Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Stillwater Artificial Turf Proposition Passes

I recently spoke with Michael Kardash, the Athletic Director at Stillwater school district, about the passage of the proposition for a new field and track on the school grounds.
I covered a football game at Stillwater this fall and can attest to the need for new facilites there.
The story I wrote is below.

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STILLWATER — On December 19, voters in Stillwater approved two propositions, one to install and another to light an artificial turf multi-purpose athletic field at the high school.
According to Stillwater’s athletic director, Michael Kardash, “the field is not by any means a luxury. It is a need.”
This past June, Stillwater residents voted yes on an earlier proposal to expand school buildings and build a new gym. Voters also agreed to construction of a track at the school, but to build just the track would have taken away a practice field for the school’s soccer and football teams.
The solution school officials came up with was to install an artificial turf field and lights with the track, so that all the athletic teams could practice and play without worrying about field conditions.
“We looked at what was being gained against what was being lost,” said Kardash of the decision. “The kids will be safer on the new track and we won’t have lost all our practice area.”
Since the school is surrounded by wetlands near the Hudson River, it is nearly impossible to annex adjacent land to build extra practice fields. Additionally, unlike other districts that can utilize municipal or town facilities, Stillwater is limited to their own fields. To build a number of new natural grass fields was simply not an option for the district.
As the track and field team has taken off at Stillwater in recent years, practices were being held in parking lots and on local roads. This was part of the school’s safety concern. However, the conditions on their well-used grass field also raised safety questions.
Kardash said, “The students are excited. Our girls soccer team played at Broadalbin-Perth (another school that recently installed a turf field) in a torrential rain and it was playable.”
With a football team and two soccer teams competing with each other for field time, Stillwater’s surfaces were worn down with constant use. Holes, divots and patches of worn grass were just asking for a sprained ankle on every play, especially on days with poor weather.
Field maintenance was one of the major factors in asking town residents to support the installation of an artificial turf field, but far from the only. Now, coaches and school administrators do not have to worry about the student-athletes wearing out the natural grass fields. Kardash also hopes that the high-tech playing surface will cut down on injuries and noted it is something the school will continue to track.
The benefits of the new facilities to the Stillwater community are enormous. In addition to student safety, the school also hopes to schedule more home games.
“Coaches have been playing non-league games away just to save the fields,” said Kardash. The situation was much the same in the winter with the basketball teams in their cramped gymnasium. “Because of that, our travel expenses were going up,” the athletic director said.
It won’t only be the students who will benefit from the new track, turf field and gym. Kardash hopes to open the campus to the community at large. “It’s not just a school field,” Kardash said. “We are looking into starting walking programs on the track and we’re open to making this a centerpiece of our community.”
The cost of the two propositions is $1,053,000. For the average taxpayer, owning a home valued at $175,000, the cost of the propositions will incur $6 per year for the next 15 years. The state will contribute somewhere between 62-70% of the funds for the project.
A correlation exists between athletic participation and athletic performance, said Kardash. Nearly every team at Stillwater has been designated by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association as a “scholar athlete” team, meaning the average of its players’ GPAs is above 90%.
“Our success in the scholar athlete program is a tribute to our coaches and the teachers,” Kardash said. With improved athletic facilities, the administration hopes, academic performance will also rise, paying the cost of the field many times over.

- Will Montgomery

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