Niagara Spears coach Dave Howe said it was clear even before the football team’s first match-up that the new artificial sports field was a game changer.

As soon as his players took to the field, he said, they marvelled at how it felt beneath the feet and actually rolled around on the turf.

And it’s not only the turf, which, as it happens, is the exact same surface the New Orleans Saints play on. There’s also proper end zone poles which help create a real football scene.

And then there’s the lights — creating a brightly lit field, so games can be played at night.

“This is a football field,” Howe said.

And a soccer field. And a lacrosse field.

Last Friday, the city’s sports field user groups joined elected officials to celebrate the grand opening of the Kiwanis Sports Field. The articial turf, built by the Seymour-Hannah Sports and Entertainment Centre, had its opening delayed by both extremely wet weather this spring, as well as vandalism.

Rick Lane, director of recreation and community services, said it’s appropriate the groups take part in the opening celebrations, as they played an integral part in the field’s development, going through several different samples of playing surfaces before picking one which best met their needs.

The project has had a long gestation and was initially conceived for lands next to Club Roma on Vansickle Road. The area proved insufficient, in part because it was near a hydro corridor, and it was moved to St. Paul Street West.

The playing surface can accommodate CFL regulation football games, a FIFA regulation soccer match and field lacrosse. On site four soccer changerooms, which can be converted to two football changerooms.

It can also be used to host Ontario Varsity Football League championship games, something the Spears have been unable to do up to this point.

St. Catharines MP Rick Dykstra said the field is everything the city imagined.

“I think this is the type of field we all were hoping for,” he said.

Mayor Brian McMullan said what he’s most looking forward to are night games, which will give working parents an opportunity to see their children play. He said he envisions the soon-to-come stands being filled with enthusiastic crowds.

“For the fist time ever in the city of St. Catharines, we’ll have our own Friday Night Lights,” he said.

“It is certainly professional standard,” he said.

In all, the field cost about $3.8 million to build, with $1 million each coming from the federal and provincial levels of government. The remainder was covered by the city, which received a $200,000 contribution from the Kiwanis Club of St. Catharines for naming rights.

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