Complaints about the poor condition of Central Valley baseball fields has the school district and its groundskeepers reassessing priorities.
“The fields are so poorly kept in the Central Valley School district,” said Dye Hawley, team manager for Valley Titans, 13U Pony baseball team. “They’re dangerous. There are so many holes in the outfield a player can turn their ankle on.”
“It looks to me like no one cares,” added Spokane Youth Sports Association coach Steve Murphy. “They need to spend a little money and put dirt on the fields.”
Central Valley Director of Facilities and Operations Brad Wayland said he was meeting with the custodial staff to discuss the concerns.
“We have limited resources,” Wayland said. “We’re doing the best we can with the resources we’ve got.”
This year, Central Valley allocated $10,000 for school ground maintenance, not accounting for staff, but spent close to $25,000. The budget covers items such as fertilizer, equipment purchase and maintenance.
“The school district overall chooses to emphasize a lot of their funding toward curriculum for the kids,” Wayland said. “Which is really the right place to put it.”
The district recently hired two full-time groundskeepers to maintain the larger fields at the 22 schools.
Youth sports coaches whose teams played at North Pines Junior High, Bowdish, Greenacres and Evergreen elementaries point to outfields full of weeds, infields in need of dirt, long unkempt grass and holes.
“It would be nice to have someone maintain them (the fields),” said Little League coach Josh Hombel. “It looks like no one cares. No one takes pride in the fields.”
Coaches for different leagues usually clean up and do minor improvements to the fields they play on to ensure the safety of their players.
“We do what we can,” said Rick Luttrull, chief commissioner for Pony Baseball. “The issue goes beyond the condition of the field. I think we need to work collectively (all area youth sports programs) for a nice complex all kids could use.”
Hawley, Murphy, Hombel and Luttrull all relate how regional cities like Moses Lake and the Tri-Cities have baseball fields in pristine condition and believe Spokane should follow suit.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Hawley. “You’re looking at three to four thousand kids all fighting for fields, and the fields are really poor. It’s a serious problem.”
Besides poor maintenance, several coaches told of situations where sprinklers were on during the game, flooding fields and washing away dirt. On July 16, for example, flooding from sprinklers prevented two SYSA teams from playing on their designated varsity field at North Pines Junior High, forcing them to play on a junior varsity field on the same campus. This move also displaced a youth soccer practice scheduled in left and center field. The sprinklers ran continuously from before the game began at 6 p.m. until well after the game’s end after 8:30, coaches said.
“My question is why are they watering during the day,” said Murphy. “It shows lack of respect, lack of planning and lack of organization. Obviously they know baseball is being played all summer, along with soccer and softball.”
Teams using Evergreen elementary share similar experiences. Hombel said his team continually had to fill puddles with dirt because of defective sprinklers
“The sprinkler head on the pitchers mound was stuck in one direction,” said Hombel. “You had to fix it every game. Water runoff caused a trench going back from the mound.”
Besides field conditions, some curbside views of Central Valley schools reflect lack of maintenance. At Ponderosa Elementary along Cimmaron Drive, dry patches and weeds greet visitors. Commenting on dry grass at Ponderosa Elementary, Wayland contends a broken sprinkler system in mid-July caused grass to not be watered for four or five days. Since that time though, the grass continues to show brown, dry patches.
Along the roadside at Chester Elementary, weeds fill the tree-lined beds. Weeds filled the brick flowerbed at the front of the school at University High School until just recently.
The staff of 66 full-time and 13 part-time custodians is responsible for the interior care and minor exterior care, such as maintaining the curb appeal of each school. Wayland said at least one day is supposed to be dedicated to the exterior.
“Summer is one of their busiest times,” Wayland said. “It’s the only time they can do a huge detailed cleaning of the interior so they weigh that between getting outside.”
Wayland, who joined Central Valley in July, is taking steps to improve the overall curbside appeal to the schools. Improving the baseball fields requires more funding.
“Through efficiency we can always make things a little better,” said Wayland. “We’re never going to have each facility like the Mariners’ field, but it’s nice to have that as a goal.”