South Kitsap officials revisit field's shortcomings

South Kitsap High School Athletic Director Ed Santos kneels at midfield of Joe Knowles Field, which had to be filled with sand because of the missing grass. - Jeff Rhodes/Staff Photo
South Kitsap High School Athletic Director Ed Santos kneels at midfield of Joe Knowles Field, which had to be filled with sand because of the missing grass.
— image credit: Jeff Rhodes/Staff Photo

This time is an exciting time of the year for the South Kitsap High School athletic department.

But it also begets a period of concern.

The school’s football and girls soccer teams appear poised to advance to the Class 4A state playoffs together for the first time since 2002.

While athletic director Ed Santos is excited about the accomplishments of both programs, he is concerned about playing surface at Joe Knowles Field.

“With all this rain ... we’re hoping to hang in there,” he said.

South is just one of three schools in the 11-team Narrows League that features a grass surface. Bellarmine Prep and Shelton are the other two.

Washington Interscholastic Activities Association does not allow games in the final two rounds of the state playoffs to be held on grass surfaces.

WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese said the rule was instated to put athletes on surfaces that are “safer that time of the year” and because most coaches prefer playing on an artificial surface.

The rule has become a costly proposition for the Wolves. When their football program last advanced to state in 2007, they had to rent Purdy’s Roy Anderson Field to “host” Kamiak. South also has rented Silverdale Stadium and Tacoma’s Lincoln Bowl for past events.

Santos said that typically costs $1,500 for football, with the school keeping the rest of the proceeds from the game. He said a football game at Joe Knowles generates between $6,000 and $7,000.

“We make some money, but not as much as we potentially could if we hosted on our own field,” Santos said.

It is one reason why the school’s athletic department and coaches association are developing a taskforce to examine athletic facilities throughout the district. The first meeting is 7 p.m. Monday at South, and Santos said the primary focus will be the surface at Joe Knowles.

“We just want to look at our options — with little or no cost to the school district — to upgrade our athletic facilities,” he said, adding that he would like to see a few turf fields installed in the district.

Santos does not want to approach the school district, which cut its budget this year in lieu of the recession, for funding. He hopes to raise the proceeds through alternative resources, such as fundraising.

One trend in professional and collegiate sports is to sell stadium-naming rights to a corporation. The trend has not caught on at many high schools in Washington, although the Sumner School District renamed Sumner Stadium as Sunset Chev Stadium a few years ago, after the local car dealership.

Santos said they will begin to explore potential revenue streams Tuesday. He said installing FieldTurf, which is a carpet consisting of synthetic blades of grass held up by an artificial dirt of sand and rubber created from recycled running shoes and tires, would cost $1.7 million.

Santos said the cost is higher at Joe Knowles than other places because of drainage issues that will require excavation to replace the system.

Despite that, he does not anticipate having to rent out another school’s stadium for a year or even a season to complete the project.

“I think the timeline is relatively short.” Santos said. “Ideally, you would have some like that done in the summer and ready for fall.”

He does not have a timeline for finishing the project, but he hopes to start it as soon as possible.

Girls soccer coach Julie Cain, citing field conditions and weather, had Wednesday’s Narrows League playoff match moved from Joe Knowles to Silverdale Stadium. The Wolves are eligible to host games at home until state, but Santos said that might end after Thursday’s home football finale against Mount Tahoma.

“After that point, we’ll pretty much have to shut it down if it continues to be wet because it will be unplayable,” he said.

In addition to playoff games, Santos said coaches sometimes request to rent turf fields to prepare their teams for state. There also is the added expensive of transporting students to those sites.

If FieldTurf or another artificial surface were installed at Joe Knowles, it not only would save costs on renting facilities and transporting players, Santos said it would generate money. He said lighted facilities with turf are sought after for rental, particularly by youth soccer programs.

Santos said turf is not the only facilities issue that will be discussed. Ideally, he said he would like track surfaces at each of the junior highs and multiple turf fields throughout the district, including one on the lower lot at the high school. He said the football team often practices there to prevent further wear at Joe Knowles Field. Both the boys and girls soccer teams practice off-campus at Retsil Field and Marcus Whitman Junior High.

Adding turf at Joe Knowles will achieve the primary element of hosting state games, but Santos said some secondary issues remain. Stadiums that feature championships, such as the Tacoma Dome, Lakewood’s Harry E. Lang Stadium and Mount Tahoma High School, all have covered visitor seating.

South likely would not be able to rent Joe Knowles Field for a championship until that is addressed.

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