Cleve In The Eve: Shamrock Classic includes Dozer makeover, dance lessons, a pot of gold and more

Dave Eminian
Notre Dame High School players Ben Kouri (left), Matt Manning (middle) and Alex Osmulski (right) celebrate with the "Pot of Gold" after a 28-0 win over Richwoods in the 2019 Shamrock Classic at Dozer Park on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. [DAVE EMINIAN/JOURNAL STAR]

PEORIA — Dozer Park was precision work on display Friday, and not just during the 2019 Shamrock Classic.

Notre Dame's 28-0 win over Richwoods was loaded with subplots and sights and sounds, from the debut of a Pot of Gold, to an appearance by Catholic Sisters to root on the Irish, special jerseys for the game, a remembrance of late coach Sean Gillen, the debut of a beer garden and post-game dance lessons from a coach.

But first things, first. Before the teams ever arrived at Dozer, it took a grounds crew chief with NFL experience to make it all happen.

Mike Reno takes care of Dozer Park for the baseball Peoria Chiefs. But every year, the NFL brings him in to work on its end zones for that little thing they call the Super Bowl.

Reno smiles with understanding when told how much Richwoods hates playing on the dirt infield portion of the football field at Dozer.

"I remember when I was in Miami, and we just spent millions putting in new turf for the Dolphins," Reno said. "But they played baseball there, too. So back then, we had the best turf in the NFL. But because of the clay part that had to be played on, the NFL ranked our field as one of the worst in the country.

"I get it. Guys don't like getting ripped up on that hard surface."

Converting Dozer from baseball to football is a challenging task for Reno. He has to cut out the pitchers mound. Then dig in the warning tracks out by the outfield fence and near the Chiefs dugout to create holes to anchor the goal posts.

Those goal posts come in six pieces and have to be assembled.

"(Former Chiefs president) Rocky Vonachen commissioned those from an engineer at Caterpillar," said Reno, who has presided over Dozer Park since 2011. "I think they cost $5,000 and they donated them to us. They are great people over there."

Reno lays out the field, and this year designed and painted a Notre Dame logo at midfield. Which is right about where the dirt surface from deep shortstop ends on the third-base half of the field.

He painted an NFL-regulation out-of-bounds sideline zone 6 feet wide. Scissor lifts, for TV cameras, are brought in and stationed in right-center field.

"It's usually me and three other guys doing this," Reno said. "I'll take help from our college guys whenever they are free. The intensity of the field prep really depends on how much drawing and painting there is to do.

"When the game is over, it's a matter of walking the field and filling divots with sand."

Notre Dame, which now is 4-1 in the Shamrock Classic, loves the Dozer experience.

"This is my first year as athletic director and helping put this game together," Notre Dame AD Dave Rudolph said. "I can't thank (Peoria Chiefs GM) Jason Mott enough for helping get all this done.

"This atmosphere here, this setting, it has a real feel of a home game for us."

Cheerleading squads from both teams worked the 3,098 in attendance from the home plate area.

Notre Dame players debuted special jerseys for this game, and their helmets had decals memorializing late coach Sean Gillen.

On the bench was parked something new for the Irish team this year — a "Pot of Gold" — which is awarded to every player who notches a defensive turnover. The player rushes to the sideline after the play, his teammates put the pot, on a chain, around his neck, and pictures are taken right there amid the game.

Beer, meanwhile, is nothing new up in the suites above the grandstand, where it has been served since the Shamrock inception five years ago. The IHSA allows its sale in regular-season games, but it's banned in the playoffs. But new in 2019 was a beer tent on the concourse beyond left-center field. It was fenced off, and those who wished to partake had to buy a ticket to enter the area. No one could leave the area with alcohol.

Richwoods is 0-2 in this game now. In fact, its 61-34 loss to Notre Dame in 2017 marks the last time an opposing team scored at Dozer. Notre Dame has posted consecutive shutouts now.

Next year, that team on the opposing sideline appears to be Danville. But Mott would like to see the game shifted to October so Notre Dame can host Peoria High School.

"We love being able to show Dozer Park as more than a baseball field," Mott said. "This event is great for the ballpark and great for high school football."

On the field, with handshakes and post-game speeches finished, there was but one last bit of business to be done for Notre Dame.

Irish assistant coach JJ Rothan stepped up in front of the players and ... put on a display of dance moves. Then he charged forward and disappeared into the mass of players as they mobbed him.

"It's homecoming, and these guys need to know how to dance," Rothan said, laughing. "So every year I teach them some moves. I'm trying to make sure they know how to dance properly so they don't end up sinning."

Sound advice, on turf or dirt.

Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen and Chiefs for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for Reach him at 686-3206 or Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.