By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The project in the mid-1970s was to raise $300,000 to install artificial turf in Missouri Southern’s new football stadium.
Jim Frazier, the Missouri Southern football coach and an admitted “eternal optimist,” believed there would be no problem completing the task.
“There was no question we could do it,” Frazier said Tuesday afternoon. “We had a lot of support, a lot of interest, a lot of enthusiasm in the community and the area. We knew we could do it.”
A fund-raising drive officially launched on Oct. 4, 1974, but $2,500 already had been raised through Frazier’s public speaking.
“I spoke at Carthage, Neosho, Carl Junction, all the civic groups in town,” Frazier said. “Banquets, athletic banquets, that’s really how I got to know so many people in the area. I met a ton of people that year.”
“Jim Frazier probably sold 95 percent of the turf,” said Bob Higgins, chairman of the fund-raising drive committee. “What little we sold after he really initiated that campaign resulted in what I thought was a very successful ending.
“Leon Billingsly (school president) said we would meet some resistance because we would have the only AstroTurf field in Missouri at that time, but we really didn’t meet much resistance. The reception was really greater than I thought it would be. I didn’t hear a lot of negative responses or comments after the campaign got under way.
“This was a passion for Jim. He really wanted it. Leon Billingsly asked me to chair the committee because I was involved in the community (postmaster at Joplin Post Office) and not a part of the school. But Jim was the dynamics of that campaign.”
There were turf-purchasing plans for both individuals and corporations. The most popular plan was a yard-a-year —$33.75 per square yard for three years.
A sod field would have cost $180,000, but it would have required an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 annually for maintenance. And the astroturf, purchased from Monsanto, was guaranteed for 10 years.
The seed for an astroturf field was planted on the Lions’ football trip to Nevada-Las Vegas in 1972.
“Everyone from our school was so impressed with the Las Vegas setting,” Frazier said. “So was I. We needed a multipurpose facility. The turf was there for practice. We could practice in the rain as long as it wasn’t lightning.”
The turf brought visitors onto campus for a first-hand look, and no doubt aided student recruiting.
“It got families and young people to come and visit our campus to see,” Frazier said. “We did set ourselves apart from the rest of the state. We were the first to have an astroturf field.
“Once we got them on campus, then it became an academic presentation and let the college itself do the recruiting. The turf allowed us to get some families to come visit our campus and see the good strong school that we had.”