Garner Cleveland: Sports

Practice fields give Wake Christian Academy teams more room to roam

Wake Christian Academy  goalkeeper Ryan Helder dives for a block during practice at the school.
Wake Christian Academy goalkeeper Ryan Helder dives for a block during practice at the school.

First-year Wake Christian football coach Stephen Cochran was already familiar with many aspects of the Bulldog program before taking the job this season. He had served on the Wake Christian coaching staff in 2009 before leaving to take a head coaching position in Florida.

Upon returning to Raleigh to lead the Bulldogs, one of Cochran’s priorities was to change the culture of the football program and its relationship with the school.

Little did he know, steps were already in place to do just that and to change the surroundings Cochran remembered from his coaching stint just four years prior.

Included as part of the 2012-2013 Wake Christian Academy Annual Fund, a project to construct a new athletic practice facility complex on campus took shape last winter. It includes side-by-side full-size practice fields for football and soccer.

The project was made possible when the Whitaker family decided that the school could make better use of the land, which is located to the left of the school campus. “The school needs it more than I do,” William Whitaker told WCA officials at the time.

Construction of the fields began in the spring and was completed just in time for August practices. The $350,000 project allows more teams to practice simultaneously and has more room for expanded drills. The project also united the irrigation system all across the campus and its athletic fields, which is well supplied.

“It is a tremendous benefit, having the new fields,” said Wake Christian athletic director Randy Johnson. “In previous years, our soccer teams had to practice off-campus a lot but that is not necessary now which saves on our transportation costs and time. Football used to have to practice on the softball field regularly which has limited space but now they have a practice facility that has plenty of space. The other benefit is the reduced wear and tear on our game field as it was used for practices a lot and got worn down by the end of the season.”

Previously, soccer teams were limited to practicing on the infield portion of the combination baseball/football field the Bulldogs play their home games on. Likewise, the high school and middle school football teams were limited to the softball field for practice.

“This is huge,” Cochran said of the new practice field. “They were able to get this in and get this done a couple weeks ago just before practices started.

“This is a huge blessing and another part of the culture change.”

The move is just another step the Bulldogs’ athletic program has made in the past few years, including a move to the Triangle Independent Schools Athletic Conference last school year.

The upgrade in practice facilities, which was made official last Monday with a dedication ceremony that included prayers of dedication from WCA athletes Beau Barger, Rebecca Howard and Mark Sharrar, is a marked improvement from just four years ago when Cochran was coaching the defensive backs and the Bulldogs practiced on the school’s softball field.

Cochran noticed in those games that his defensive backs would only drop back in coverage about as far as the softball fields’ dimensions had allowed for in practice.

Now, two teams can practice simultaneously on campus. That also means no more transporting students off-campus for fall or spring practices and earlier end times for practice because travel times are eliminated.

“It has generated a lot of excitement within the program by eliminating some of the frustrations associated with finding practice space and times,” Johnson said. “Before, we had to stagger times somewhat and some teams were later getting home but now all outdoor teams can practice right after school.”

The fields will also be used for special school events at WCA including field days, class picnics, kite day and colonial day.

Sports Editor D. Clay Best contributed.