Keeping a Tradition Alive at Arizona State University

Mark Derowitsch, Communications

July 19, 2019

No sport celebrates its tradition and pageantry quite like college football.

Name another sport where a team runs onto the field behind a live buffalo. Or a score triggers an actual schooner being unleashed onto the field. Or where a rabid fanbase is referred to as the "12th Man". Or where teams battle for trophies like the Little Brown Jug and Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Arizona State University has its own unique tradition, but one of the Sun Devils’ longest-running rituals takes place out of the public eye. Nearly every year since 1960, ASU has held a portion of fall practice at Camp Tontozona, located near Payson, Arizona, about 90 minutes from ASU’s Tempe campus. The camp provides a chance for coaches and players to get away and focus on football for an extended period of time.

Unless it rains.

Because part of the field at Camp Tontozona is in a flood zone, a late summer rain shower could turn ASU’s idyllic practice venue into a logistical nightmare. Often, a storm would render the grass playing field useless, leaving ASU in scramble mode to secure a facility in nearby Payson, 18 miles away, and transport the team and its gear to the new location.

“When the rains hit, the grass field would become unusable for up to two days, and losing two days of practice is no longer an option,” said Terry Baxter-Potter, senior architect at ASU. “Athletics wanted us to come up with a solution to design a field that they could use a half-hour after it stopped raining.”

Enter Olsson. ASU officials reached out to our team in Arizona to design a new practice field with modern amenities, such as easy access to electrical power, so coaches can communicate with players during practice. Our firm has done a few projects at ASU and works on-call.

Camp Tontozona sits more than 5,000 feet above sea level nestled in the mountains that border the Tonto National Forest. The playing field is just north of Tonto Creek and is surrounded by substantial slopes. Run-off from the hills and swelling from the creek frequently flood the field during seasonal rainstorms.

The challenge was to build an NCAA-grade field that could be used for both football and soccer and that could drain quickly after rainstorms. We started working on the design November 2017.

“The situation was not sufficient for an NCAA Division I team looking to maximize its practice time,” said Cardell Andrews, team leader for Olsson’s Phoenix general civil team and who served as leader for the project.

Underneath the field were five septic systems, and there was little the Olsson team could do around the leach fields. This added to our team’s challenge.

After assessing the area, our team designed a field with a limited grade (to avoid disturbing the leach fields). We recommended installing an artificial surface (AstroTurf was ultimately chosen) over a foundation that allowed for better, faster drainage, even in the heaviest of storms.

To further protect the field, we designed a retaining wall on the north end of the area, and an area with riprap to the west. Grouted riprap installed into the surface serves as a gutter, channeling runoff into the drains. On the south side, we added a fence to protect players from sliding down a hill and into the creek.

We added additional upgrades to the field, including:

  • Power to the sidelies for a removable scoreboard, timer, laptops, and other equipment
  • Field striping for multiple purpose field use (for football and soccer)
  • Relocating leach field rims, lids, and manholes out of the artificial surface

Crews from Brycon Construction, the primary contractor, began working on the project in April 2018. The project was scheduled to be completed in July, but heavy rains caused a major delay that prevented ASU from using the facility for fall camp that year. The project was finished in the spring of 2019.

Olsson provided civil, electrical, and structural engineering; landscape architecture; and construction management to the project.

“We’re pleased with the work that was completed,” Terry said.

ASU can’t wait to get back to Camp Tontozona. The Sun Devils are scheduled to renew their yearly tradition (and escape the blistering Tempe heat) with a week of practice at the camp starting August 5.

“One of the many reasons I returned to college football is because of great traditions like Camp Tontozona,” said ASU football coach Herm Edwards. “It’s the perfect setting for our coaches, players, and staff to bond and get quality of work accomplished. The newly completed turf field will ensure that we accomplish quality work on a daily basis.”