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Field of Dreams: $1 Million Campaign Launches for New Holmes High Facility

The poor condition of Tom Ellis Field at Holmes High School limits Covington Independent Public Schools to just a few dozen events there per year.

Between a half dozen football games, some soccer matches, and graduation, the grass at the 77-year old stadium takes an annual beating.

The school cannot host elementary events, welcomes just a few middle school competitions, and the marching band can't use it at all. The current Bermuda grass is older than any Holmes student and costs $50,000 a year in maintenance.

Some ambitious alumni, however, have tapped into their lingering school spirit and now seek to raise $1 million for a multi-purpose outdoor athletic and activity field improvement project.

The Tom Ellis Athletic Memorial Foundation got a strong boost from the Covington Board of Education at its most recent meeting when the district committed $200,000 to the project. The rest of the funds will be raised privately.

The $200,000 commitment will save the district approximately $380,000 over ten years according to Holmes alumnus, former Covington city manager, current Ft. Thomas city councilman, and partner at Strategic Advisors, Jay Fossett. His firm is creating a website at no charge to coordinate the fundraising efforts with the hopes of starting construction next spring and opening the new field in the fall of 2015.

The cost to maintain the current field over the next ten years is roughly $580,000, Fossett said. He and his fellow alumni and supporters at the Memorial Fund convinced the school board to approve the initial contribution during a presentation last month, two weeks before the board's unanimous approval.

It has been more than eighty-three years since the last time a Covington school board cast such a vote.

In 1931, the Board of Education gave its support to the Parent Teacher Association and a $3,000 allocation to be combined with the PTA's $17,000 to clear an area, create a field, and erect a 500-seat stadium. The field opened in 1936 with a Holmes football shut-out of Ludlow, 6-0.

The field is now named for Tom Ellis, the longtime coach of Bulldog football, basketball, and baseball, and according to his son, the all-time winningest coach in Kentucky high school athletics history when wins from all three sports are added together.

"He believed he lived in the sports capital of the United States," Tom Ellis, Jr., owner of Duck Manor Promotions in Latonia, said of his father, pointing to Major Leage sports in Cincinnati and dominant collegiate athletics in Lexington and Columbus. Coach Ellis sent many of his players to the University of Kentucky to play for the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryan before the college football icon departed for Texas A&M and later, Alabama. Ellis was closed to "the Bear".

While Bear dominated at the college level, Coach Ellis, who also served as the city's assistant parks manager and who died in the mid-1980s, put Holmes on the high school map but Covington's only public high school has worn out his namesake field.

"They have probably the finest gym in Northern Kentucky but the track and football field have been deprived," the junior Ellis said.

The the coach's son never suited up on the gridiron for his father, Ellis and his fellow alumni at the Foundation hope to move into victory formation soon, ideally through generous contributions from successful alumni and private businesses.

"Holmes is going to do this with private money," Ellis said. "You tell me another public school who's done that."

 photo ellisfieldproposal_zpsa329be68.png

Rendering of proposed field

On whether the new field, if completed, should retain his father's name, "I think his name ought to be associated with it," Ellis said, " but my father would want a proper facility for the kids to use."

"I think you would see a revolt if you took his name off the field."

The effort to create a new field is larger than competitive athletics. The aim would also be to improve physical education and activity among the city's youth.

Preventing and decreasing substance abuse among youth and encouraging participation on teams and other healthy activities while decreasing obesity levels among students are also priorities, Fossett said. One in three CIPS students are considered overweight or obese.

More than 10,000 area youth would be impacted by a new facility, Fossett said.

With the proposed upgrades, varsity football, soccer, and baseball teams would be able to practice on the field and football and soccer games could be played there. The varsity track and field team could not only practice and compete there, it could also host competitions.

Middle school and elementary school football and soccer teams could use the field ass could the marching band which would also be able to host competitions. Junior ROTC could use the field for drills and area recreational sports programs for youth and neighboring schools could utilize it.

"It provides the City of Covington with a state-of-the-art multi-purpose activity facility that would be made available for the entire community to use and enjoy," Fossett said.

The field would use artificial turf.

The current grass requires $46,000 in annual maintenance and an additional $60,000 every five years for re-crowning it (next due after the 2014 football season). Seeds and fertilizer cost $8,000 each year while cuts and trims cost $5,620, water is $2,900, and game day preparations (painting lines and zones) cost $29,740.

An artificial field is estimated to last ten to twelve years.
 
The proposal is welcome news to Tom Haggard, assistant boys soccer coach. "I think it's going to be pretty cool if an urban school district can do this without doing it as a bonding project," Haggard said. "It will bring the alumni and community together and I think that's something that can be pretty neat."
 
"The most important thing is, our field is pretty much kind of useless as it is right now," Haggard said. "Fitness and health and wellness are a big push in the school district right now and I want to get more use out of our facilities."
 
Haggard said that soccer practice is usually held at Ninth District School in Latonia. "I would like to bring it back to campus to get more kids involved, to get more elementary kids involved," Haggard said. "It's extremely beneficial to get more kids involved."
 
Having kids involved at the school and the community was very important to Coach Ellis who directed operations at Goebel Park in Mainstrasse Village during his day. Alumni from that era are expected to give big, the Ellis, Jr. said. 
 
Until the website is developed, donors are able to mail funds to The Tom Ellis Athletic Memorial (TEAM) Foundation at 2500 Madison Avenue, Covington, KY, 41011.
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News