By Mal Boright
A cold spring with a late departure of accumulated snow has left the Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU) clay-based athletic fields in, well, less than optimum condition.
Nevertheless, following some 12 postponements and cancellations plus many parking lot practice sessions, the games are going on pending rainy weather.
“This spring definitely caused a setback to our teams (practicing and playing) without the use of artificial turf,” said CVU athletic director Kevin Riell last week. “For instance, all practices were cancelled Monday [May 5] due to saturated clay making the fields unsafe whereas Essex and Colchester and others have opportunities to practice.”
The upper level fields are used in the spring by boys and girls lacrosse teams which have more than 140 athletes playing on three class levels: varsity, junior varsity A, and junior varsity B (formerly freshman).
Baseball, softball, and track have their own fields while the boys and girls tennis teams are based at Davis Park in Shelburne.
In the fall, boys and girls soccer along with field hockey take over the upper fields while football has one practice field plus the gridiron inside the track for home games.
Fields are also made available for some club sports and warm weather physical education.
This past Friday, after the defending Division 1 champion boys lacrosse team dispatched visiting South Burlington, 11-6, senior co-captains Alex Bulla and Steele DuBrul noted the difference between soggy grass and turf. CVU had played several away games on turf including an early season contest against Essex at the University of Vermont, a 16-2 CVU victory.
Playing on damp grass is not the same as turf, the two said Friday.
“It was slippery out here,” said Bulla, adding that the tricky footing affects the transition from offense to defense and vice versa.
“The game is a lot faster on turf,” said DuBrul. “There are fewer mistakes.”
With the defeat of a bond issue last November which would have provided for two turf fields, the school board focused on its budget for March town meeting which passed despite a general rise in school tax rates around Vermont which led to more than 30 budget defeats.
Board Chair Susan Grasso said Monday that the board was meeting Wednesday night and had on its agenda an item to form a board committee to “learn from our last experience.”
She said the committee would be made up of members from the finance, communications and facilities committees to help form a realistic plan for moving ahead with a resolution of the fields problem.
“We will re-evaluate our options,” Grasso said.
Board member Jeanne Jensen said there would likely not be any proposal before the public prior to next town meeting.
In the meantime, a community organization that raised and returned more that $300,000 for the turf project is still around but waiting to see what the board is going to do.
“We have no plans for anything,” said Amy DuBrul, committee chair on Monday.
She agreed that this spring has been difficult for playing and practicing on the fields, but the problem is not a new one.
“Last year for the first 28 days of the season they used the fields only twice,” DuBrul recalled.
For now, the athletic director, coaches, players, and parents hope for sun and some wind for their drying power.
And when they don’t? Reill has to make phone calls.
“The fields will be muddy,” said Riell, “so I’ll tell the visiting school that conditions here are really iffy today. They’ll say “What? Our fields are dry.’”
Of course the other schools have fields on a sand base instead of clay.