Field critics to BISD: Step up to the plate

The Baseball Booster Club is asking the Bainbridge Island School District to get off the bench and step up to the plate.

In an email to the district from Monica Knight, who is trying to be the closer in this effort, says the Booster Club has a solution to the problem of unsafe baseball and softball fields that could be solved by Sept. 25.

Boosters would pay for the first phase of the project, roughly $17,000. The district would pay the remaining $80,000 out of its $5 million capital project budget for 2023.

Northwest Turf Solutions of Moses Lake, which builds ballfields for colleges and high schools, could start work this week, the email says.

It goes on to say the improvements would last at least 10 years, giving the district plenty of time to plan, raise funds and build a new athletic complex. “In the meantime, the fields will be safe for players, reducing risk to players and to BISD,” the email says. “It’s a relatively small price to pay to prevent injuries and potential lawsuits.”

The plan includes a sprinkler system. “Without a sprinkler system, we may not have grass come spring,” the email says.

Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen, in an email response to Knight, thanked her for providing the information.

“You are correct, that we have a shared interest in improving the fields for our student-athletes,” he writes.

He continued writing that the district is scheduling an appointment with Northwest Turf Solutions so it can come out to review both the baseball and softball fields and dugouts. “We are committed to seeking a solution that works in the short term and the long term, and that are fiscally responsible,” he writes. “We understand that there are windows of opportunity to address the fields due to weather conditions, and will work to the best of our ability to address those needs.”

At the Sept. 8 school board meeting, Bang-Knudsen said the fields are being assessed and recommendations made. Dugout and batting case safety also are being addressed. “We know it needs to be done for spring. There’s really going to be a focus on the infields and renovations so that they’re both safe and in better competitive field conditions.”

BISD has planned for aeration of fields followed by overseeding and fertilization of both outfields. In October, the warning track will be fixed. In February, the grounds staff will repair low spots on both infields and outfields, the application of infield conditioning agents, and additional turf seeding and fertilizer treatments. In March the grounds staff will collaborate with the athletic director, coaching staff and volunteers to establish a cooperative maintenance schedule to increase overall playability of the fields.

After talking at the school board meeting, Knight sent a follow-up email to the district, which was also sent to the Review. In part, it says: “Refusal to provide safe, playable fields for only two groups of athletes is blatant discrimination … The booster club is prepared to take all necessary steps to ensure the requirements of Title IX will be upheld … We will no longer tolerate the district’s discrimination against our student-athletes, coaches and community members.”

Meanwhile, an email written by a school board member in 2017, and a look at funding for BHS sports, show the problem with the ballfields has been going on for some time.

The email from school board member Michael Spence five years ago says the district “has been unwilling or unable to properly maintain these fields for several years now” or work with boosters when they wanted to help.

He said the district should apologize to the community, boosters, Metro League and students. He added that Sands or Totten fields should be fixed up and used since the ones at BHS were unplayable. If that couldn’t happen, he said BHS should not have any home games. He suggested working with parks, the city and others to come up with options, including funding, for the future.

In another email, Duane Fish, BHS principal at the time, said, “I wish we could magically have a turf field appear.”

That was all in response to a game being canceled by umpires because of the BHS field being unsafe.

A letter to the Review from boosters shows that while Title IX doesn’t require equal funding for all participants in all sports, a glimpse at the funding differential alleges BHS violates the spirit and intent of the law.

Their snapshot says there are 58 participants in baseball and softball who use those fields, and 190 in football, soccer, track and lacrosse who use the stadium. Just using basic maintenance costs, it comes out to about $60 per player in softball and baseball. Just using turf replacement costs, it comes out to over $500 per athlete for the others. That doesn’t even include equipment, paying coaches and officials, travel costs. etc.

Knight, who brought the issue of the ballfields to the forefront a few weeks ago, said that Dane Fenwick, operations manager for BISD, has been talking with the Booster Club since then. He told her the district could provide labor, but the club would have to pay for improvements.

“I honestly feel awful for him,” Knight said, adding Fenwick gets almost no support from the district.

Knight also says in an email that the team’s batting cages are being torn down because they are a liability, with no plans to replace them. Club records show the cages were built in 1991, and in 2012 the club spent $22,000 to reinforce them. She also said BISD has $15 million for capital levy projects until 2025, and the fields were built in 1988.

Also, some boosters also were unhappy with comments recently made by Bang-Knudsen regarding the fields.

Ian Ritchie said it was ironic that Bang-Knudsen said the turf field at the stadium had to be replaced because it was past its life cycle, but the baseball and softball fields have been past their life cycles for years.

He said the baseball team practiced on that old turf during winter and found it “amazing. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, and our fields are so bad that ‘turf with no life left’ would have been a godsend to our crappy fields. The fact it’s not good enough for other sports and would have been a massive improvement for us shows how out of touch” school leaders are.

He goes on to say that these are the only sports that have to deal with this lack of support. “Can you imagine if basketball nets were ripped? They would be fixed in a day … Can you imagine the basketball team setting up all the chairs for games, cleaning up after games, sweeping the floor and stands after games? Of course not, but that is what we have to do every year.”