The solution seems quite simple: If there is not enough space for something, create more. That, of course, is a lot easier said than done when referring to actual land. As Montgomery County high school athletic programs continue to flourish finding space on campus for all of them to hold daily practices has become an obstacle for athletic directors.
Though this is not a completely new issue it has not become any less challenging, county athletic directors agreed.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase is home to the county’s smallest campus by far, built on 16 acres of land, according to the Montgomery County Public Schools website — Springbrook’s is the next smallest at 25.1 acres. The Barons have precisely two fields, the lower stadium field and an upper field that has two backstops for baseball and softball to share in the spring.
One reason space is so limited is the need to stay off grass stadium fields on non-game days to keep them playable. B-CC Athletic Director Jim Tapley said between games and practices a grass stadium field would be completely torn up within a few short weeks.
Athletic directors agreed the easiest solution would be the installation of turf fields, which could endure the wear and tear of practices and games without damage to the playing surface. There are currently six schools with turf stadium fields. The synthetic grass surface would also help alleviate some of the scheduling conflicts that occur when inclement weather hits as the turf surface is much less affected.
At many schools, football is the only team to practice on campus during the fall season because transporting the equipment sleds and everything required to run football practice — pads and helmets, among other things — would be difficult, Rockville athletic director Mike Hayes said. However, most football teams’ “practice fields” are actually just the outfield of the softball or baseball diamonds.
“It certainly impacts the play of our outfield, balls take the Damascus bounce, it’s a very tough field to field on,” said Steve Kachadorian, who stepped down following the spring season as Damascus’ softball coach. “There are a ton of divots. They’re essentially working on a 50-yard field so we’re not talking about a lot of room to spread the damage out, it’s going to be concentrated.”
In the fall many field hockey teams play and practice on the outfields of baseball fields.
In addition to costing programs money that could be used elsewhere — athletic directors must acquire permits for satellite locations — offsite practices present a myriad of other challenges, including transportation, accessibility to restroom facilities and safety protocol.
Getting to and from practice comes down to student-athletes with driver’s licenses and parents’ daily commitment to transporting athletes. Even if funds were available, school buses are unavailable while making their afterschool rounds and that’s when most practices take place, Tapley said. While some satellite practice locations are within walking distance, athletic directors said they still worry about athletes crossing major thoroughfares. And athletic directors agreed they would like to limit the time spent in cars with student drivers, anyway.
B-CC girls soccer seniors Denali Minnick and Rachel Cady agreed practicing on campus would be much more convenient and would provide a better playing surface but said the team has turned carpooling into a prosperous team bonding experience.