After weeks of looking elsewhere to practice and play games, a South Whidbey Reign girls soccer team was the first to play at South Whidbey Sports Complex since its closure in mid-December.
The fields remain closed to the public until further notice, however, while they fully recover from damage suffered during the winter, according to Parks Director Doug Coutts.
“The field was only open for this game,” Coutts said. “They remain closed, it was a one-off.”
The U14 girls youth soccer team was given the green light by South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District to host a playoff game on Sunday after the district closely monitored weather forecasts throughout the week. The game occurred shortly after soccer club officials and parents cried out for the district to allow field usage. Roughly 20 people voiced their concerns at the district’s monthly commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday.
Coutts says the decision was based off field conditions, not outside pressure.
“We base our decisions on usage on what we see on the fields,” Coutts said. “We’re not trying to punish anybody, reward anybody or give preferential treatment. But, did we listen to the crowd? Yes. Did we consider what they said? Of course.”
The fields have been closed for weeks due to built-up ice, which causes problems due to the relatively thin layer of soil underneath the turf. Grounds Manager Tom Fallon says the fields were never meant for full usage during the winter months. The fields have seen a “full thaw” for about a week as temperatures rose into the ‘40s, and water continues to drain from the fields. Fallon says the frost that never thawed is now gone, and thin layers of surface frost accumulated through the nighttime melt before the day’s end. He added the one and a half inches of rainfall last Wednesday actually sped up the recovery process rather than further complicating the situation.
“It probably helped because it thawed it out quicker, but the drainage system was basically flooded with all that water,” Fallon said. “But, I’m very happy with where the fields are now.”
The soccer club’s field liaison, Bob Murnane, said the girls were thrilled to play on their home field rather than trekking up to Oak Harbor. He said the home field advantage and the good conditions played a part in the team’s 3-1 win and advancement into the State Cup quarterfinals. Home field advantage, he says, is crucial since the team ia one of the few in the area to primarily play on grass as opposed to turf.
He’s looking forward to the fields being permanently reopened, but agrees with the parks district that turf fields represent a solution to future issues.
“The parks district just keeps those fields in primo condition,” Murnane said. “But, to avoid this from happening again, I think we all agree that acquiring funds to get a turf field on the South End would resolve this. The district seems serious about it.”
Fallon says the decision to temporarily open the field fell within the plans the district had from the beginning. District officials predicted roughly a month-long freeze, said Fallon, and initially hoped fields would reopen come February. It looks as if it’ll pan out that way, as Coutts hinted the fields weren’t far from reopening to the public. It’s always possible, however, that an unexpected freeze will foil those plans.
“This week looks good, and if next week is also good then we’re in good shape,” Coutts said. “If Mother Nature changes her mind, we can’t control that. But, we’re hoping the fields will open by the time club season comes around in February.”