TURLOCK - They came, they ran, they ate tri-tip.
And they raised money to improve the football fields and tracks at Turlock and Pitman high schools.
About 60 runners completed a 5K race Saturday morning, children got their faces painted, 15 youths participated in a football skills camp, and more than 700 hot dogs and tri-tip sandwiches were sold.
The event marked the Turlock Turf Crew's kickoff for fund-raising and to get the word out about the project.
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"We'd like to start tomorrow, but we have to raise the money first," said Holly Evans, co-president of the Turlock Turf Crew and parent of a sophomore football player.
The group of parents, coaches, students and community members from both schools has set its sights on raising $1.8 million to upgrade the football fields and tracks at Turlock's two public high schools.
Organizers hoped to raise $3,000 Saturday. They are planning a wine and cheese tasting in September.
Pitman and Turlock high schools would be part of a long list of area campuses installing synthetic turf football fields and all-weather tracks, including high schools in Modesto, Oakdale, Ripon, Patterson and Sonora.
Synthetic turf uses green fibers for grass and beads of recycled rubber infill to replicate the look and texture of real grass. Surrounding Turlock and Pitman highs' football fields would be all-weather tracks made of foam rubber.
Pitman and Turlock football teams now play home games at Joe Debely Stadium at Turlock High. During its 83 years, the stadium hasn't had any considerable improvements to speak of, Evans said. Pitman's teams practice on their home campus, but the 7-year-old school does not have a stadium, she said.
Upgrading the two schools' facilities would improve their safety and draw more users.
Turlock High's football field has patchy and uneven grass that disappears two weeks into football season. The track is a circle of dirt with divots and mounds. When it rains, both are covered in muddy puddles, Evans said.
"It makes people not want to come here, and it's really unsafe," Evans said.
With better facilities, both campuses could provide the community with better recreation opportunities and could hold regional contests in band, track and soccer, Evans said.
The field and track combination also cuts down on maintenance; some area high schools have saved about about $60,000 annually.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.