BY ANDREAS YILMA
BEACON FALLS — Region 16 is considering replacing the grass football field at Woodland Regional High School with turf after an outcry from the football community.
Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said at the Jan. 11 school board meeting the board came up with a survey and gave members of the regional school district roughly two weeks to decide if they would support a turf field. Out of the 750 responses, about 590 people, or 79%, said they would support converting to turf.
Regional voters last year approved about $2 million for a capital improvement project that includes the installation of a new track around the football field, repairing the drainage on the existing field and renovating the weight room.
“The majority of people who vote are parents of children; but it’s a good reflection,” Yamin said. “It isn’t a board decision; it’s a community decision.”
Region 16 Board of Education Chairman Robert Hiscox said about 18 months ago, school officials had discussions and decided not to move to a turf field from grass.
“Initially, (the) capital improvement (panel) plans to decide to replace track and repair the drainage and improve the existing grass field,” Hiscox said. “We felt at that time that because of the data that showed significantly more injuries higher with the turf field, the fact that we had limited teams that would be utilizing the turf field. Unlike many high schools, we do not have lacrosse, field hockey, marching bands and other activities like that that would benefit from a turf field.”
Also, Hiscox said, declining enrollment gave the district pause.
Hiscox said the school board will take action at its Feb. 8 meeting to consider moving towards a referendum to vote if residents want to fund a turf field or not.
More than 30 residents came out and filled a section of the Woodland Regional High School library at the school board meeting.
Ann Cook, whose son Nathan had an ACL and meniscus tear while playing football and will need surgery, said there are immediate issues with the field that need to be addressed.
“I’d be happy to show you the video from our huddle film of that injury if you need confirmation that it’s not just a football field,” Cook said to the school board. “It is an injury that has nothing to do with football and everything to do with a negligent field. That field was not in good condition.”
Cook said a grass field needs to be well maintained with a good irrigation system, someone to fill in the potholes after every game, and annual repair after every season with sodding.
Michael Strachan, who is a senior and got injured while he played football this past season, said it was unsafe to play from the start.
“It was a practice before St. Paul (Catholic High School) and even the practice fields, those are very unsafe too, and a turf field would solve all that because we could practice on that too. I pulled my hip flexor right here and I had to sit out that game and later as a result of that injury, right before the Naugatuck game, I pulled my hip rotator and I was not able to play,” Strachan said.
“That’s not an injury that would happen if we had turf.”
Woodland football coach Joe Lato said he really hopes the football community can get turf so that they wouldn’t have to beat up the practice field in the summer time.
Tara Hummel said her son Nicholas who is a junior who plays football was also injured on the field in October after he stepped into a hole and got a partial tear in his ACL. He was out for the whole season.
“There definitely needs to be repairs on that field. Whatever way you go with your vote as to do turf or not do turf,” Hummel said. “We can’t have too many more kids get hurt like that. It’s going to have reactions for them the rest of their lives.”
Hiscox said he planned to schedule a meeting with the board of education facilities committee and various staff members to review the public’s questions and input from the school board meeting.
Yamin subsequently said he feels strongly that the school board has done a nice job to listen to people.
If the school board goes to a turf field, the capital improvement project will change from roughly $2 million to $4 million, Yamin said.
“We realize that there are issues with the fields. They are 20 years old. We realize something has to be done with the fields,” Hiscox said. “We’re going to take care of it. We’re going to move it forward.”