Hazard or headache? Or both? | SierraSun.com
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Hazard or headache? Or both?

Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra SunAt a recent practice on Truckee High's soccer field, Romero Aguilar slides into a muddy section of grass. The soccer teams no longer play games on the field.
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[Editors Note: This is the first installment in a four-part series that will look at the poor field conditions at Tahoe Truckee High School].No one is denying there is a problem, but thats about where the agreement ends and the controversy begins when it comes to the poor condition of the sports fields at Tahoe Truckee High School.Tonight at the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District board meeting, the board has devoted 30 minutes to the fields and their present condition. The solution, on the other hand, is as far off as the perspectives on each side of the issue. On one side, parents and coaches are complaining about the safety of students and student athletes who use the East-West Field, the baseball field, the track/soccer field and the football field in Surprise Stadium. Most people agree that the degradation of the fields began around the time the school district took over maintenance from the Truckee Donner Recreation & Park District just before the summer of 2003. The park district dropped its field maintenance duties because of budget constraints and manpower issues.We never had any of those problems when Recreation and Parks was in charge, said Bob Shaffer, Truckee Highs athletic director and head football coach.Along with former head baseball coach Jason Estabrook, Shaffer purchased a new lawnmower for about $1,500 because of the districts neglect of the fields. They werent mowing the grass often enough, Shaffer said. It was getting six to eight to 10 inches high, and theyd come over and cut it once a month. It would look like a hayfield out there. We complained, and they said Thats the best we can do.Chris Cooper, the districts maintenance director, said there are many issues regarding the maintenance of the fields, including a lack of communication on behalf of high school athletics, budget constraints and a staff shortage in the district maintenance department. He also pointed to the poor original design of the fields, and the over-use and abuse of the fields by the community in general.One thing Cooper stresses, however, is that there is a problem.Im not telling you the fields are in good condition by any means, he said. They are in bad condition.Cooper said that the handing over of the maintenance duties from recreation and parks caught the district off guard.We were handed back the duties in an unexpected way, he said. The fields are being taken care of the best that we possibly can given the scenario, he said. Already suffering from a lack of quality, modern equipment, Cooper said the district was put in a challenging situation.We werent forewarned we were going to get fields back, so were sitting here with one 1970s lawnmower, he said. We have an old aerator and top-dresser; and a Thatcher that is so old you cant find parts for it.The district, suffering from statewide budget cuts, has not been able to pinch enough out of the budget to purchase new equipment. Also responsible for fields around Kings Beach and Tahoe City, the district was forced to haul the lawnmower across the region to mow the different fields. The district has purchased a second lawnmower recently, but Cooper still feels strapped taking care of the many fields.Were not talking about a Truckee issue, were talking about a district-wide issue, he said. Now were taking care of more fields on the lake side. Theres no grounds crew in the district, and theres no funding for a grounds crew.Cooper is also dealing with a recent statewide cut from 3 percent to 2 percent in the restricted maintenance fund. A certain percentage of the overall budget goes to this fund. Cooper said the maintenance department operated on $810,000 last year the same budget that the district operated on 10 years ago.While budget constraints are a main issue, Cooper also said that he doesnt know when the high school schedules practices and games. That makes it difficult to plan. He said defiant citizens also use the fields even if the district tries to keep them off after fertilization. The early snow this fall also caused a problem because, in Coopers opinion, the snow was inexplicably removed.They went out and removed snow on the fields which didnt expose a frozen ground; it exposed a soft, mushy ground, he said. When you start playing on it with cleats, youre just going to rip it all up.Finally, Cooper argues that the fields were never designed properly in the first place. As a result, it has hampered the districts ability to live up to the expectations of the community.First off, theres no drainage underneath these fields; theres only maybe three or four inches of usable soil on top of the rock…, he said. So you can imagine what its like for roots to grow.

Gary Lewis, president of the Truckee Boosters and father of Truckee football player Cameron Lewis, is also the trainer for the Truckee Wolverines football team. He said player safety is his major concern especially since former Truckee soccer player Kelsey Fisher was hurt in 2001, he said.On the soccer field, she snapped her ankle plates, pins, two surgeries the girl athletically was never the same, and she was probably one of the top female athletes to come out of the school, he said. Ever since school has taken it back, the fields have become progressively worse. These fields are atrocious compared to every other athletic field at any high school Ive ever been to.Lewis has been involved with Truckee football since 1992, and he thinks the fields used to be in very good condition at one time.These fields were always great fields up until about three years ago, he said. There was good, thick grass at one time. Lewis already addressed the issue at a recent board meeting, one Cooper did not attend. Cooper said he will be there tonight.The issue is not just a Truckee issue in that the director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA), Jerry Hughes, wrote a letter addressing the unsafe conditions at Truckee High. In addition, Chuck Hildebrand, the founder of the Web site Nevadaprep.com, wrote a short column about the poor conditions of the Truckee football field.Everybodys taking notice that our fields are a hazard, that theyre injuring students and student-athletes, Lewis said. If there was a bus in your transportation department that was responsible for injuring students, you would fix the bus.The fields have even become a source of comedy among student athletes.We call (the East-West field) Afghanistan, said Truckee senior Jamie Maehler, who has gone to school in Truckee since kindergarten. Its just dirt over there; its not even a field.As far as a solution to the problem, the debate will continue in a series of school board meetings, including tonights. Undoubtedly, the solution will come down to money.The solution is obviously the same old thing that we always run into: Money, Cooper said. It all funnels back to money.[In the coming weeks, the Sierra Sun will look into the possible solutions to solve the poor field condition problem, including Lewis failed proposal that revenue from a billboard on Interstate 80 fund a new synthetic turf field . Many feel the solution to the problem would be synthetic turf, which is lower maintenance and cost-saving than natural grass, but initially it comes with a higher price tag.]Part two:https://www.sierrasun.com/article/20041130/SPORTS/41130001Part three:https://www.sierrasun.com/article/20041214/SPORTS/41214001


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