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Dream of Fields

Island Life

When a clarion call rang out from the opinion pages of the Beachcomber last fall that terrorists had bombed the athletic facilities at the high school, I decided I should probably go take a look. In truth, David Hackett’s warning about the sorry state of many aspects of the VHS athletic facilities wasn’t really about terrorists, although the shock and awe contained therein smacked of sensational rhetoric. Having just come through all the nonsense at Vashon Parks regarding the VES fields and noting David Hackett’s pivotal role in all that, it really made me wonder if this was not just another bill of goods being sold to the Island populace. With the football field and track being termed “hardly acceptable” and the gym being declared ancient (50 years old) with “crumbling locker rooms, disintegrating bleachers and a worn out floor”, when I dropped by the school one afternoon I expected to find legions of refugees fleeing the rubble, along with countless others dragging themselves from the “muck”. I was relieved to find that no emergency services were in need of summoning, that the entire expanse of grass and gridiron striping was wholly intact, and that the bleachers stood sound and sturdy in the afternoon sun.

I have since stood behind my camera at a number of school board meetings while details of the upcoming vote on the athletic facilities financing has been discussed. We have heard of re-orienting the football field and track in order to make a regulation track fit into the existing space. Recently I have received emails regarding the dispute over the length of the track, with the gist of those being that the track is already long enough at 440 yds. to accommodate what is now a regulation 400 meters. In checking my free conversion tool, 440 yds. is 402.336 meters, and since it seems that that distance is measured at the inside edge of the track and there appears to be a wide margin between the track and the edge of the football field, shortening the track by a little more than six feet by moving that inside edge inward should not be a problem at all.

It also seems that fake grass as opposed to the real stuff is now the order of the day. When it first came about, I remember it being called Astro turf, mostly because the original need for a grass replacement occurred when real grass refused to grow inside the Houston Astrodome. Now it is just Turf, which blends nicely with the thought of real turf, until you Google “Turf” and find all the latest research into the connections being  found relating to the ground tires, or “crumb rubber” used on these fields as faux soil to soften the impact of landing on this surface and a rise in cancer rates among athletes, especially soccer goalies. The alternative to this is something called “Nike Grind” which is ground up used Nike shoes and is supposedly safer.

One might step back here and consider a bigger picture in the light of a more recently recognized problem, that of brain trauma and concussions and the long term effects that this aspect of the game of football has on the health of its athletes. There is also the problem of simply fielding a team with the Island’s dwindling youth population. One could say that players for a football team could be recruited in the same way the current student body is being supplemented by off Islanders, but do we really want to create a facility to draw students simply for their athletic prowess? In talking with one of the board members about a year ‘round pool and how the school might be involved in that I was told that the primary concern he had was for scholarship, not sports. It seemed to me that life skills, swimming included, were an important aspect of student development. Outside of the rare NFL prospect, football as a life skill seems a far cry from having the basic ability to swim, especially on an island. A lot has been rethought in the building of the new school- it is time to rethink the physical as well as the intellectual needs of Island students and not just roll out the plastic turf and tire crumbs because everybody else does. Who knows, if it comes down to bringing in football ringers, who’s to say that having a real grass field might not just be a draw rather than a detractor in the end?