West Liberty Athletic Complex revolutionizes school sports

$7.5 million complex is now officially in use by high school Comets


Spring marked a momentous occasion for the Comets: the first use of the $7.5 million West Liberty Athletic Complex, a significant milestone in the local sports landscape. 

“There has been a ton of support,” says Superintendent Shaun Kruger. “This new complex will be used by thousands of students in the years to come.”

From its sleek design to its cutting-edge equipment, the West Liberty Athletic Complex stands as a testament to the town's commitment to fostering a thriving sports culture. 

“That land was strictly practice field space, and we were able to turn it into something far more useful,” says Adam Loria, Athletic Director for the school district.

Located north of the high school, the complex boasts a brand-new football/soccer field with an eight-lane track, baseball field, softball field, concession stand, ticket booth, restrooms, and more.

Thanks to the fundraising efforts of Lisa Wertzbaugher, a supportive school board, and a $500,000 donation from West Liberty Foods, high school sports will never be the same. 

“People here really take pride in their school district,” says Supt. Kruger, stating they were able to raise $2 million in 11 months thanks to the support of the community.

“I think it's something that this community has taken a lot of pride in since we started; the support we've gotten has just been overwhelming,” adds Loria.

“It's also something that our school and our kids can take a lot of pride in, and it's attracted a lot of attention,” he added. “Our kids will be able to use it year-round.”

The West Liberty Community School District will host an official ribbon-cutting at the complex in August, 2024.

However, the Comet’s boys’ and girls’ track and field teams, as well as its boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, earned the distinction of being the first to officially use the complex. 

Speculation about using the land just south of the high school, already owned by the school district, for a sports complex had been ongoing for some time.

Talk about repairing aspects of the former football field (located east across Elm St. from the high school) began to take form around 2020.

The press box needed repair, the bleachers needed to be replaced, the grass was getting run down and needed significant attention.

That talk then shifted to the baseball and softball fields, located at the elementary school. Both also needed attention due to the annals of time.

“We also ended up with a huge problem with our track where we had a heave right at the 200-meter dash starting line,” says Loria. “So, then the conversation started, ‘do we want to fix all this, or do we want to just start something new?’”

That’s when the idea to use the land south of the high school resurfaced. Not only were the old fields in need of attention, but they were scattered across West Liberty.

Having everything in a centralized location right by the high school while creating new fields, instead of putting band-aids on the old ones, started to look attractive.

“Now our kids can just walk straight to the fields for practice rather than having to get all the way across town for baseball and softball,” says Loria.

Plus, the parking issue.

Longtime residents of West Liberty know parking at the old football field just wasn’t… optimal.

The gravel lot by the field was small and filled up quickly. During football games and other big events, a majority of attendees would end up parking across the street at the high school and walk to the football field.

However, in the plans of the West Liberty Athletic Complex was a crushed asphalt lot connecting directly to the high school parking lot, with everything being ADA compliant. 

The new parking lot can accommodate up to 60 vehicles, while the connecting high school parking lot can hold the rest.

What was once an issue has been solved by convenience.

There's still some work to be done at the complex, which should be completed by the 2024 football season this fall, if not earlier over the summer break.

There are plans to build a fence along the entire perimeter of the complex, a safety precaution to keep students in during the day and unwanted guests out.

Seeding is still taking hold the open space between the fields, electrical work needs to be completed, and the dugouts in both ball fields still need work.

On a side note, the new scoreboard the district purchased for the football field five years ago was brought over to the new football field. It fits right in.

That being said, another big change from the old to the new is artificial turf.

The football/soccer field has it, both the baseball and softball fields have it. West Liberty high school playing fields no longer rely on grass.

“The turf gives us more flexibility,” explains Athletic Director Adam Loria. “If the weather permits, our students can go out and practice anytime.”

Artificial turf uses synthetic fibers to mimic natural grass. However, it’s much more durable and easily maintained without irrigation or trimming, although periodic cleaning is required.

“When you look at our old field, the grass became an issue because soccer tore it up in the spring,” says Loria.

“We would work hard all summer to get it ready in the fall for football. Then football tore it up, and we’d have to repair it all winter and early spring to get it ready for soccer,” he said.

With the multimillion West Liberty Athletic Complex officially in use, it begs the question, what happens to the old fields?

The quick answer: not much right now.

“The old football field remains a part of the school district,” says Supt. Kruger. “We plan to keep that property for the school district should we ever expand at some date down the road.”

They’ll maintain the property on an as-needed basis. For now, it will serve as an additional practice field for students, especially if two different groups need a football field at the same time.

“So, there's no immediate teardown or anything planned for it,” says Kruger, “Though, at some point, that press box has got to come down.”

There are also no immediate plans for the baseball or softball fields at the elementary school building right now either, although they too will remain in the district.

“We'll see what uses come up,” he adds. “I think right now our priorities have really been expanding the ELC building and finishing the athletic complex.”

While there has been some discussion on how to best use the fields or the land they provide, all of it has been informal thus far.

Right now, the district is focused on the here and now, and the here and now is the brand-new West Liberty Athletic Complex.

“It's something that has really, I think, put our community and our school district in a really positive light,” says Loria. “Everywhere we go, people are talking about it.”

“Yes, and we’ve received so much support from the community,” adds Supt. Kruger. “We really haven’t had any naysayers; I think the community was ready for this.”

Be sure to come and check it! Comet track and field and soccer are coming to an end, but baseball and softball season will soon be here.