I was sitting in the press box at Titan Coliseum on Jan. 4 covering the Northshore High-St. Scholastica girls soccer match, (SSA won 2-0) and I found myself asking the same question repeatedly.
Why am I here?
Northshore is based in Slidell, and St. Scholastica is in Covington, but we were in Mandeville on the Lakeshore High campus.
St. Tammany Parish hadn’t had its fair share of luck with good soccer-playing weather to start the season. Panther Stadium at Northshore was a mud fest, forcing Northshore school officials to have to move the match to Lakeshore, where there is turf.
But what if we didn’t have to move matches anymore? It got me to thinking.
The St. Tammany Parish School Board recently approved the sale of $175 million in capital improvement bonds, which will go to the voters for approval on May 4. Of that total, $150 million of that total would be used primarily for more classroom space and $25 million would pay for increased security measures at parish schools.
It's a lot of money and I'm wondering if somewhere, now or in the near future, a fraction of that amount could be allocated to pay for turfing the remainder of the parish's high school football fields.
The school board runs eight high schools: Covington, Fontainebleau, Lakeshore, Mandeville, Northshore, Pearl River, Salmen and Slidell. Lakeshore High, at 10 years old the youngest of the group, is the only school that has turf on its football field.
(For the record, St. Paul’s and Northlake Christian also have turf, while Archbishop Hannan and Pope John Paul II do not.)
Increasing the number of turf fields at our public schools is long overdue.
. This isn't just about prep football. Most of the parish’s junior high programs play on high school campuses, and many saw games canceled this season because of poor field conditions.
Boys and girls soccer also play on the football fields, and for Mandeville High, that is also the location of the lacrosse team’s games.
Turf fields could be used for band practices, dance team and cheerleading, and even baseball and softball when those sports' facilities are unusable.
Other events could be drawn to the schools should turf be installed. Recreational tournaments, regardless of the sport and regardless of the age, are big business, and the summers could be filled with them (for a small hosting fee, of course).
The best estimates I could find say turf fields cost about $1 million apiece. Maybe if school board officials went to a supplier and offered them a contract for the seven remaining schools that the price would come down. And remember, that cost could be spread out over 10 years.
We all know about the weather in south Louisiana. But it is 2019, people. We should not be having high school kids missing out on extracurricular activities or having to move 20-30 miles away at times because we lack the proper facilities to host them.
I spoke with School Board representative Stephen J. “Jack” Loup III to get some reaction to the idea. He said while turfing the remaining football fields in the parish is something that deserves to be looked at, the top priority of the bond issue was to get students out of the modular buildings and into modern classrooms, in addition to enhancing school security across the parish.
So, should turf fields be installed? Absolutely. Will it happen? That’s an entirely different story.