Montgomery County sets the standard in high school sports facilities -- Gazette.Net


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The 25 public high schools in Montgomery County with varsity sports teams governed by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association are tied with Baltimore City for the most MPSSAA-sanctioned programs in one school system.

Next is neighboring Prince George’s County, with 22 high schools that participate in varsity-level sports.

But even with more schools, and a bigger selection of varsity sports provided to its students, Montgomery has managed to build and maintain better athletic facilities than Prince George’s.

While there are exceptions on both sides, and even some similarities, sports facilities appear better overall for Montgomery County students. The biggest reason for this is because Montgomery puts more money into its athletics.

Montgomery County Public Schools allocated $7.8 million to its athletics which represented about .35 percent of its $2.23 billion operating budget the last fiscal year.

Prince George’s County Public Schools allocated nearly $4.4 million to athletics, which is only .26 percent of the county’s $1.687 billion budget from last year. While Prince George’s has struggled to squeeze funds into basic maintenance needs, Montgomery has been able to stay on top of potential issues.

Take gym floors for example. Between Prince George’s and Montgomery County high schools, Damascus High School has the oldest basketball court. It hasn’t been replaced since the school was built in 1950. But Butch Marshall, the boys basketball coach at Damascus, said that the court is fine and doesn’t pose any problems.

“They [county maintenance] maintain it really well,” Marshall said. “The floor itself is old and everything else like that, but like I said they re-do the surface twice a year so that really helps.”

He said they put a new seal-coat on the floor in the summer, then once again in the winter. In addition, the bleachers are electric, and slide in and out without a problem. “It’s pretty nice considering its age,” Marshall said.

In contrast, the second oldest gym floor between the two counties is in Beltsville, at High Point High School.

It was laid in 1953, and their boys basketball coach Rodney Lewis said its been a constant problem every year that he has been there.

Prince George’s maintenance puts a new coat down once a year during the summer. And the coat is worn off by the time basketball season comes around in the winter, causing his players to slip. They also have heating and lighting issues in the gym.

MCPS allocated an average of $65,000 to each high school’s athletics department last year, with the exact amount depending on how big a school is and average gate receipts over a three-year period. School’s that generate more money, receive a smaller allocation.

On average, MCPS schools spent about $155,000 on things such as maintenance, equipment, officials, uniforms, transportation, security and other miscellaneous items.

“The additional income that schools generate to cover the gap between the athletic allocation they receive and actual expenses come from a combination of sources, including gate receipts [which schools retain], fundraisers, booster clubs, playoffs and various supplements,” said Dr. William “Duke” Beattie, the MCPS director of system-wide athletics.

While Montgomery gives schools more financial freedom to spend, PGCPS maintains the majority of spending power, allocating just $17,000 to each of its high schools’ athletics departments. That money goes toward smaller, indoor maintenance needs and miscellaneous expenses. The central office is in charge of paying for major maintenance issues, transportation, uniforms and officials.

One of the athletic facility projects each county is currently facing is the installation of artificial turf fields at high schools.

Once again, money is the difference in why Montgomery’s is moving faster than Prince George’s in installation.

Currently, there are six schools with artificial turf in Montgomery, with a seventh planned to be installed by next spring at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac. MCPS has used a combination of booster clubs and private-organizations to help pay for the almost $1 million up-front cost of these fields, in exchange for preferred use.

Oxon Hill High School begins play this season on the first artificial turf field at a Prince George’s County public high school. The county plans to add turf to two other high schools by next summer: Gwynn Park in Brandywine and Henry A. Wise in Upper Marlboro. Prince George’s needed state money for the projects and is seeking alternative sources of funding for future turf fields.

They also plan on adding stadium lights to each new field with turf. Prince George’s currently has just three schools with stadium lights. All 25 schools in Montgomery have stadium lights.

“A backlog of capital improvement projects due to inadequate funding has affected the county’s ability to devote funds to stadium lights,” said Max Pugh, the PGCPS acting communications officer.

But every athletic facility discrepancy doesn’t come down to money, at least not directly.

The average year of when the combined 47 schools between the two counties were built or re-built is 1981. Seventeen Prince George’s schools were built before that year.

Only four Montgomery high school’s fall into that category: Damascus, Poolesville, Seneca Valley, and Thomas S. Wootton.

The relative modernness of Montgomery’s high schools could play a factor in why 21 of 25 have a dedicated wrestling and trainer’s room, while 21 of 22 Prince George’s schools go without at least one, and in some cases both. And every Montgomery high school has a second gym while 12 Prince George’s schools do not.

Marshall, said the second gym makes things easier when trying to accommodate a junior varsity and varsity team for both the girls and boys basketball programs.

Two of the three schools that don’t have training and wrestling rooms in Montgomery happen to be the third and fourth oldest schools in the county: Poolesville High School, which was renovated in 1976, and Seneca Valley High School, which was built in 1974 in Germantown. Seneca Valley joins 16 Prince George’s schools as the only Montgomery school that doesn’t have restrooms at its football stadium.

According to David Lever, executive director of the Maryland State Board of Public Works Interagency Committee on School Construction, the age of the school could play a factor in why some facilities don’t have certain athletic amenities. “[To have some athletic facilities] certainly isn’t a requirement. It’s just one of those things most schools have.”

pgrimes@gazette.net