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Is this heaven? No, it's the Vikings' new turf

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published May 31. 2013 4:00AM   Updated May 31. 2013 8:09AM

East Lyme - Full disclosure: What I know about lacrosse is right up there with Gothic Architecture, knitting and Buddhism. Even such limited acumen, however, doesn't preclude us from knowing that East Lyme High is the region's hub for the sport, with state championship banners from the boys and girls better testimony than the old station wagon full of nuns.

Seems every year about this time, though, the Vikings of both genders are summoned to beat the aristocrats from the state's gold coast, otherwise known as Fairfield County, where home lacrosse fields, practice facilities, backyards and barnyards are all turfed.

East Lyme, meanwhile, would play home games on the football field, dodging dirt patches and goose droppings, a lawn surely not befitting championship level programs.

But now comes the spring of 2013 and this wondrous scene Thursday, the last home game of the season for either lacrosse team. The girls were home in the state quarterfinals. Only this time "home" is palatial. Emerald green and newly turfed, the maroon "EL" at midfield, issuing a new sense of town pride. New scoreboard, bleachers, press box, track and lights, too. Oh, the greenery and scenery.

Sort of made you look for Dwier Brown to ask Kevin Costner, "Is this heaven?" Costner would say, "No, it's East Lyme."

The girls, who began playing on their new lawn a few weeks ago, are done for the year here, but hardly done. They closed the home season with a 17-7 win over Mercy of Middletown and are off to the state Class M semifinals. All that's left for the turf is graduation - sources say the feminine gland should wear flats just in case - and then it's the fall for soccer, field hockey and football.

All at one venue. Bravo.

"It's amazing. The game moves faster," senior Lindsay Schneider said. "It feels like the game's at a different level than it's been in past years."

Schneider, whose dad Phil is the coach, grinned when she recalled the same patch of real estate from 12 months earlier.

"Dirt patches in the middle," she said. "It was either rock solid or really, really squishy, depending on the weather. And we don't have to deal with goose poop anymore."

That's the saddest part, really. The poor geese. No longer is this the world's largest outdoor restroom facility for our favorite heavy-bodied waterfowl with the flourishing bowels. For everything else, though, the new facility is spectacular.

"From the first day of practice, we've been able to be outside on a field," Phil Schneider said. "It's been very helpful. We don't have to worry about the weather anymore. We love it."

Schneider's line about the weather shouldn't get dismissed. Coaches of spring sports look at the Weather Channel more than their significant others. But that's another way the facility adds to the quality of life here.

There is no way to quantify what "quality of life" really means. But you know it when you see it. And this is it. It's a little sad that most of the families responsible for it are watching their children play in college. Their diligence won't be forgotten. And the families now who will benefit from a first-rate facility - right there with the Gold Coasters - shouldn't ever forget how the grass roots eventually pulled up the grass roots for the plush new lawn.

"I remember one thing Mary Ellen Andres always said," said Kevin Seery, a member of the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen when the turf field was still a dream, "the blood, sweat and tears of everyone who ever played on this field is always going to be here."

Happily, there are no more gadflies to be heard from. The people of East Lyme spoke, voted and now they have given their children a facility proportionate to the excellence of the programs that spearheaded it and the First Selectman, Paul Formica, who championed it.

"The thing I like best," Seery said, "is that it was done right. I mean, look at this. Beautiful."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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