MUSKEGON – Brothers Lee and Luke Cole were both two-way starters on state championship football teams during their respective senior years at Oakridge High School.
In fact, they led their Eagles squads in tackles in state finals games at Ford Field: Lee in a 42-28 triumph over Jackson Lumen Christi in 2005 and Luke in a 26-14 victory over Ovid-Elsie in 2008.
Undeniably, they both bleed Oakridge blue. Right now, though, they’re giving their all for the Big Reds. They’re both playing key roles in father Dan Cole’s company, DRC Enterprises, which was sub-contracted to install AstroTurf inside century-old Hackley Stadium, home of the Muskegon Big Reds.
A transformation is happening at Hackley, highlighted by the addition of a brick wall around the perimeter of the field and the grandstands receiving a fresh, new look. At an iconic facility that’s always had natural grass, the synthetic turf will be the crown jewel, but with all the upgrades it’s undergoing, the stadium will look brand new.
The Coles, father and sons, could not be prouder playing their part. Workers for the DRC Enterprises 10-man crew on the Hackley Stadium job rolled up their sleeves last Saturday and they’re making some serious headway. The turf portion of the stadium project is expected to be completed by next week.
“It means everything to me, but I was just thinking about how much this field means to Muskegon,” Lee Cole told MLive. “The fans really started to swarm (Saturday afternoon) and I’m sure that will increase. It’s like we really need something to rally around right now (amid the COVID-19 pandemic).
“I’m sure you know as much as anyone about how serious we take football in West Michigan. I’m elated that we landed this job because I know we can deliver a pristine product and Muskegon deserves nothing less. But, more importantly, this project brings some good vibes to the community in tough times.”
According to Tony Williams, vice president of the Muskegon Big Red Athletic Foundation, the overall cost of the stadium renovation is around $1 million, including $750,000 to install AstroTurf, whose company is headquartered in Dalton, Ga.
When Muskegon voters passed a $104.7 million, two-part bond proposal in May, making the Hackley Stadium renovation possible among the other upgrades for Muskegon Public Schools, the district made a conscious effort to keep things as local as possible:
Christman Company out of Grand Rapids is the school-hired construction manager for the stadium project;
Forsite Design Group of Grand Rapids is the architect designer;
Base work under the turf was performed by Katerberg VerHage, Inc., of Grand Rapids;
JK Masonry, Inc., of Grand Rapids constructed the brick wall;
Absolute Concrete Coatings from Jenison was hired to do the grandstands;
Kent Companies is handling concrete work around the stadium;
And, of course, locally owned DRC Enterprises is laying the turf.
“One of the things I said about the bond is, we’re going to try and keep this money as much as we can in our area. And look at all these different trades. It’s not always going to be Muskegon people, but it’s local compared to going national,” Muskegon Public Schools superintendent Matthew Cortez said.
Dan Cole said that 90 percent of his DRC Enterprises crew working the Hackley Stadium job is from the Muskegon area.
DRC Enterprises has installed more than 150 fields, many of them on the east side of Michigan, although Dan Cole said that the west side of the state is catching up and putting in synthetic playing surfaces.
“Very excited about (the Hackley Stadium job). We did have a deadline to get done by next Friday (Aug. 28), but we’re going to beat that,” Dan Cole said. “It’s just too bad for the kids what’s going on (with the season postponed to next spring). You really feel the excitement here with everybody involved – the school, everybody. It was good that AstroTurf awarded us the job and they put out a damn good product and we’re just happy to be here.”
Last summer, DRC Enterprises installed the turf at Oakridge High School’s Russell A. Erickson Stadium. DRC Enterprises has also handled jobs at Coopersville and East Kentwood high schools, Davenport, Central Michigan University and Michigan State University’s indoor practice facility, among others.
Lee Cole said that all of DRC Enterprises’ jobs are handled with care, but this one at Hackley is just a little bit different. Once it’s done, it’ll be “killer,” he said.
“Oh, it’s huge. I mean, our guys just get fired up about doing a job in our hometown like this,” Luke Cole said.
Muskegon football coach Shane Fairfield said that when he knew Hackley was getting synthetic turf, he sought out the best installers he could find and DRC Enterprises’ name kept popping up.
When DRC Enterprises was awarded the job, Fairfield could tell that Dan Cole’s crew was “stoked” from day one. As Fairfield pointed out, there are jobs and then there are projects that mean just a little bit more.
“(Dan Cole) also told me this when we shook hands, he’s like, ‘Hey, whenever you get a big game and we have a job, I’ll let my son run that job and I’ll come back and I’ll dress this thing up for you. I’ll make it look really pretty,’” Fairfield said.
The playing surface at Hackley will be nine inches lower than it was when it had natural grass, according to Cortez.
He said that the brick wall surrounding the field – 4 feet tall on the ends and 6 feet tall behind the visitors’ sideline – was actually part of the original Hackley Stadium design more than 100 years ago but it’s a reality now. Dressing it up even more will be ornamental gates at the openings.
The concrete grandstands will take on a completely different look, for which Cortez offered a sneak preview: Red primer with red, black and white chips, clear-coated and SharkBite used so the standing and walking areas are not slippery.
The stadium was expected to be ready in time for the Big Reds’ Aug. 28 season- and home-opener against East Kentwood, but last Friday the Michigan High School Athletic Association announced that the season was being postponed. Still, it’s been full steam ahead for Christman Company and its project superintendent, Chip Mast. Cortez said they’re not letting up.
“I love (the stadium transformation) — I’ll love it until the day I die and I never even played on this field,” Cortez said with a chuckle.
“Instead of being the place where people don’t want to come, it’s going to be the place everybody wants to play.”
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