Feb 29, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Round about a decade ago, a couple of school districts in Central New York looked around, realized that the weather tends to get nasty around here from October to April, and decided that it might be prudent to get an all-weather facility out there.
Now it helped that Cicero-North Syracuse and Liverpool were large districts with a distinct political advantage at the time, plus beverage bucks. Still, artificial turf went down in both places, with admittedly mixed results.
Short-term, it was a slam dunk, grand slam, knockout and other tired sports cliches. A stream of events came to these locales beyond the usual CNS and Liverpool stuff, from semi-pro football to college lacrosse to state championships in (at one point or another) track, lacrosse and field hockey.
Long-term, the results were a bit more mixed. CNS still goes strong, but it’s also stuck with a concrete-like carpet that pro and college organizations abandoned long ago when “Field Turf” (the artificial stuff that looks like grass) came into being.
At Liverpool, the turf became uneven, downright dangerous and is now condemned, on its way out, the district (which has its own share of serious issues) looking to replace its as part of a massive capital project about to be voted on.
Now Field Turf is everywhere in the area, in places like West Genesee, Central Square, Solvay, Chittenango, Utica, Rome, plus three high schools in Syracuse. At the same time, districts like Cazenovia, Jamesville-DeWitt and Baldwinsville have balked, either in school board sessions or in public voter, the taxpayers having their say.
Which brings us to Fayetteville-Manlius, and what has become a long and bitter battle over whether to replace the high school’s antiquated stadium with something larger, more accessible and much more durable. The vote is March 5, and in the F-M community, it’s turned quite heated.
The current stadium, situated next to Route 173 just west of the high school, was built back in 1963, when the district wasn’t as big as it is now and long before women’s sports took off thanks to the Title IX legislation of 1972.
What might have been adequate then is far from adequate now. Other than football and late-season lacrosse, just about nothing takes place there because the grass field is too badly chewed up by any kind of usage combined with bad weather. Plus, the parking is minimal, leading to all kinds of traffic congestion on big game nights.
Add to that the continued growth of youth and recreation sports in Fayetteville and Manlius, and you’ve got a clear case of a crying need for some kind of year-round outdoor facility that both the school and the municipalities can utilize.
If only it were that simple.
This is the F-M district, after all, and high tax assessments mean an active and engaged populace that, with some justification, wants to see their dollars spent wisely. Somewhere along the line, though, a wise watchdog role has morphed into a monstrous check on any kind of spending idea, even one as obviously beneficial as this one.
Well, if the subject is money, then consider that, every single time an F-M team has to travel somewhere to practice or play a game they could have played at home, it requires both renting out the facility and busing the kids there. Guess what? That costs money, and over the years, those expenses add up.
Adding to that argument, the district would take in more revenues from having an all-weather turf because of the hundreds of events (regular-season games, post-season championships, Pop Warner football, etc.) that would take place.
And it only makes sense to have the stadium in a place where there’s the most parking available, not to mention guaranteed handicap accessibility, real restrooms and a stadium capacity of 2,500, more than three times the capacity of the current stadium. And all of it would be properly secured and supervised, an impossibility right now.
It’s not like the grass is going away, either. In fact, by not having to use those natural surfaces as much, they’ll last longer and won’t require as much maintenance. This allows F-M to be closer to par with a majority of the school districts it runs up against, both on and off the field.
To those that will oppose this bond issue at all expense, I simply offer this analogy.
Say you have a car, or a house, or a piece of furniture, or just about anything built or manufactured close to 50 years ago. Even taking into account the pull of nostalgia, maintaining such items requires more expense as time wears on, and after a while you’re just slapping a fresh coat of paint on a relic.
F-M, with this bond issue, is offering a fresh, clean new model, a first-rate sports facility with the express dual purpose of benefiting both the students in the district and the community that will use the stadium, too.
Understand, this is not a perfect solution — and there are concerns about whether playing on Field Turf has long-term health consequences. But an athlete can get hurt on an uneven grass surface, too, so there’s no guarantee either way.
Right now, F-M athletics is working through a golden period. In this decade alone, it’s won Section III championships in football, grabbed state titles in girls lacrosse, earned national honors with its running teams of all stripes, and has knocked on the door in many other sports, too, putting a field hockey team in the sectional finals last fall. Youth and recreation programs are peaking throughout the area, too.
All of them look for a proper home. This new stadium would give them that home, and it’s worth voting for on March 5.
Phil Blackwell is sports editor at Eagle Newspapers.