Big Piney High School’s Puncher Stadium: Maintaining a Football Field in the “Icebox of the Nation”

This is one in a series of posts showcasing the most outstanding high school football stadiums with artificial turf. Every field has its own story. See the full list Here.


Here is how Aaron Makelky, head football coach and social studies teacher at Big Piney High School, describes the dichotomy between the new Puncher Stadium and the rest of this dusty locale of 500 residents in western Wyoming: “You look at our town and then at our football stadium, and you say, ‘That doesn’t belong here.’”


But at an elevation of 6,800 feet above sea level, where Makelky says “nothing grows but sagebrush and irrigated hay,” overseeing a playable grass field isn’t easy. Factor in average temperatures that give Big Piney one of the coldest climates in the country — earning it the nickname “Ice Box of the Nation” — and you’ve got a field maintenance nightmare.


That’s why Sublette County School District 9 directed $4.2 million in oil and gas taxes toward a major football field renovation that was completed in time for the current school year and included a new artificial turf (lined for football only), which replaced a grass field marred by big dips that Makelky facetiously likened to “rolling hills.” Additionally, new seating for several hundred spectators replaced portable bleachers, press and coaches boxes were built, the  scoreboard and sound system were updated, a synthetic track was installed, and new landscaping and parking make the facility more attractive than ever. Learn more on Big Piney High School’s surface Here.


The only drawback, Makelky says, is the lack of lights — forcing some football games to kick off as early as 2 p.m. and hurting home game attendance at a school that barely maintains an enrollment of 200 in grades 9 through 12 by drawing from three communities. That’s a small albeit intangible price to pay, though, for what the installation of artificial turf is saving the school in field maintenance and related costs.


The Punchers christened their new field with a, well, punching of Shoshoni High School, 27-0. Big Piney’s football team eventually went 3-1 at Puncher Stadium.


“The big thing here is the excellent support we’ve received from the administration and the school board,” Makelky says. “You’ve got to look at the long-term total cost of ownership. If it’s possible for a place like Big Piney to have this field and this stadium, schools in other towns can certainly find a way to make artificial turf happen.”

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