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A legacy is reborn at Sweetwater High with new athletic field Phillip Brents | Fri, Oct 18 2013 12:09 PM

The oldest school in the Sweetwater Union High School District now has the district’s newest athletic field.

Gala ceremonies took place last Friday at Sweetwater High School to christen the school’s new state-of-the-art all-weather Turf Field.

SuHi legend Dan Saleaumua, a 12-year NFL veteran, and Sweetwater board president Jim Cartmill cut the ribbon to officially dedicate the new field at Gail Devers Stadium on Hudgins Field.

The new artificial field replaces the old and battered natural grass turf — if one could call it that. As Saleaumua strode up to the speaker’s platform, he playfully made a grab at the new turf and uttered … “No rocks?!”

Every speaker acknowledged the same thought — that this was long overdue. Why in the world should the district’s flagship school — at least in terms of seniority — have the worst field in the district?

Through the efforts of many — the city of National City, National City City Council, Proposition O Bond Oversight Committee, Local Initiative Support Corporation, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, National City Housing, Grants and Asset Management Department, the San Diego Chargers and the NFL Foundation and the Sweetwater district — that is the case no longer.

“Sweetwater is the heart and soul of National City,” said National City Mayor Ron Morrison, a 1968 SuHi graduate. “This is a great day for the alumni and for the kids who are going to use this field.”

Morrison said $200,000 from the city helped kick-start the project; the Chargers and the NFL Foundation matched that figure and the ball started to roll from there as funding to complete the $3 million project was finalized.

The field dedication was originally scheduled Sept. 20 but was postponed due to construction delays. When laser readings of the old field were taken, it was discovered that one end of the field was actually three-and-half feet higher than the other, necessitating extra work.

In fact, the old field was completely razed and the new field moved slightly eastward to accommodate the new track surface. The visitor stands now abut the edge of the track; other surrounding buildings also had to be moved.

Morrison said the city’s stake in the venture is to ensure its use by the community, not just athletes at the school.

“It will be used and it will be played on,” the NC mayor reiterated. “It will be in joint use by the community and the school.”

Sweetwater, which opened its doors in 1920, is the district’s only high school in National City. Alma Sarmiento, who heads the school’s alumni association, said she maintains records on 20,000 alumni.

Morrison said it is his understanding that all seven elected National City city officials are SuHi grads.

The dedication of the new field thus carried an emotional punch for many in attendance. Many current coaches who were former athletes at the school said they had to wipe tears from their eyes while watching the new complex go up over the past few months.

“Once a Devil, always a Devil,” Morrison noted during his keynote speech.

Other dignitaries picked up on that theme during their presentations.

Members of the school’s marching band, dance team, choir and cheerleaders performed for spectators while alumni athletes — many wearing letter-jackets from bygone decades — ringed the field.

Sweetwater principal Dr. Roman Rosario referred to the complex as the school’s “field of dreams” — with the exception being that people are already playing on it.

“The people of National City deserved this,” he said to applause.

Sweetwater district superintendent Dr. Ed Brand and others spoke about the tradition and legacy that others beforehand had brought to the school — and the community.

 “It is the common connections in our history that bind us together,” Cartmill said while invoking the name of the SuHi Nation.

Saleaumua drove from Phoenix — a five-hour trip each way – to attend the dedication ceremony. He and teacher/ choir director Laura Charles reminisced together about past times. Charles has been at the school since 1971.

“Just to see how the city has developed since I left in 1982 has been amazing, it’s so big now,” Saleaumua said. “But Sweetwater is the same school. I’m a kid from National City, and wherever I will go, I will never forget that.”

Though some members of the Sweetwater Nation might criticize the absence of the Red Devil logo at midfield (there is just a capital “S”), no one can deny the new field is much more aesthetically pleasing.

 “It’s really pretty,” SuHi cheerleader Denise Perez said.

Work on the new Sweetwater field began in June following the conclusion of the track and field season. The field was originally scheduled to be unveiled on Sept. 20, but construction delays forced a postponement until last Friday.

The Red Devils have two more home games scheduled before regular season play ends next month.

Sweetwater is scheduled to host two-time defending Metro-Pacific League champion Mater Dei Catholic on Oct. 25 and also host league rival Castle Park on Nov. 1. The Oct. 25 date is being promoted as Future Red Devil Day; homecoming is scheduled Nov. 1.

SuHi head football coach Brian Hay said the new field brings a sense of “pride and accomplishment” to the team.

The new field also features a nine-lane all-weather track surface that rings the football field. Built into the infrastructure are long jump and triple jump pits behind one goal post and a pole vaulting area and high jump skirt behind the other goal post.

The new field will also be used for soccer matches during the upcoming winter sports season as well as track and field during the spring sports season.

“Our athletes can now maximize their efforts with this new field,” SuHi athletic director Tim Latham said. “Hopefully, it will help us move up to the next level.”

Besides school teams, the new field will also be made available to outside organizations. Those could include adult soccer teams as well as adult and youth football teams.

The National City Diablos Pop Warner football organization formerly used the school’s lower athletic fields for practices and games. Members from that organization participated in the pre-game parade of athletes.

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