With ice-skating season finally over, the rink inside Highmark Stadium at Station Square has been dismantled to reveal lush green turf ready for the Pittsburgh Passion's home opener against longtime rivals D.C. Divas on Saturday.
Beginning this year, the women's full-contact football team will use the Station Square stadium as its home field, although the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer team will remain the prime tenant. A construction crew is finishing interior details of the team building -- mostly painting and installing hardware -- on the west side of the property, but otherwise the field is ready to use, stadium spokeswoman Angela Nelson said.
Once the boards for the ice rink were taken down, it was just a matter of letting the turf settle and painting some grid lines, probably Friday, to get ready for the Passion's first game at the 3,500-seat stadium, she said.
"We're really excited that it's coming soon," Ms. Nelson said.
The Riverhounds will begin their 2013 USL PRO season at the stadium with a home opener against Harrisburg's City Islanders on April 13.
On Saturday, the start of Pittsburgh Passion's 11th season, gates will open at 5:30 p.m. in advance of the 7 p.m. kickoff. The game will be played in honor of "Those who serve," including military, police, firefighters and veterans who will be recognized at halftime and given a chance to meet all the players after the game.
Coach Teresa Conn -- who co-owns the team with former Steelers great Franco Harris -- said the team's move from Cupples Field to Highmark Stadium, about a mile down the road, makes the Passion one of the first women's teams to move from a high school stadium into a big-league stadium.
The new stadium, she said, also offers fans more parking and a chance to pursue that most hallowed of Pittsburgh football traditions: tailgating.
"Being able to go to a football game and make an event out of it, that's kind of a big deal for our fans," Ms. Conn said. "We love our fans, so we're really happy for them."
Inside the stadium, there should be lots of game, with the Passion coming into Saturday night's battle with the Divas feeling strong.
"This year, we have a lot of great veterans returning and we've picked up some very talented and ambitious youth," Ms. Conn said. "Everybody likes to get the new excitement of the youth coming in."
The 2013 team will include about 50 veterans and about 16 rookies; players range in age from 18 to 40-plus, and have included CEOs and attorneys, she said.
"They're competitive, so they're competitive in the workplace," Ms. Conn said. "Being competitive and courageous are the same qualities that make them a good football player, and they carry that into their careers and the rest of their life."
Many of the players work two or three jobs, have children to care for and also perform community service, she said.
As part of the Women's Football Alliance, a full-contact American league with 62 teams across the United States, the Passion will travel to Ohio to play the Toledo Reign on April 13. The team then travels to play the New York Sharks on April 20 before returning to Pittsburgh for a game against the Columbus Comets on April 27.
The team was the first women's football franchise to broadcast games on a major television network, Fox Sports Net. The broadcast received an Emmy Nomination for Best Live Sports Unedited Series by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, according to the team's website.
Last year, the team also received the 2011 Dapper Dan Sportswoman of the Year award.
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1719.