Cascade athletes say practice area is unsafe

EVERETT — Nathan Elliot, a member of Cascade High School’s football team, has one word to describe his school’s practice field.

“Awful,” he said. “Right now, it’s like soup out there.”

As a freshman, Nathan, 15, broke his ankle and ended up in a cast for six weeks last spring after another football player slipped and then fell on top of him.

During last week’s Everett School Board meeting, Nathan and his mother, Gretchen Weiss-Elliot, were part of a delegation of Cascade parents and students urging the board to take action.

Nathan showed board members a picture of himself in the wheelchair he used while his foot was healing.

“There’s potholes everywhere,” he said. “It’s obvious the facilities we have are not up to standards and not safe.”

His mom held up a series of photographs she took of the muddied practice field, mounted on cardboard, for the board members to see.

If an issue over Cascade’s athletic facilities sounds familiar, it is.

The proposal for the new tracks was bundled into a $26.4 million, approved by the school board last year.

Robert Polk, the school district’s athletic director, said he thinks it’s important for practice fields at both Cascade and Jackson high schools to be replaced with synthetic turf.

Replacement of both fields is expected to cost nearly $3.1 million. “It’s something I’ve wanted and asked for,” he said. “You can only pay for what you have money for.”

Polk, whose own son is a Cascade athlete, questions whether the practice field’s conditions are the cause of all the sports injuries.

“I think the injuries are the usual strains and pulls you get when you play any kind of sport on a grass or even a turf field,” he said. “Feet do slip.”

Jeff Russell, school board president, said he’s committed to getting the new synthetic practice fields installed, but is concerned about how Cascade’s field has been described. “To say those fields are unsafe is unsubstantiated,” he said.

Russell said he coaches middle school football. “I know what fields look like in the fall, after the October rains,” he said.

Improvements were made at Cascade in 1999, including upgrades to its tracks and new grass turf, drainage and irrigation systems for the practice field, he said. “It’s not that the district has neglected them.”

The school board will take another look at the issue this summer, after final bids are submitted for both the track and administration building projects, he said.

Board member Jessica Olson said she thinks the school district “could make it happen — it’s a matter of wanting to,” she said. “They don’t have to spend every last cent of the capital fund on the new administration building.”

Pam LaSesne, elected to the school board last fall, said that the Cascade project is just one example of competing school district needs.

On recent visits to schools, teachers were begging for math and reading specialists, she said.

“There are those who feel that you should drop everything and focus only on the (Cascade) issue, and if you don’t, you don’t care about kids,” she said.

“What should I say to the teacher who says, ‘I need one more reading specialist to help my kids.’ It’s hard.”

Some parents and students remain convinced that the practice field’s conditions do cause an unusual number of injuries.

Crystal Guidice’s 16-year-old son, Blake, participates on Cascade’s football, basketball and track teams.

“More injuries happen on our practice field than in games, for sure,” she said.

Guidice said she knows of five Eisenhower Middle School students who participate in sports who are transferring, and won’t attend Cascade, because of the school’s practice field and sport facilities.

“I myself have slipped and fallen and been hurt,” said Tay’lor Eubanks, the school’s quarterback and member of its track team.

“Every step you take it tears the field even more. We have a lot of rolled ankles and sprained knees. Kids slip and pull their groin.”

Weiss-Elliot said she’s considering sending her 14-year-old son, Andrew Sibley, a middle school football player, to Archbishop Murphy High School instead of Cascade. She said she is concerned her younger son could be injured, just as son Nathan was.

“As a parent, you have to try to go figure out what’s best for your kids,” she said. “It’s a decision that’s kept me up at night.”

Despite Nathan breaking his ankle last year, he said he still plans to participate on the Cascade football team as a junior next year.

Claire Nelson, a member of Cascade’s soccer and tracks teams, acknowledged that people who play sports risk injury. “A lot of injuries do come from the field,” she said.

Student athletes could lose opportunities for college scholarships because of those injuries, she said. “There are holes everywhere.”

Polk said the school district is checking insurance records for the past five years to see how many injuries were reported on Cascade’s grass practice fields.

He said he plans to inspect the field with maintenance and groundskeeping staff in the next couple of weeks to check for potholes and ruts “and make sure they’re taken care of.”

And as part of the construction project for the new synthetic track, drainage for the practice field will be checked to clear out any blockages, he said.

The school district is working with the city of Mill Creek to see if it might help contribute to the costs of upgrading Jackson’s practice field.

And Cascade boosters have said they are working on similar public fundraising efforts for a new practice field.

But unless such efforts are successful, the new practice fields might have to wait for an anticipated 2014 bond issue. And even if the project is included in the bond proposal, Polk said, there’s still no guarantees.

“There’s many in the community who feel … artificial turf is a frivolous extra,” Polk said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

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