Coaches aim for soft turf

High school seeks about $4 million for artificial surface

Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Juneau-Douglas High School softball coach Dave Massey had to change his coaching style to accommodate his teams' playing surface: glacial silt.

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"Basically, I think the kids keep playing baseball and softball here because they don't know any better," he said.

"This is about safety and opportunity," Massey said as he explained Monday why he and roughly 120 players and coaches crowded into the Juneau Assembly Chambers, many sitting on the floor.

They sought help in finding close to $4 million to build artificial turf at Melvin Park, off Riverside Drive, and Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, next to Floyd Dryden Middle School.

"We just want a field where high-level baseball and softball can be played - (a field) that is safe and allows to players to perform at the highest level possible," he said.

Together, the fields would cost $3.8 million in 2006 prices, Matsil said. This includes not only the price of the turf, but new fences, backstops and design and permitting fees.

Since 1999, the community has been talking about artificial turf baseball and softball fields for the roughly 1,000 young people between the ages of 5 and 18 who play the game, said Jim Ayers, high school baseball coach.

He suggested going to the voters for approval to issue a bond.

"Funding has been extraordinarily overlooked," Ayers said. "We are asking you specifically to recognize the top priority and actually provide for the fundings through the October ballot measure."

Massey said he and other coaches shy away from practicing hard ground balls for fear of bad hops and injuries.

Nearly all the softball and baseball players present at the meeting have taken at least one of the painful, unexpected bounces. Every hand in the room shot up when they were asked who knew what it felt like.

"It is a significant number (who play baseball or softball), and obviously the weather limits playing on the fields," said Marc Matsil, the city's recreation and parks director. The area's heavy precipitation means traditional grass fields are out.

Right now, the only option is dirt.

The silty baseball and softball fields have been nicknamed "Alcatraz," while the artificial turf soccer and football field near Floyd Dryden is known as the "Garden of Eden."

"They are devoid of grass. They are hard," Matsil said. "They promote potential injuries."

"I don't know how many times we had to go through the infield and pick up rocks and chuck them off," said Chad Bentz, who grew up in Juneau and went on to pitch in the majors for Montreal and Florida. "It was part of practice. I didn't know anything different. I thought that is how you were supposed to play. I just know that with turf fields, kids can learn to play right and they don't have to be afraid.

"It is going to increase the chance of getting onto the next level," Bentz said.

Craig Duncan, the city's finance director, said the state would have to determine whether the project would qualify for a state school construction bond.

"It is really their call. We would have to make the case that this is somehow important to the curriculum of the school," he said.

If it does qualify, the Assembly would have to approve the details of the ballot measure by an August deadline for the October election.

The Assembly told city staff to create a report detailing costs and project plans for review.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com.



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