The empty chip bags, a comb, and a pacifier that littered the shoddy grass of the Camden High School football field Monday will be gone in coming weeks - scooped up by a bulldozer.
A year-and-a-half after receiving a $200,000 NFL Grassroots Grant for new synthetic turf, the Camden High School Athletic Field Ad Hoc Committee has gathered enough money to start working on a new field, including a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Soccer Foundation.
Shovels went into the ground Monday in a ceremonial start to the renovation.
The Camden Panthers' current football field has holes and giant patches of dry grass, and the wooden bleachers can deliver vicious splinters.
In Phase I of the project, the artificial turf and perimeter fencing are to be installed.
The second phase will consist of replacing the bleachers.
The two phases are estimated to cost $1.5 million.
The "We Can Do This" campaign group, which has been leading the renovation efforts for nearly three years, is continuing to raise funds to also get a new concession stand, group founder Stan White said. The fund-raising campaign group is made up mostly of Camden High alumni.
About 300 students and staff sat in the bleachers Monday to watch the ceremony, which included performances by the Camden High Choir and the Sophisticated Sisters drill team.
"We need you to take ownership of this field," Camden County Freeholder Scott McCray, a 1997 Camden High graduate, told the students Monday. "The love for this school needs to be felt deeply."
McCray was a track-and- field star during his Camden High days and told students that no matter what they use the field for - football, track, or other activities - they should take pride in it.
The field was built in the 1940s.
Although the Camden High athletic department has continued to use the deteriorated field, many games have had to be canceled in even the slightest precipitation. Any rain, snow, or ice transforms the field into a muddy safety hazard, campaign committee members said.
The Philadelphia Eagles announced in November 2011 that the school would receive the NFL grant for its field renovations. Then the U.S. Soccer Foundation came through, as did the Camden Board of Education and the Camden County Board of Freeholders.
School officials, including interim Superintendent Reuben Mills and Camden High principal James Thompson, said Camden High students will soon have as facilities as nice as those available to students in other schools in the region.
"Our students will have the same opportunities as suburban" students, Mills said.
The field work is to begin Tuesday and is scheduled to be completed by the end of September.