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Sports Complex fields reopen at South Whidbey Parks commissioners’ orders

Jeffrey Meier and players on the boys soccer team from South Whidbey High School practice March 6 at the Sports Complex on Langley Road, a South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District property. Previously, access to the fields was limited in favor of preserving the field condition. The commissioners, after a special hearing to revoke a ban on volunteer youth soccer coach Terry Swanson, directed the parks staff to open all the fields for use, especially for the high school teams.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Jeffrey Meier and players on the boys soccer team from South Whidbey High School practice March 6 at the Sports Complex on Langley Road, a South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District property. Previously, access to the fields was limited in favor of preserving the field condition. The commissioners, after a special hearing to revoke a ban on volunteer youth soccer coach Terry Swanson, directed the parks staff to open all the fields for use, especially for the high school teams.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District fields are now open for people to use.

It sounds simple, but a week ago the fields, parks and facilities were not so accessible. The district’s commissioners opted to change course after a controversial ban of a popular youth soccer coach was lifted at the commissioners special meeting March 6.

By March 7, the South Whidbey High School boys soccer teams were practicing at the Sports Complex fields. The change, commissioners say, will get more people onto parks district property.

“We generally wanted to shift the balance more toward access, understanding that the condition of the fields might suffer,” said Commissioner Matt Simms, calling it an issue of balancing condition against access. “It’s as complicated as you can imagine.”

In late February, volunteer youth soccer coach Terry Swanson was prohibited from using the facilities after the staff claimed he did not follow direction to stay in a specified area of the six-field Sports Complex on Langley Road. Eventually, Swanson was cited for trespassing by the Island County Sheriff’s Office and banned for one year. He successfully appealed the commissioners to lift the ban March 6, arguing that the fields should not be closed off to public use. Swanson also said field use should be rotated to avoid excessive wear on any single field.

Most of the commissioners agreed with Swanson that the fields and parks should be open, and all five voted to remove the ban.

“It’s not every day we talk about police coming to the park,” Simms said. “Those things shouldn’t happen in our parks system, for whatever reason.”

“This was obviously a case of an escalation over time, in this case, over years,” he added.

Swanson, the impetus for the sudden course correction by the commissioners, said he was pleased by the decision.

“I was happy to see that, and even more happy that the high school is getting to practice there,” said Swanson, who saw a group of people playing Ultimate over the weekend at the Sports Complex. “Everyone’s happy the fields are back.”

“Let’s try to come up with a rotation schedule,” he said later.

Doug Coutts, executive director of the parks district, said his office uses a field rotation plan based on upcoming usage, weather conditions, field conditions and seasons. Part of the problem with the softness of the fields, he said, is that the park was built using the existing soil there instead of a sand base, which helps with drainage and keeps fields firm.

“The perception that we don’t rotate the fields is erroneous,” Coutts said. “We do rotate the fields.”

On March 7, a break in the string of rainy days found the Falcon boys soccer program on the Sports Complex fields. Co-head coach Joel Gerlach, also one of the parks commissioners, said they had rotated fields during their drills to limit use on any single spot. The fields were soft, with a pair of wheel marks that looked to be from a mower or tractor that stretched from the berm near the playground to the northwest field.

Wet fields have been a problem for South Whidbey. Back in 2008, the district received voter approval for a 20-year bond worth $1.6 million — a third of which was spent on the Sports Complex. Fields were drained, drainage infrastructure was installed and hydro-seeding spread. It helped reduce flooding.

But rain still falls in Western Washington, especially during the late fall and winter months in which Swanson’s boys soccer team practiced and played. Consistent rain and cold temperatures put the fields at risk of damage, parks district leaders said, and users will need to be responsible in their use.

“We faced an unusual situation this year with the weather pattern, especially over the last month,” Simms said. “The staff, based on the perspective we had, had done the right thing … We’ve just had an unusually concentrated amount of rain.”

“We will count on users being part of the decision-making that keeps the fields in the best condition possible,” he added.

 

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