Lacrosse Team Pushing Toward State Tournament Forced Off Home Field

June 18, 2012 / Lacrosse
The Litchfield County Times, Jason Siedzik

BURLINGTON — Lewis Mills High School may not have a home for its boys lacrosse team next year, or for some time thereafter, due to what facilities manager David Fortin characterized as excessive abuse and unique challenges.

Mr. Fortin debriefed the Region 10 Board of Education on June 11 about the state of the school’s fields, particularly the lacrosse fields. According to Mr. Fortin, the fields never recovered from the weeks of rain earlier in the spring, as well as overuse from recreational programs.

“I’m disappointed that we allowed our fields to get that way,” said board member Paul Omichinski, “because we spent a bunch of time in our board meetings discussing how we were going to prevent them getting damaged.”

According to Mr. Fortin, though, “it happened overnight,” in part because “they never dried.”

Properly repairing the fields will cost a minimum of $50,000, he said, as the district will need to aerate the entire field, cover it with crabgrass, then regrade the field to properly restore the crown. Mr. Omichinski remarked that so far, that was just the first suggestion, adding that “we’ve got what I’m sure is coming next, which is the $100,000 solution.”

Once these repairs are completed, according to Mr. Fortin, lacrosse teams cannot play on the fields for two years. That restriction comes at an especially inopportune time considering the success the Spartans have had in lacrosse.

The boys team is on the verge of returning to the tournament, having gone 6-10 last season on the heels of a 10-5 campaign in 2011. Meanwhile, the girls team is in its third year, having defeated Housatonic Regional 15-12 in the CIAC Class S qualifying round before losing 18-0 to top seed Haddam-Killingworth. However, that qualifying round game, along with the team’s win over Watertown in the Western Connecticut Lacrosse Conference semifinals, was played at the Harwinton Recreational Complex, not Lewis Mills.

“The bottom line is we have X amount of days of school left,” Mr. Fortin said, continuing that “we have a lacrosse team that, for the first time, is going to go to the tournament, but we’re going to say ‘Sorry, you can’t play here’.”

But according to Mr. Fortin, the youth lacrosse programs for Harwinton and Burlington have been the primary culprits for the state of the fields. Board member Beth Duffy agreed, remarking, “We knew this was coming. With the utilization of our sports teams and the other teams, this was coming.”

“As a parent,” said fellow board member Noel Turner, “we’ve been out on the field so many times when it was pouring, and they still play.” The weekends are especially problematic, Fortin said, as far as enforcement goes. David Tanner, the district’s athletic director, said that he was subjected to abuse after telling the teams in a youth lacrosse game that they could not warm up on the field on a Saturday.

“During the week, it’s easy, because someone’s in their office,” Tanner said. “These were people that knew better and knew they shouldn’t be on the field.”

Both Fortin and Tanner were visibly frustrated at the usage of the fields, as well as the inaction of police responding to complaints. Fortin, in particular, recalled a parent watching their daughter playing pepper against a fence — the fielding drill involves hitting ground balls and can be destructive to fields — despite the signs explicitly banning pepper. In fact, Fortin added, the parent was leaning directly on a sign forbidding the playing of pepper.

“Other than building a 10-foot fence around the field, how do you keep people from going on there?” Fortin asked. “We have a sign right out there saying no parking in the circle, and everyone parks there.”

Board chairman Raymond Sikora suggested cracking down on the youth teams with a pre-season meeting. Omichinski agreed, summing up Sikora’s statements as “you play by our jurisdiction or you don’t play at all.”

“You may have to make an example,” Sikora said, adding that “the abuse that (Tanner) took is totally unwarranted.”

Region 10 already has limitations on the work that it can do to the fields. Since Har-Bur Middle School is part of the same structure and uses the same fields, Region 10’s facilities department cannot use any non-organic pesticides on its fields. State laws explicitly limit the pesticides that can be used on fields where sixth-grade students and younger can play.

Board member Ted Scheidel also agreed with trying to find a workable solution in a meeting. Scheidel specifically asked for a facilities meeting “to weed this out.”

“I think it’s about maintaining the fields,” Scheidel said, “and we need to discuss that.”

The district’s recent adoption of its 2012-13 budget only serves to complicate matters further. Region 10 administration already needs to find the room for a school resource officer, having authorized the district to spend up to $10,000 more than the budget allots for the officer. However, even if the district cannot pay for the full repairs, the abuse will result in additional expenses. According to Tanner, the district will have to pay $20,000 in transportation costs, in part because of the limited number of regulation lacrosse fields in the district. The only other regulation field in the district is at the Harwinton Recreational Complex, and the Spartans cannot also practice there.

But help could be on the way. Duffy raised the question of asking for donations from O&G Industries, such as sod, to help ease the financial pressures and provide work. So far, the Spartans boosters are coming together, according to superintendent of schools Alan Beitman.

“There has been some reach-out from the lacrosse folks,” Beitman said.

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