Synthetic-turf plan for Pickerington athletics fields loses traction in pandemic

NATE ELLIS
nellis@thisweeknews.com
Pickerington High School Central junior Ramiya Roy (yellow jersey) attacks the ball while being defended by senior Carmen Brown during a July 1 practice on an alternate field at Central. In the background, yellow team member and sophomore Courtney Keane and blue team members (from front to back) Central sophomore Callia Castellon, senior Lia Petrefski and freshman Kendall Bennett. Freshman Grace Obert defends the goal. Central girls soccer junior varsity coach Brad Monhollen said he supports a campaign to get synthetic-turf fields at Pickerington's two high school stadiums.

After being tripped up by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, a group trying to bring synthetic-turf fields to Pickerington's two high schools hopes to regain its footing.

As he watched girls scrimmaging on two dusty grass practice fields across from the front entrance of Pickerington High School Central on July 1, Brad Monhollen, Central's junior varsity girls soccer coach, said he was convinced student athletes could benefit from synthetic-turf fields at Tiger Stadium and Pickerington High School North's Panther Stadium.

"It'd be nice to be able to train on it and the schools to match up and not have to worry about the condition of our field," said Monhollen, who also serves as Central's varsity girls soccer assistant coach. "Nobody gets to practice in the (Central) stadium."

In addition to being relegated to practice fields to maintain the best playing surface possible for soccer matches and football games at Tiger Stadium, Monhollen said, the lack of synthetic-turf fields at Pickerington's high schools creates an issue for the students when they compete against those at other schools.

"The problem is, when you play a team that plays on turf all the time, it's the same ball each time because the level of (turf) is the same," he said. "If we play a tournament(bound) team, we want to play them early in the year -- not after they've had so many more hours on turf than we've had.

"It's just an imbalance. It's an advantage that we don't get to have," he said.

Leveling the competitive playing fields by providing playing surfaces similar to those used by most other central Ohio high school athletes is among the rallying cries for members of the Pickerington Community Turf Project Committee, which last October launched a $2.25 million fundraising campaign.

The group hopes to use private money to install synthetic-turf athletics fields at both high schools' stadiums, although the plan includes waiting for the potential construction of a new Tiger Stadium, given it rests on a floodplain.

Thus far, the effort has been relatively slow.

According to the group's website, pickeringtonturf.com, about $35,000 in funds have been raised.

Initially, committee chair Mike Little said he hoped the money could be raised in time to install the fields in the fall of 2021.

But efforts have been affected as the committee -- and the community -- await the outcome of Pickerington Schools' 2.9-mill bond issue that will appear on this November's ballot.

The bond issue, which district officials say would cost owners of a $100,000 residence approximately $101.52 per year, would enable the district to build a new junior high school and expand buildings to make room for growing student enrollment.

It also would provide funding for district infrastructure improvements, including the construction of a new Tiger Stadium.

Little said in February that if the bond issue passes, it "would probably boost our abilities to fund raise."

That was before the statewide shutdown a month later brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Little said the turf committee still endorses the bond because it would help the district provide better classroom and athletics accommodations to the students.

But it remains to be seen if residents -- including those whose jobs have been affected by the pandemic -- would be able to support the bond and the turf campaign.

"The passage of that levy is vitally important to the school district," Little said. "Our hope is to get it passed so they get the new classroom space, the new junior high gets built ... as well as the other upgrades they've identified.

"We want to see turf in both the stadiums. But since the pandemic, people's incomes have changed."

As a result of the pandemic, Little said, the committee's fundraising campaign "has ground to a halt."

He said a March 17 luncheon with local businesses that was designed to solicit donations and potential corporate partners was canceled due to the statewide stay-at-home orders.

Additionally, the cancellation of Picktown Palooza, which had been slated for July 9 to 11 in Olde Pickerington, wiped out another chance to promote the project and ask for donations from a large audience.

"We're not actively fundraising," Little said. "We would still accept donations if people are on board."

In the meantime, the committee is organizing support for the district's bond issue and it is in the running for a $12,500 donation through Fairfield Federal's Quasquicentennial 125 Community Awards.

Through Aug. 15, the bank is seeking online votes at fairfieldfederal.com.

The top vote-getter among the Pickerington Community Turf Project, Bloom-Carroll Band Uniform Challenge, Fairfield Community Health Center, Head Start Community Action Agency, Kiwanis Hunter Park Shelter Project and FMC Foundation Cancer Care Center will receive the $12,500 prize.

Little said providing turf at both schools' stadiums would allow athletes from such sports as football, lacrosse and soccer, as well as members of the marching bands, to practice more on their home fields because a synthetic surface would hold up better than grass, especially during wet weather.

He echoed Monhollen's sentiments that local athletes and band members could practice, play and perform on home fields that are on par with those at other schools.

"We feel it's very important to do this because our student athletes, our band members, deserve to have the same level playing field as the schools around us have," he said. "Turf also gives you the opportunity to utilize the field in a more year-round way.

"You get far more use out of the turf on a consistent basis than you do on grass."

Little said residents can learn more about the turf fundraiser via the group's website and Facebook page.

He said he also is hoping the coronavirus can be contained enough that student athletes can compete this fall.

"We're hoping there will be football this season, along with all the other sports and activities, just like everybody else," he said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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