Two years ago, Sacred Heart Catholic High School began a quest to find athletic playing fields it could call its own.
Weather permitting, that search could end during the upcoming school year.
Groundbreaking ceremonies took place in late May on a 20-plus-acre undeveloped site bounded by U.S. 11 and Bonhomie and WSF Tatum roads in south Hattiesburg.
Land has been cleared, but recent rainy weather has slowed the leveling and sod laying for the football/soccer practice and playing fields and the baseball and softball diamonds at the heart of the Sacred Heart Athletic Complex.
“It’s progressing,” Sacred Heart athletic director Brian Kern said. “Now, it’s just a matter of having the time to get in there and do it. It’s just been so rainy, but we’re starting the actual construction aspect of it.”
The plan was to have the field ready for the home-opening football game Sept. 5 when the Crusaders host Park Place. That not only mean having the actual playing field set to go, but the lights required to host night games.
“The restriction is that you can’t start before 7 p.m. because of the heat,” Kern said.
It’s an ambitious plan for a school that resurrected its four upper grades over a period from 2004 to 2007 after a 41-year absence.
“We’ve got a long ways to go, but that’s what we’ve been doing these past eight years, taking small steps, calculated steps, careful steps and slowly growing,” Principal Brian McCrory said.
And over the past six years, the Crusaders have become one of the state’s most well-rounded and successful athletic programs among Mississippi’s Class 1A ranks.
After placing third the previous two school years in Mississippi High School Activities Association’s All-Sports Award points, Sacred Heart won Class 1A honors by a single point over 2013 winner Tupelo Christian.
The Crusaders athletic program claimed a state championship in girls soccer for a second consecutive year and had two sports (baseball, boys soccer) reach the state playoffs’ quarterfinals.
Sacred Heart finished second in coed tennis, third in boys golf and fourth in girls track and another five sports earned points by placing between eighth and 14th place in the state.
The past year saw Sacred Heart teams capture seven district titles, a regional crown and three South State banners. Individual Crusaders won state titles in power lifting, boys golf, tennis and girls track.
“We won it by the slimmest of margins, and while it’s dependent on individual programs’ success, it’s purposely indicative of how the whole athletic program’s done,” Kern said. “You see there’s something going on in more than one or two sports, but in all sports.”
“Our program, even though we’re a 1A school, it’s comparable to a 5A or 6A school as far as the number of sports that we offer.”
Kern said Sacred Heart has benefited from a bevy of athletes who spread their talents across the program.
“We have a group of kids who play two or three sports, and we don’t win this award if we don’t have those kind of kids,” Kern said.
And soon, some of those kids and those who follow will have a home field to call their own.
The complex, owned and operated by the non-profit San Antonio Foundation Inc., has lease agreements with Sacred Heart, Grace Temple Church and the Mississippi Youth Football Association to use the facility.
The San Antonio Foundation — named after the Hattiesburg Public School District-owned facility where the Crusaders played its home football games for the past three seasons — not only has raised funds to purchase the property, but its members also are among the volunteers helping to convert the former woodlands.
The complex will feature a practice field at its northern end, a football-soccer facility in the center, a softball diamond in the southwest corner and the baseball field extending to the southeast.
Plans call for about 800 to 1,000 seats on the home side of the football-soccer field, with another 400 or so visitors’ seats.
Tracy Klein, president of San Antonio Foundation Inc., estimated the finished complex would have cost about $2.5 million had it been put to bid.
“I don’t want to say that we’re going to spend that, because we’re not,” Klein said. “It would just not be possible.
“But I don’t think you could go out and contract for it for less than that. There’s a lot of sweat equity that will be going into this from a lot of different people.”
Klein said the foundation also would like to involve The Arc of Southeast Mississippi with events at the complex. The Arc facility sits on the northern end of Bonhomie Road near what will be the access road to the fields.
“It’s right there, our neighbors, and mainly, at this point, what we’re talking about is we want to be inclusive and provide an activity venue to them,” Klein said. “In other words, come to games, participate in the fan base, provide something to do as a group and be inclusive.”
And it’s about putting Sacred Heart athletes on the same playing field when it comes to facilities as their neighbors.
“It’s the idea that our kids deserve to have a place to call home,” Kern said, “That’s kind of what’s propelled this.
“It’s about a group of men and women who care about Sacred Heart and want to see our kids have what every other kid has, and that’s some place to call home.”