Editor’s Note: This story was originally published August 31. It is being repurposed for the occasion of Derby’s home football opener vs. Torrington on Friday night and now includes a video tour.
DERBY — The gleaming complex down the hill from Derby High School could drop seamlessly onto some college campuses. There’s a new turf football and soccer field with a new track surrounding it, a new turf field for both softball and baseball, and between them a two-level field house that’s only just about finished.
And what’s the best part, to a few of the Red Raiders football players?
“The showers,” senior Mike Rijo said. “The last ones, we really didn’t use. We’d wait till we’d go home. It’s cleaner now. We can shower here instead of waiting to go home.”
The funny part is, in the original plans for the Derby locker room, there were no showers.
“Joan (Payden) insisted,” said Dr. Matthew Conway, Derby superintendent of schools. “We explained, so we thought, that kids today, unlike when we were playing, they just didn’t use them, at least in the old field house. It might’ve been the condition, it might’ve been the number, but they didn’t use them. She was insistent.”
Payden got her way, and as generous as she was to the project, it’s a good thing.
Payden, president and CEO of investment firm Payden and Rygel, wound up giving $20 million to the project, Conway said, in honor of her father. Joseph Raymond Payden was valedictorian of Derby High School’s Class of 1915.
The Red Raiders held their first football practice on the new turf at DeFilippo Field on Aug. 30. That turf field was the beginning of the project at the Ryan Complex, with state funding providing almost $3 million.
Costs built up, from things like a new press box and bleachers to a sinkhole in the middle of the field. Joan Payden stepped up, Conway said, whenever the school needed her help to keep the project going.
“It’s breathtaking,” senior Julian Delarosa said. “We really appreciate what (Payden) has done for us. We’re glad to play on this field. We’re going to get the fans going.
“I feel like this year is going to be different from other years. New field. New everything. New facility. It’s a great change for us. It’s an eye-opener for us.”
The Derby boys soccer team played Oxford on the field on Sept. 12, and the girls played Holy Cross on Sept. 17. Torrington visits for the first football game on the field on Sept. 20. There’s a formal ribbon-cutting planned for Oct. 12, homecoming, against Wilby, and Joan Payden is expected to attend.
The football field moved about 40 yards south, overtaking the old baseball field, to make room for the new J.R. Payden Field House above the north end zone. There’s a small parking lot around where the old field house used to be near the field entrance.
The baseball field moved up the hill, to where the old softball field used to be. Both sports will play on that field, dubbed Payden Park, which sports bullpens down each foul line and dugouts with bat racks at each end. A good poke might clear the high left-field fence onto Chatfield Street.
“The football field, the baseball field, the weight room, everything, it’s just great. We’re just grateful. It doesn’t feel like ours. It feels like a college campus,” Delarosa said. “For a little town to get this big facility, it’s great.”
The Raiders’ locker room includes their own laundry room with a washer and dryer, a drying area adjacent to air out equipment, a coaches room and a lavatory area with, yes, those showers next to it.
Also on the lower level of the building are the concession stand; locker rooms for visiting teams and officials; a storage area full of donated equipment that they’re still sorting through; a training room with a whirlpool, a treadmill and an elliptical machine for rehabbing athletes; and a weight room.
“All (the players’) weights were 40, 50 years old,” Derby coach George French said. “They got to touch something new, so they’re ecstatic.”
Upstairs are another locker room and offices for the athletic director and the parks and rec department.
There’s also the great room, with a kitchen area — think conference room, or banquet hall — that could host events for the school or the community at large. Windows face both fields.
With all the novelty, tradition remains. The “Pride” poem that players touched on their way out of the old building, the ductwork on which players wrote messages: They’ll find places of similar prominence in the new locker room, French said.
Both the great room and a memorabilia room facing the football field have cases to showcase trophies and artifacts from the school’s rich history. They have so much, French said, that the exhibits will rotate with the seasons.
As the players took the field for the first time Friday, there was still work going on. Lanes haven’t been inscribed on the track yet. The old press box is gone, but the foundation remains above what’s now about the north-end 10 yard line; it’ll be a viewing area, French said. Space had been cleared for the new press box, higher up, at the new 50, but it wasn’t yet in place.
Derby’s had been one of a dwindling number of grass fields remaining. Will French miss it?
“I really don’t know. It’s too much to handle,” French said.
He added with a grin, “I won’t miss the grass stains.”