By Stephanie Choate
Champlain Valley Union High School athletes and coaches had to get creative this season.
A wet fall rendered the CVU fields—which have a high concentration of easily waterlogged clay—unplayable for several home games and a host of practices. Homes games were moved to rival schools and practices were held anywhere coaches could find a dry spot, including the parking lot.
As the season winds down, a group of coaches and interested parents have ramped up efforts to address the issue, which Football Coach Jim Provost said has been a problem for years. The group met with members of the CVU School Board two weeks ago, and are set to meet again this week to discuss possible improvements to the fields.
“It’s one thing if the final game of the season is played in the mud, but you get one douse in September or early October and half your season’s shot,” Provost said.
CVU Board Chairman David Rath said on Tuesday that while the board would love to see improvements, the obvious barrier is cost.
“The co-curricular athletic program at CVU is huge and involves hundreds of kids … it’s a very important part of the education process,” Rath said. “There is a very positive correlation between involvement in co-curricular activities and success in the learning process in school, and certainly CVU is very interested in continuing that very positive correlation.”
Rath said the sticking point would be whether improvements could be done in a fiscally responsible way. He also noted that a proposal had not yet been put before the board, and he could not speak for all board members.
“The sense at the moment of this group is that the way in which to undertake a project is to do a combination of money from CVU, presumably through a bond issue, and fundraising in the community,” Rath said.
A TROUBLESOME SEASON
Kevin Riell, director of student activities at CVU, said the issue resurfaces whenever they get consistently wet weather.
“All our fields are clay here, and even though there’s proper drainage installed on most of the fields, the problem is the clay rears its ugly head,” he said.
When it rains, the clay comes to the surface and compacts, blocking the water from reaching the drains.
Poor field conditions pushed the football team to move two home games to the Bellows Free Academy-St. Albans fields—meaning it has played as many home games there as at CVU.
“That’s just not right, our kids deserve to play in front of their home crowd,” Provost said.
The problem also trickles down to younger students and club sports, Varsity Boys Soccer Coach TJ Mead said. Several home soccer games were moved to other schools, but varsity games were also moved to the drier junior varsity fields. That means JV games were moved to the rough training field, and freshman games are often first on the chopping block. Ultimate Frisbee club games have also been postponed or cancelled due to field rearrangements, Mead said.
“We pride ourselves on getting everyone really involved at CVU, especially at a young age, and that’s not in line with our philosophy,” Mead said.
Provost also mentioned CVU’s focus on strong, inclusive co-curricular programs.
“I think if we’re going to be who we say we are, we need to give these kids a facility that warrants that,” he said.
Practice disruption has also been a problem this season, Mead said, and the lack of training can become unsafe, as can playing in poor conditions.
“The opportunity and space for training has been few and far between,” Mead said. “Often training will be cancelled or it will be moved to small patch of grass without proper equipment.”
Girls Varsity Soccer Coach Brad Parker said that while he has only had to move one home game elsewhere, the team has had to train in the parking lot, in crowded indoor facilities or “just flat-out cancel” practices.
A PUSH FOR TURF
Provost said the coaches would prefer to see turf fields, based on their opinions and the Gale study—an exhaustive study commissioned by the board several years ago that recommends one turf field and extensive rehabilitation to the others.
Modern turf fields—like the one at Burlington High School—are a far cry from the rock-hard, carpet-burning astro-turf of the ‘70s and are “virtually maintenance-free,” Provost said.
“The turf they put down now is just amazing … you walk on it and it’s like walking on air,” Provost said. “The kids love playing on it.”
“One of the things turf allows is year-round training,” Mead said. “In the middle of winter, you can plow off a turf field. Water won’t pool on it, you can play in the rain.”
Riell also said he would like to see turf fields at CVU.
“There’s just no question it would benefit the students,” he said.
The coaches are set to speak with the CVU Board during its next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 14, looking into cost estimates, a future course of action and possible funding mechanisms.
Rath said he appreciates the group’s passion for the issue and hard work to correct it.
“I can’t tell you how wonderful it is as a school board chair to have a group that is this active and this energetic and this enthusiastic,” Rath said. “The coaches and the community members all are doing a great deal of work and they are the moving force behind what could be some substantial improvements to the facilities that we can offer our students, and without their effort it simply couldn’t be done.”