A shortage of all-season facilities is causing Park City coaches to play the scheduling
Spring is officially here, and so is the bouquet of outdoor sports that comes along with it.
But Summit County is a tough place for spring sports.
In some years, the ground isn’t reliably clear of snow until mid-April, turning scheduling into a different sport entirely.
Park City High School softball coach Shannon Gebbia said as soon as she receives the next season’s schedule in the summer, she starts amending it.
“I can’t host you in March,” she tells her opponents. “It’s just a game of working all of that around.”
She doesn’t plan on hosting anything on the Miners’ home field until after spring break – around mid-April, with just a month to go before the state playoffs start.
This season, her team didn’t put cleats to grass until it drove to South Ogden for the season opener against Bonneville on March 19.
Gebbia said that wasn’t the ideal circumstance to see green for the first time. The Lakers are one of the best teams in Region 11, tied with Tooele at the top.
“The girls; you could see in their demeanor on Tuesday they were nervous,” she said. “They were more tense and, you know, the ball bounces differently on turf than it does on grass.”
Track coach Dave Yocum had a similar experience. His boys and girls squads stay mostly indoors in March.
“It’s impossible,” he said of training his team of more than 100 athletes early in the season.
Dozier Field’s synthetic turf surface is plowed each year, but sometimes it’s impractical to clear the full track. This season, for instance, there has been so much snow that athletic director Jamie Sheetz said it is prohibitively expensive to remove it, which leaves the throwing and jumping areas out of the question for track athletes.
Shot put throwers use rubber-coated shots and Yocum’s own homemade, wooden, portable throwing ring. They throw the shots down hallways or against brick walls, and throwing coach Dalton Bolger said not every strength event can be adapted for the indoors.
“You can throw a shot put, but you can’t throw a javelin inside,” he said. “And even the discus and shot put, you have constraints. … It will be our first meet before a lot of these kids have throwing in a real competition and let loose.”
Making everything run smoothly is also a painstaking task for athletic directors and venue managers as they seek out solutions.
“I used to have hair before this job and now I don’t,” joked Shad Stevens, athletic director at South Summit High School. But, he said, the challenge is real.
“It is every day making adjustments and trying to go the extra mile with teams and the give and take here and there,” he said. “I don’t want to call it a ‘nightmare,’ but it is extensive work to be able to balance that when you’re short on space.”
While the Wildcats utilize a turf football field, its baseball and softball diamonds incorporate grass that can’t be plowed in the spring without damaging it.
And indoor space is very limited. Stevens said the other high schools that have the same issue have no available space to rent out. Sometimes the Wildcats travel to Park City to use indoor facilities like the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse.
The Miners are in the same boat. Dozier is turf, but the baseball and softball fields are grass, and it also has a girls golf team to train.
Like the Wildcats, the most readily available solution for the Miners is to reschedule or move all home games, and try and get as much time on Basin Recreation Fieldhouse turf field, which is the only indoor turf field in Summit County.
Of course, they’re far from the only organization seeking time on the turf.
“We are pretty full in the winter for sure,” said Matt Strader, Basin Recreation Fieldhouse and facilities manager. “We are dealing with the high school, all the club teams, and our own programs, so it’s definitely a juggling match to make sure everyone gets their allotted time.”
Strader said from November through April, the Fieldhouse is booked solid from 3 to 11 p.m. every weekday, and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.
To accommodate everyone as best he can, Strader has developed what he calls his “fairness matrix spreadsheet” which tracks when everyone is scheduled, and allows him to easily see who should get first choice on the upcoming week.
“Everybody always wants Monday through Thursday, so I make sure everyone at least has one of those time frames between 3 and 9 o’clock,” he said of youth and high school programs.
He doesn’t schedule games for young players after 9 p.m., instead reserving that time for adult programs.
The Fieldhouse also has its own priorities – Basin Recreation programs take precedent, then local stakeholders like youth and high school teams, then local residents, then out-of-county teams, clubs and residents.
Even then, it can be tricky, especially when clubs are large. For instance, Park City Soccer Club, which rents time on the turf field and hardwood courts, has 37 teams.
“They would rent every hour I have if they could, but we have to give everybody their fair shot,” Strader said.
The question on everybody’s lips is: When is Summit County getting more season-round sports infrastructure?
The South Summit School District will vote on a bond measure in November to build a new high school that, if approved, could provide more indoor training space. However, the school district has not specified what facilities would be included on the bond yet.
Stevens is hoping for a new gym and a turf baseball diamond – or two.
“I live every day with the reality of shortage of space and availability, so I think it will be quite evident where my vote would lie and how critical I feel it is to the success of our programs, which I believe are a big part of the educational experience,” he said. “With the new facility, gym space is our No. 1 (priority) but No. 2 is having a baseball and softball field that are turfed on-site. In this high country we need to be able to push this snow off the turf or our teams aren’t able to get on the field until way late into the season.”
Jamie Sheetz is hoping for something similar in Park City, saying that turf fields would dramatically help the baseball and softball programs, though there is currently no hard plan for resurfacing them.
“Just from my position, and the coaches, it makes sense,” he said of resurfacing the baseball and softball fields. “The biggest impact we could have on those sports is for them to get on their fields.”
Sheetz said tentative plans to resurface the fields are often discussed in budget meetings, but haven’t yet been supported to a point where the district will act.
There are also murmurs of expansion at Basin Rec.
Strader said the organization is preparing to poll the community on adding another facility, which he said would probably not go in for at least another five years. If Basin Recreation does decide to build it, the next facility would likely be built on the more than 100 acres of land it owns off S.R. 189, Strader said.
It would have the clientele in fall, winter and spring from the get-go, but it would still have to be viable in summer, which means it would need to staff fitness classes and have other amenities that would make it attractive when the sun is shining.
But with a growing county population, and with it sports clubs, Yocum said history shows that it pays to be prepared.
“Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s we didn’t have as much demand, but we started soccer, and soccer is now huge. We didn’t have lacrosse; lacrosse is now huge,” he said.
Those sports have added more activities for people to partake in, but have also added stress on the area’s sports infrastructure. Until something new comes along, Yocum and the rest of the local team sports community will continue the game of scheduling and rescheduling.
“We demand a lot of ourselves and our kids,” Yocum said. “We are a culture that we succeed … and at the end of the day you just have to have that mentality to just get through it.”
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Nine local athletes recently signed their national letters of intent to continue their respective athletic careers in college. Five of the athletes are going to college to play lacrosse, while eight of the nine have signed on to Division-One programs.