‘It’s for the kids’, Wingate High nears completion of outdoor sports facilities

FORT WINGATE, N.M. – In a couple of months, the finishing touches on the baseball, football and softball fields at Wingate High School will be completed.

The Bureau of Indian Education school made a big financial investment to upgrade its football stadium while adding a new baseball and softball tract for its nearly 400 students.

“Having these facilities allows for more participation,” longtime Wingate athletic director Al Martinez said on Monday.

‘It’s for the kids’, Wingate High nears completion of outdoor sports facilities

Navajo Times | Quentin Jodie
The softball field at Wingate High School is near completion. The Bureau of Indian Education school made a big financial investment to its football stadium while adding a new baseball and softball tract for its nearly 400 students.

“The kids are going to have more opportunities and as the athletic director you want to get more kids involved,” he said.

Martinez said there was a need to finance the project as the old football field became unplayable. Plus, the student-athletes participating on the baseball and softball teams had to either practice on a paved lot or in a dirt field.

“With the new facility we’re looking to have 30, 40 kids participate in each sport,” he said. “Before that, we only had 14, 15 kids in baseball and softball. Now, we can have a varsity and JV team.”

Once the project is completed, the administrators at Wingate High will have upgraded all the school’s sports facilities.

“It’ll complete the cycle,” Martinez said as the current high school gym was put into use in 2011. “When I first started here 30 years ago, I always felt that our facilities at Wingate High lagged behind everyone else.”

Martinez said the initial cost of the upgrades was projected at $4 million, but due to inflation and delays to the project the cost has nearly doubled.

“That bid was put in three years ago,” he said. “And it took about a year and half to just break ground. By then the prices had gone up, and we’ve been going through that battle.”

Martinez said the costs and delays were out of their control.

“Basically, it boils down to contractors completing the work and with us approving the work,” he said. “And when you don’t follow the proper channels, things get delayed. That’s what kind of happened, not by design, so the cost bounced up to a $6-$7 million project, but it’s for the kids.”

With the new costs, Martinez said the administrative teams were willing to make some concessions.

“Our financial people were willing to work with the budget and make this a reality, so we’ve come a long way,” he said. “The fields are beautiful and once we get our bleachers done on the football field and the backstops and the fencing for the baseball and softball fields, it’s gonna be nice.”

As for the renovations at the football field, the new surface is currently being used by the high school team. Martinez said they got the go-ahead in mid-July from the contractors to use the field.

“It was a really great day for the kids,” he said. “They were happy about it and the coaches were excited too.”

Third-year Bears football coach A.D. Jim said utilizing the new football turf has made things so much easier.

“I really like it,” he said. “It’s taken a little longer than what we wanted, but the quality of it is really good. Being able to practice on it has made a difference.”

Before this year, Jim said the team had to practice on a dirt lot for a year-and-half as the old field became unplayable.

“The (old) field was pretty bad,” Jim said. “It had natural grass, but the downside of the field was it had prairie dogs.”

Wingate seniors Darius Begay and Titus Morgan said they’re enjoying every minute playing on their new football turf.

“I’m very appreciative that we got a new field,” Begay said. “During the summer when it was being made we really wanted to get on it.”

“We have a nice looking field,” Morgan added. “I’m just glad that we get to play on it for our senior season.”

And although the playing surface deteriorated, Martinez remembers when the football field was in good condition when he arrived at the school in 1991.

“Over time, the erosion from the prairie dogs and moles became a problem,” he said. “They would build tunnels throughout the field and when it rained those tunnels would collapse and that caused holes in the turf.”

Martinez said Wingate got written up by the New Mexico Officials Association a few times for having unsafe fields.

“The last time we played a season here, we were getting a lot of injuries,” Martinez said of the 2021 season. “Not from our kids, but from the visitors. With home field advantage, (they) knew where the holes were. They knew not to go 100 miles an hour, but we were seeing kids from the other team getting hurt with knee and ankle injuries every game, so that was sad.”

With that experience, Martinez said the upgrades for the outdoor facilities became a high priority. He said the school administrators looked at the school’s budget and they determined that they could move things around to pave the way for the new baseball, football and softball fields.

“Our administration team and our financial team came up with a plan and we figured out how we could fund this project,” Martinez said. “We’re behind schedule, of course, but that happens a lot with projects.”

Martinez explained that there were planned modifications that needed to be made between the architect and the school.

“The architects would do a set of drawings and after you look at them and determine that’s not what you wanted it goes back and gets redone,” he said. “You know, none of that happens in a 48-hour turnaround. It takes weeks or months, but the one thing I’ve learned about this project is you have to have patience.

“When you’re not patient, you wound up having a lot of turmoil,” Martinez said. “We’ve made some concessions with the contractor, and being able to practice on the football field is one of them.”

Martinez said the stadium bleachers are going to be eventually done. In the meantime, the contractors are going to help as much as they can.

“You know, Crownpoint didn’t have bleachers last year, so I don’t think that’s going to be an issue,” he said.

Nonetheless, there are some bleachers on the south end of the football field that are normally designated for the visiting team, that has a capacity of 700 seats.

As for the new north bleachers, Martinez said it’s going to be built to house 1,700 fans, going from one end of the 20-yard line to the other end.

“It’s going to be 240 feet of bleachers,” he said. “It’s going to be ADA compliant, and we’ll have at least eight compartments for wheelchair accessibility.

“That’s going to be good because we do have a lot of grandmas and grandpas in wheelchairs that come to our games,” Martinez said. “We want to be able to accommodate them as best we can.”

Completion for the new bleacher installment is slated for the end of September.

“I’m looking forward to that day,” Martinez said. “It’ll be next month, which is not too far away.”

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