WALWORTH Even as school officials and construction executives tossed ceremonial shovels of dirt April 1 at Big Foot High School, larger machines were moving a lot more dirt behind them.

The groundbreaking ceremony marked the start of work on a $7.8 million renovation and renewal of Big Foot’s outdoor athletic facilities.

In opening remarks before the ceremonial events, School District Administrator Doug Parker said he was a Big Foot freshman in 1982 when the original facilities were built behind the high school.

Joining the school officials were executives from Hellas Sports Construction, the Texas-based contractor overseeing the project.

The old athletic facilities, Parker said, have seen a state football championship and conference championships in football, tennis, track and soccer, as well as individual state championships in track and tennis.

“But ever more important than winning are the thousands of participants who learned valuable life lessons and grew up Chiefs, like me,” he said. “The facility being built will give our students and youth a place to learn and play for years to come. It will be a safe and positive environment for all of us to help raise generations of young people.”

Parker, a 1986 Big Foot graduate, later said he remembered that Big Foot used to play its home football games at Devils Lane Park, which is right across the street from the high school.

Parker said he played his varsity football on the new football field.

After the new football field was completed, the Big Foot High School baseball team played its home games there.

“It seems like yesterday,” he said of the 1982 complex. “We have come full circle.”

In November 2018, school district voters narrowly approved a referendum for borrowing up to $7.8 million over 15 years for the athletic facility improvements. The school district may not have to borrow that much, because the district received about $620,000 in private donations.

The entire project has a cost cap of $8 million, Parker said.

School district officials have projected a property tax increase of about 40 cents per $1,000 to pay off the borrowing needed to fund the improvements.

“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? It’s the opportunity to play,” said Walworth Village President Tom Connelly, quoting former Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary.

Connelly said the new athletic field facilities are about opportunities.

“It wasn’t about taking opportunities away from kids; it was giving them new opportunities,” he said.

He said the new facilities will also resolve issues around the ball field at Devils Lane Park, where neighbors complained about foul balls landing in their yards and sometimes breaking windows.

A press box on the athletic complex will be named the Jim Haeni memorial press box. Haeni, 65, who unexpectedly died at his home on Jan. 26, was a retired Big Foot teacher and coach who often announced Big Foot home games.

Darrell Frederick, a Big Foot alumnus and a member of the Sharon School Board, said Haeni was one of his coaches when he attended Big Foot and someone who became a friend later, after he graduated.

Haeni was always there to help when someone was down, Frederick said.

“I was proud to know him for many years,” Frederick said. “It’s an outstanding thing to honor him.”

Plans call for adding three new tennis courts to the five existing courts, repairing the football-soccer practice field, and building a “quadplex” of two new baseball and two softball diamonds. Other planned improvements include new bleachers for the football field, new artificial turf for the football field, lighting for all eight tennis courts, and a new concessions stand.

Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.