With Watertown High School athletes regularly practicing until 8 p.m. or even 9 p.m., the School Committee seeks a solution to get them home at a reasonable time using the fields currently available in town.
Before the Victory Field stadium area got artificial turf, teams played at different fields around town. Now most fall and spring sports use the artificial turf, while some teams that would prefer to use grass are limited to using the turf due to circumstances and facility constraints.
In November, the School Committee’s Athletic Subcommittee discussed the issue and came up with a motion to ask the Town to address the field constraints to enable students to finish practice by 6:30 p.m., said School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley who chairs the Athletic Subcommittee, at Monday’s School Committee meeting.
“Student athletes have practice schedules that too often are too late. This is caused by a lack of appropriate field space,” Foley said. “This problem will be exacerbated by the decision to move the start time of the high school 35 minutes later next year.”
Foley said the Subcommittee decided to recommend a schedule where students have practice between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m., so they can go home, have dinner with their family and do their homework before going to bed.
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said the goal came after much discussion and input. Mosca was attending her first meeting since being elected to fill Candace Miller’s seat and she sat on the Athletic Subcommittee at the November meeting.
“This was not a goal made by the School Committee,” Mosca said. “It was made by coaches and teachers and students and parents, primarily driven by the fact that student athletes’ parents are typically home after 6:30 and it’s really important that the athletes have time to spend with their families as well.”
Looking at this fall, Foley found that practices ended after 6:30 p.m. more than 64 percent of the time during September and October, including 13 days in September and 14 days in October. On six days in September and four times in October practices ended at 9 p.m. Practices ended at 7 p.m. four times in September and three days in October.
The problem, Foley said, is too many teams want to use the Victory Field turf. In the fall it is used by football, field hockey and girls and boys soccer. In the spring it is shared by the baseball team as well as the boys and girls lacrosse teams. Foley noted that baseball and lacrosse cannot use the field at the same time because of safety concerns.
Other teams in the Middlesex League avoid this by having a second artificial turf field, and those that don’t have more than one have a grass field used solely for football practices. One school does not have any artificial turf fields. Foley noted that some teams want to be on turf, such as field hockey and soccer, while others don’t but must use the field – football and baseball.
“Football plays on the turf. They’d prefer to play on grass – it’s a grass game – but they are not allowed on the grass because they tear it up,” said Foley.
She added that the only regulation varsity baseball field in town is at the Victory Field stadium, but the team would prefer to be on grass.
One solution, perhaps in the short term, would be to allow the football team to practice on the grass inside the oval of the Victory Field track, and build a baseball facility at Filippello Park for WHS’s varsity program. This recommendation was not voted on at the School Committee meeting.
In June, the subcommittee discussed making a motion to the School Committee to ask for a second artificial turf field with lights somewhere in town, but Foley said that is not currently being brought forward for the School Committee to consider.
Foley said there may need to be a short term-solution that is different than the long-term solution. She sees the football team using the grass in the Victory Field Oval and the baseball team moving to Filippello Park as a potential short-term fix.
“The short term solution does not solve the problem, but something like that or another option would mitigate some of the concerns we had,” Foley said. “It would make things better and I would take an incremental step forward over no step forward at all.”
Town Council President and School Committee member Mark Sideris worries about building up expectations that a solution will be found in time for the 2018-19 school year.
“This is a real big, big, big issue,” Sideris said. “We haven’t seen any schedule that will allow our students to finish practice with the new school start time by 6:30.”
Foley said that she could see pushing it back to 7 p.m., but wanted to find a solution. Mosca said she does not see the School Committee’s charge as an expectation but a recommendation.
Sideris said the issue goes beyond the use of fields by the Watertown Schools, adding that the fields are owned by the Town and plans are being made to renovate one of the key fields for athletics.
The Victory Field Oval and track, where it is proposed that the football team practice, has been the subject of scrutiny by the Ad Hoc Victory Field Phase 2 Committee which is planning to renovate the area. Their work, however, is not yet complete.
Also, Sideris said, the Town Council’s Human Services subcommittee has been examining use of fields in town by not just the schools, but by youth sports and adult sports leagues. Finally, the Town Council recently decided to look at the policy for lights on Town fields.
With all these factors, Sideris said he believes School and Town officials must talk, and he stressed that the top leadership must be involved.
“What we haven’t had is a conversation between the Council and the School Committee,” Sideris said
The School Committee went through several motions before settling on one that would ask Town officials and the School Committee to begin a conversation on addressing the current state of athletic field use by the schools “for the 2018-19 academic year and beyond.”
The motion passed 4-2, with Sideris and Eileen Hsu-Balzer voting against it.