Now that the Rochester Rhinos and Western New York Flash have ended their soccer seasons, Sahlen's Stadium is opening its gates to student athletes in the Rochester City School District.
"The goal here is to really balance our academics and these opportunities; use these types of opportunities to really strengthen the importance of athletics," said RCSD athletics director Carlos Cotto.
Sports programs for city students increased from 240 to 325 this year, with more than 5,100 participants. Thirty fall athletic events involving RCSD schools are slated for Sahlen's.
"At one point, the City School District was a powerhouse when it came to sports. We are rebuilding that and this is our first step," said superintendent Bolgen Vargas.
A boys varsity soccer match between School of the Arts and World of Inquiry/Rochester International Academy kicked off the schedule Friday afternoon. The Sahlen's Stadium pitch is a far cry from what these kids are used to playing on.
"It's one of those rocky fields, lots of dirt, not much grass," said Jason Cherin, a senior at World of Inquiry, "and it's more bumpy. So on turf it's more flat, no awkward bounces or anything."
The students athletes say playing at Sahlen's is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an experience they'll never forget. That's because they are now playing on the same field where some of the biggest names in soccer have competed.
"It's honestly amazing working on a field that people such as Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach have played on. It's truly an honor and an experience and very fun," said SOTA senior Thomas Mariano.
But it's not unfamiliar territory. Many of these high school athletes have been to Sahlen's to watch the Rochester Rhinos.
"My dad used to take me, my mom used to take me when I was very young. At a very young age, I used to sit on this side right here. Rochester fans used to sit right there, I remember that very well. But yeah, I remember watching every single game, cheering on the Rhinos. It's very special for me," said SOTA junior Taylor Simmons.
The City of Rochester, which owns the stadium, helped negotiate the scheduling agreement. The school district will pay about $18,000 for operating expenses.