Coach Mike Emendorfer was not expecting this to be a rebuilding year for his UW-Platteville football program.
But that’s what it has become — in a different sense of the term than most coaches ever have to deal with. And the project is already moving forward at full speed, because the Pioneers’ 2014 home football schedule is at stake.
Two weeks after a pair of tornadoes touched down two miles west of the city of Platteville and ripped through the UW-Platteville campus, the repair effort is still in its early stages.
Some of the most striking damage took place at Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium, where the Pioneers play their home football and soccer games.
Two of the stadium’s four light standards were knocked down by winds that reached 120 mph. The stadium’s FieldTurf surface and the concrete sections holding up the bleachers will need to be replaced.
“For me, it was kind of heartbreaking,” UW-Platteville athletic director Mark Molesworth said. “For many of us, it’s kind of time to reload and figure out how we’re going to move on from it.”
The tornadoes — one of which was classified by the National Weather Service as a “low-end” EF2 — damaged four other buildings on the UW-Platteville campus before tearing through the city, destroying at least a dozen houses in the process.
Though the total cost of the damage is still unknown, Chancellor Dennis J. Shields has said the price tag for campus repairs could exceed $10 million.
In the aftermath of the storm that tore through on the night of June 16 into the early-morning hours, the support of the community has helped keep morale up around the university.
“We’re part of the community. Our families, our children have grown up here,” Emendorfer said. “Everywhere we go, we’re getting support. It’s helped us all come a little closer and put things in perspective.”
To help with the rebuilding, a Pioneer Relief Fund has been set up to help assist those affected, providing food and temporary housing to those displaced by the storm. The UW-Platteville Foundation will match up to $10,000 in donations.
Last week, a 250-ton crane rolled into the Pioneer Stadium parking lot and is expected to be fully operational when the stadium’s restoration process begins, perhaps as soon as Monday.
With the UW-Platteville football home opener scheduled for Sept. 13 against the University of Dubuque, there is still some uncertainty as to whether the stadium will be ready in time.
“We don’t have the exact timetable set for when the stadium will be ready,” UW-Platteville public information officer Paul Erickson said. “We’re trying to get our current facilities ready for the start of students coming back and are making contingency plans in case things aren’t ready.”
The Six Rivers Conference usually opens its season with a two-day football jamboree at the facility. With prep football beginning on Aug. 22, it seems likely some or all of those games will have to be relocated.
While the stadium may not be ready to go for September, the Pioneers are hopeful that they can find similar success to last season’s squad regardless of where they play their home games.
In 2013, the Pioneers finished second in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, winning 10 games for the second time in program history, and they have the talent returning to make a run at a second consecutive NCAA Division III playoff berth.
“We will have football here at UW-Platteville in 2014,” Emendorfer said. “We were very excited about our team last year, and we have a great team returning. We may not be practicing or playing (at Pioneer Stadium), but our current players are excited about this opportunity.”