New Turf Field

Brad Tucker, Brandon Marsh, Stephen Erickson, Garrett Leach, Kylar Clifton, and Bob Mokwa break ground on a new artificial turf field Wednesday, April 18, 2018, at Montana State. The new field will double the available weeks for use from the current 15 weeks to 32 weeks.

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When Brandon Marsh started a men’s rugby club team at Montana State University back in 2010, the team couldn’t practice in the snow and there were so many student groups competing for indoor gym space, rugby ended up with 4 or 5 a.m. time slots.

What MSU needed, the rugby players decided, was an artificial turf field where they could practice outdoors year round.

“I was crazy enough” to start things rolling, Marsh said.

His crazy idea turned real Wednesday when about 50 people celebrated the groundbreaking for the Associated Students of MSU’s $5.2 million turf field at Dobbie Lambert Intramural Fields, just west of Roskie Hall and the Outdoor Recreation Center.

“This is pretty awesome,” said Marsh, who graduated in 2014 and now manages a North Dakota construction company.

“It’s so cool to see this,” said Kylar Clifton, outgoing ASMSU president. It’s important, Clifton said, because research shows that the more students are engaged in campus activities, including sports, the more likely they are to do well in class and to graduate.

“This has been a student project from the very beginning,” said Garrett Leach, past ASMSU president.

Leach was one of the student leaders who got a student recreation fee on the spring 2017 ASMSU ballot, which students passed with 62.5 percent of the vote.

It called for a fee of $16.64 per semester to build a turf field with goal posts, field lighting, scoreboard, seating for 200 and a clubhouse building with locker rooms, restrooms and equipment storage. The vote also approved new and improved climbing walls.

“This represents an investment by students, for students, for many generations to come,” Provost Bob Mokwa said.

Winning the student vote was just one of several hurdles the project had to overcome.

Matt Caires, dean of students, said when Marsh and the rugby players first came to him, seeking a better place to practice, he called a meeting with students and administrators. A steering committee was formed.

MSU architecture students were asked to come up with a project to serve all student club activities, from rugby and soccer to lacrosse and dance. They designed something that would have cost as much as the football stadium.

“We had to dial it down,” Caires said, laughing. Then, he said, Leach “got it across the finish line.”

The project almost failed to win its final approval – from the Montana Board of Regents. Even though MSU students voted overwhelmingly in favor of the recreation fee, at the regents meeting it failed on a 3-3 tie vote in May 2017. Some regents said they didn’t want to raise student fees at the same time they were forced to raise tuition. The student regent voted no, saying he had to represent all students, who were concerned about affordability, not the minority who would use the field.

But Regent Martha Sheehy argued that Regent Bill Johnstone, who had to leave early to catch a plane, thought his statement of support equaled a yes vote, and so Regent Fran Albrecht was persuaded to change her vote to yes.

They deserve a lot of gratitude, Caires said. MSU club sports have been growing in numbers of students and in competitiveness, some winning their conferences, he added.

Brad Tucker, rugby team member and chair of the MSU Club Sports Council, said the new turf field and clubhouse will really help when recruiting students to MSU.

One happy onlooker was Marty Lambert, Gallatin County’s county attorney, whose dad, Keith “Dobbie” Lambert, was the Bobcats’ head basketball coach from 1955 to 1962 and intramural sports director for 20 years. His dad’s nickname came from Dobbin, a horse back on the family farm in Indiana, Lambert said.

Mokwa quoted a contemporaneous Exponent article that described Dobbie as “a straight-talking ball of fire and enthusiasm.”

“He would have loved this,” Lambert said of his dad. “He was all about students being able to play sports. … He would have been the first guy out with a broom to sweep the snow.”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

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