An old squabble over field usage between the South Whidbey Youth Soccer Club and the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District was rekindled on Wednesday when numerous people voiced their gripes at the monthly commissioners’ meeting.
About 20 people, including parents and coaches, were searching for explanations for the district’s decision to disallow any use of South Whidbey Sports Complex fields for practice and games. Some in the crowd went so far as to accuse the district of dishonesty and complicity in their reasoning to keep the fields closed; one person even accused the district of preferential treatment to boys teams and “discrimination against our girls.” However, both boys and girls teams have been impacted by the field closure. The fields haven’t been available for usage since Monday, Dec. 19.
“My concern is there has been a lot said by the parks district that is not true,” coach Karl Peterson said. “We were told last week that all of the fields were completely soaked through with water squirting out with each step. Within an hour of being told that, our field liaison walked the fields and said that was not true.”
The commissioners were quick to collectively deny dishonest practices and any preferential treatment. Commissioner Mark Helpenstell emphasized the unusual nature of this winter’s weather and the inconsistency of the soccer fields. He mentioned spots on the fields where he could “jump three or four times on my shovel” without breaking through the frozen turf, and other nearby spots where a shovel could break through the turf “like butter.”
“As a board member, we’re all about equity and fairness and if anyone would think otherwise, they’d be mistaken,” Commissioner Dennis Hunter said. “I moved here in ‘78, and this has been the worst winter since 1983. Deer Lake has been frozen for three months. I’ve never seen that.”
Coach Terry Swanson challenged the district’s claims of it being an unusually cold and wet winter. He brought empirical weather data to the meeting to show the commissioners it was a “normal winter.” He said he closely follows the weather due to his focus on studying landslides throughout Puget Sound. It didn’t change the district’s stance though, which stuck to its guns and pointed to the over-saturation caused by thawing ice.
Those in attendance were agitated due to the competitive nature of the games played in January. Although it’s off-season, three teams have participated in State Cup, the playoffs for Washington Youth Soccer. The teams were not allowed to play their home games at the beginning of the month on South Whidbey, so the club had to settle for the turf field at Oak Harbor High School. Playing on the field required the club to pay a fee, and parents complained the move took away any home field advantage. One team has an upcoming playoff game on Jan. 22, and Peterson requested to use one of the South Whidbey Sports Complex Fields for the game. The request was denied since the field remains soggy and partially frozen.
This is the latest issue in a long-standing squabble over field usage during the winter. Three years ago, Swanson was temporarily banned from district property for refusing to relocate a training session from a closed field. However, commissioners and coaches alike made efforts to play peacemakers so the club and district can move forward.
Commissioners pointed out that this issue could ultimately help the district receive grant monies to construct a turf field to play on during soggy winter months. The idea of a turf field gave parents, coaches and parks officials something to look forward to, although the current issue is unresolved. The fields will remain closed for the time being, until the district decides to reopen them. Parks officials are conducting daily checks on the fields.
“Right at this instant we’re under pressure because we have six or seven competitive teams, which is great, without facilities that can stand the winter,” Commissioner Matt Simms said. “Strategically looking forward, this tells us we need a better winter option. We have to get a turf field on South Whidbey.”