Judah Christian athletes anxious for a place to call home

Land for purpose has been acquired in southwest Champaign

CHAMPAIGN — Heavy equipment is out at Judah Christian's new athletic fields in southwest Champaign, which could open in the fall.

It's a great relief to the Judah coaches, who have had to travel as far as Rantoul for team practices. Now they will have a Field of Dreams, as the fundraising program is called.

Eventually the Christian school will move all of its facilities there.

And then teams won't get lost.

Soccer coach Graham Berry said Judah Christian will be no longer chasing its opponents down.

"A couple of teams were fooled into going to the wrong place," when soccer locations were changed in Savoy.

Judah's Chief Educational Officer, Mike Chitty, said the school needs more land to expand its enrollment, currently 520 students.

"We're thrilled to be moving ahead because there is room for growth at Judah Christian," Chitty said.

Chitty said no timeline has been set for phases 2 and 3 of the relocation, putting up the schools themselves. He said the current building at 908 N. Prospect Ave. will probably be sold.

The newly acquired land is north of the intersection of Rising Road and Kirby Avenue, and ground leveling work has already begun, Chitty said.

A donation was used to purchase the land; Chitty declined to name the donor.

Joe Thomas, Judah's executive director of institutional advancement, said the institution is still accepting bids for the facilities, so the funding goal for Field of Dreams has not been set.

The distance from North Prospect is not a concern, because students are already traveling as far as Rantoul for practice.

Chitty said the new facilities could cost $2 million to $3 million. He said the bids should come in the next few weeks.

But there's an immediate response from coaches there.

"That'd be fantastic," said cross-country and distance coach Steven Kesler.

He has sent his teams to Parkland College's phased-out track, as well as to the University of Illinois Armory, where various groups compete for the space.

Judah Christian has not been hosting track or cross-country meets, he added.

His star 800-meter runner, Kaytlyn Hettmansberger, said she was psyched for a new track.

"In my whole time at Judah I have never gotten to have a home meet or have any of my friends come watch, because our meets are often a half hour away," she said.

"We also have a very small team and I feel like if we have a home track more people will want to go out for the sport."

She said the lack of good training conditions has put her at a competitive disadvantage.

"This year with the Parkland track being taken out, we don't know where we are going to practice. Also, I am just now 16, so my parents always have had to drive all over town to get me to practices or we have to ask our teammates for rides," she said.

Berry said it has been a hassle to be a wanderer with no field to call home.

"It will be great to have a permanent place," he said.

Some of the problems: arriving to find that fields haven't been lined, or are wet.

"The real challenge is not having the necessary things waiting for us," he said of constantly schlepping around equipment.

Coach Kesler mostly deals with distance running, with can be done on the sidewalks if necessary. Hessel Park's 0.6 mile lap is a favorite.

"This will be a vast improvement," Berry said.

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