches on the facility largely funded by a $6.5 million bond that voters approved in 2005.

The stadium is scheduled to be ready in time for the first football game on Friday, Sept. 7.

“We’re going to be open on time,” said Mitch Romero, project manager for the stadium. Among other things they were busy late last week with painting the track and laying the concrete at the stadium entrance.

Similar to the football field design, a giant “OH” will be etched into the cement in front of the ticket booths. The concrete for the veterans memorial has already been poured between the ticket booths and the grandstand. Romero said the metal work for the memorial is almost complete and it will be installed in the days before the grand opening.

Steve Nagel of Washington Iron Works in Oak Harbor, the company doing the fabrication, said the memorial’s frame and stainless steel have been sent off to two separate shops in Seattle for cutting and galvanization. “It should be back in about a week or so,” Nagel said.

The stadium features a competition-quality track, new press box and covered seating for 3,000 spectators. Even the visitors’ side has a cover.

Once completed, Oak Harbor High School will finally be eligible to hold football playoff games at home and the track team will finally be able to have a meet at home. The track team hasn’t had a home meet in years because of the substandard condition of the old track. That track was removed to make room for the new stadium.

Romero said school staff members have been touring the new stadium in recent days.

Wildcat fans will get to enjoy the new stadium for the first time Sept. 7, in conjunction with the football team’s game against Arlington. A ribbon cutting ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. and the Navy Band is scheduled to appear. At halftime, a ceremony to dedicate the memorial takes place.

Local residents aren’t the only ones who will enjoy Wildcat Memorial Stadium. School and business leaders are working to inform people from around the region about the school district’s new stadium. They hope to attract more sporting events, and more people, to town.

New Athletic Director Nicki Luper is hitting the ground running with trying to attract events to the new stadium.

She is contacting schools from Blaine to Everett to highlight the amenities of Wildcat Memorial Stadium.

While Oak Harbor High School is a class 4A school, smaller schools can take advantage of the stadium come playoff time.

Playoff games for soccer and football are generally held on fields that have an artificial surface. Many of the smaller schools don’t have fields that meet that requirement and they look for an alternate site. The new Wildcat Memorial Stadium may fit their needs.

Luper said the new high school stadium in Mount Vernon has to turn away events and she hopes to also attract some of the overflow.

She said the most difficult thing about selling Wildcat Memorial Stadium as a potential venue is its distance from the Interstate 5 corridor. However, she said that could be overcome through word of mouth if teams have a good experience in Oak Harbor and athletes enjoy the high-quality athletic facility.

Luper stressed she will also push the stadium locally as well. She said youth athletic groups, as well as the Coupeville and South Whidbey school districts, may be interested in holding events in the new stadium.

Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Jill Johnson said the chamber is working with local businesses to put together a packet advertising Oak Harbor to people who would attend events at the stadium.

“We’re trying to to bring more visitors into town,” Johnson said, adding that Oak Harbor would be an attractive town to accommodate families with children competing at the stadium.

Events at the stadium could boost business in Oak Harbor between tourist seasons. But mainly, it will be a source of pride for the people of Oak Harbor.

— Sports editor Tim Adams contributed to this story.

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