Pictured: Old Saybrook chief of police Michael Spera gave a sneak preview of a donation from his department for the lights project at the high school. Police services gave $20,000 toward the cost.” (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Paul Augeri
OLD SAYBROOK – Junior captain Bradley Kulmann has played in many meaningful games on and away from Old Saybrook’s blue turf field – regular season, Shoreline Conference tournament and the state tournament. In November, he scored two goals as the powerhouse Rams won the Class S championship for the third consecutive year.
However, there is one soccer environment Kulmann and those teammates who will be seniors next season would like to experience before their Old Saybrook soccer careers wind down.
“We have one game every year, the Morgan game at Morgan, under the lights. That’s the game I look forward to all year,” Kulmann said.
The Huskies play their home matches at Clinton’s Indian River Complex. Morgan is one of just a handful of Shoreline schools with a lighted home field.
“If we can have that here, have those types of games, 7 o’clock night games every week, that’d be amazing,” said Kulmann. “That’s the one game I cherish, the night game every year. We really want lights here. It would be a very cool experience.”
Old Saybrook officials hope it won’t be long before the Rams can play soccer, football, lacrosse and field hockey games under a night sky. The town is more than halfway toward meeting its fundraising goal to help cover the balance of the $400,000 cost for a modern LED lighting system.
If the financials are met, the target to begin installation would be spring/summer for lights in the fall season.
“That’s the hope, in a perfect world,” Old Saybrook athletic director Brendan Saunders said. “It requires a lot of money raised in a short amount of time.”
The school community recently added another component — “Rays for Rams” — to its online fundraising project. At raysforrams.com, donors have purchase options for a personalized brick that will be used for a decorative landing area near the entrance to the high school’s track and field.
“We’re hoping that it’s going to be a big hit,” Saunders said.
Town officials have tried several times over the years to have lights installed on the main field at the high school, to no avail.
Scott Giegerich, a co-chair of the committee that has campaigned for the project, remembers a time in the 1980s when lights were purchased by the town and actually installed, but because officials did not go through the proper channels for approval, the town removed them. Those lights, said Saunders, were eventually sold to the town of Madison and installed at the Surf Club.
Giegerich also recalled two separate occasions when temporary lights were brought in for athletic events, with the hope that the experience would generate community support for permanent lighting. It didn’t pan out.
By the late 1990s, Giegerich said, the town passed an ordinance prohibiting specific field lighting at the school.
“The ordinance then, was keeping us away,” he said.
Fast-forward to 2019, when various stakeholders in the community, including politicians, police and fire services as well as educators, came together to talk through the challenges of lighting the main field. Giegerich also found that the residents of today who live within shouting distance of the field were open-minded and listened.
“There were public hearings. We talked to abutting neighbors,” said Giegerich said. “We made presentations. We talked about light spillage today versus in the past. Some neighbors – some of them I actually know — were worried about kids partying after a game and noise. We told them, ‘that’s not going to happen.’
“It took a period of time, but now that the zoning commission has passed that new text amendment to that ordinance so that ballfield lighting is allowed … all of those hurdles are done with. Our coordination, I would say, has been pretty synergistic. Now we just want to get people excited about going to events.”
Saunders said the upgrade would be “phenomenal” for his sports programs and also ease the burden of having to schedule all events during daytime hours.
“We can play games at 3, games at 6, games at 7,” he said. “It would help with our baseball team in that we can play a ballgame in the afternoon and a lacrosse game at night.”
In the fall, there would be potential to play soccer and field hockey on the same date. And the football team could align with its Pequot Conference peers, almost all of whom play on Friday nights.
“Our team goes to Morgan, they go to Valley and H-K, and they see what it’s like to play under the lights,” Saunders said. “They see the families come out and it turns into a big family event, which is great. I hope this takes off. You’ve been to Valley football games? I think the whole town’s there. I would love to see something like that happen here with our sports programs. Not just football, all of our programs.”
Nearly half of the project’s cost have been covered by a town surplus. This fall, Old Saybrook’s police services held its own fundraiser within the department and also collected donations from the community. Michael Spera, the chief of police and an Old Saybrook graduate, presented a check for $20,000 to a group of Rams teams’ captains.
“This project is something near and dear to all of our hearts,” Spera told an assembly of Ram athletes who gathered at the field in October. “Adults always are supposed to make things better for the next generation, and you guys are supposed to make things better for your next generation. Very seldom do we get to make something great for all of us at the same time.
“One of the great things that we all can work toward for the town of Old Saybrook is putting lights on this field. Not only will it enhance every student-athlete’s experience during their high school years, it will enhance the students and their families. We can have true Friday Night Lights here. As a fellow Ram, I used to hate going out of town just to have an experience on a really nice field. Well, many years ago we finally got our first turf field.”
And now, soon, the best of both worlds for Old Saybrook athletes and supporters. A modern lighting system to go with a first-class field.