ELKHART — Rod Roberson has a vision for co-curricular programs in the Elkhart schools.
Now thanks to the generosity of the Elkhart community, a small part of his vision will come into focus beginning this spring.
Roberson, the District Director of Co-Curricular Programming for Elkhart Community Schools, announced on Thursday that two major changes will take place prior to the 2018-19 school year.
"We are planning to put field turf on Rice Field and we're also going to put a drop-down scoreboard with video replay in North Side Gym,'' Roberson said. "This is all being made possible by benefactors in the Elkhart community who care about our co-curricular programs and want to create the opportunity for our athletes to be able to compete on equal footing with other school systems.''
Roberson stressed that no money from the corporation will be spent on the project, it all comes from donors. Cost of the two projects is estimated at $1 million.
Rice Field has been the home for Elkhart Central football and prior to that, Elkhart High School football. The stadium opened in 1923 and has a seating capacity of 7,595. When the merger of Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial takes place, it is expected to once again be the home for the one high school in the city.
The Elkhart school board has approved the merger for the 2020-21 school year.
Last August, the Central-Memorial game for the Mangy Lion Trophy, drew a crowd of about 6,000 to Rice Field.
"That was a great crowd and it was really good to see, but we want to bring that kind of crowd to the field for every opponent, not just once a year,'' Roberson said. "We believe working on the facilities is a good start in doing that.''
According to Roberson, Elkhart Memorial will continue to play its home games at Charger Field on the Memorial campus until the merger.
North Side Gym is the eighth biggest gym in the country and has a seating capacity of 7,373. It was built in 1954 and is the homecourt for both Central and Memorial.
"I honestly can't remember the last time Rice Field or North Side Gym has had work done,'' Roberson said. "These are great facilities and a little facelift will make them even better.''
In addition to the money raised for the upgrades to the two iconic sites, Roberson said the school district will have both a boys and girls lacrosse team beginning this spring – which will feature players from both Memorial and Central. Plans are also in the works to bring both a crew team and an archery program to Elkhart.
Roberson was appointed in July 2017 by Elkhart Community Schools to the newly created position of director of co-curricular activities.
In addition to overseeing athletics at all levels in Elkhart, he also oversees performing arts such as band, orchestra, choir and theater.
"With the changes coming within our school system, everyone has had to tighten their belts a little bit,'' Roberson said. "But our community really came together to help us with this project and make it a reality. I just can't say enough about the people of Elkhart and they way they responded.''
Roberson served four terms on the Elkhart City Council – where he was council president, vice president and parliamentarian during his stint. He’s also served as chairman of the city’s Finance Committee and was the former director of Church Community Services in the city.
He's also a member of the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame after an outstanding three-sport career at Elkhart Central and played collegiate basketball at Northwestern.
Roberson said he was part of the committee that helped raise money for the project.