On Friday, August 19, 2016 the Payson Roundup sports section published an article written by Keith Morris concerning the condition of Payson High School Longhorn Field. Field of Screams by Keith Morris
Morris hammers home the point that the field might not be a good one. Morris writes, “And just two weeks into practice this season, five players were slowed by knee or ankle injuries as a result of the poor field conditions.” If that is accurate then I would think some parents might be upset.
It must be pointed out though, that the field is probably no worse then previous years and it might even be better then some years. At last Friday’s game, the field was in better condition then many times I have been on it. There are fields across the state that are as bad or worse then Payson’s. The field is as playable as it has ever been but it does need help. The article may be a bit embellished but it did what it was supposed to do and that was draw attention to a problem that has long been overlooked. The title might be appropriate for not only the condition of the field but just maybe people should be screaming about why it was never fixed as promised 10 years ago.
It has to be disheartening for Coach Swartwood and his football players to play year in and year out on a field that has limited grass throughout the middle. People can argue all they want but varsity football at high school is the biggest draw in rural communities. Friday night football draws more people then most events. Even the band must beware of dirt patches if they are playing on the field. The stadium no longer has a working snack bar or restroom facilities on the Home side. Payson Longhorn student athletes have been short-changed by not having a turfed field that was voted on and passed by the community in November 2006.
I first arrived in Payson in 1980 and I can assure you that some 36 years later, the football field has not improved but really isn’t any worse than it was 30+ years ago. I will point out that in the history of the field, nobody has been on the field for more games then me. I first officiated football on the field in approximately 1982. Youth football has played there as long as I can remember and I have officiated games on Longhorn field for 30+ years. I also coached on the field in the early 80’s and early 90’s. I officiated middle school and high school football games starting in 1992 and have worked many a freshman, junior varsity, and varsity game on the field. I’m guessing that I have been on the field for over 200 games during this span and probably many more then that.
As long as I can remember Longhorn Field has had its issues. The grass always gave out in the middle of the field and brown patches would appear everywhere and would soon turn to muddy patches when the rains came. By the end of October, there tends to be more brown (mud and dirt) then green. I can remember Coach Terry Nodlinski placing new turf on the middle of the field in the 80’s and I don’t think that worked out so well. The sprinkler system had always been inadequate since it was first installed as many areas of the field would not receive adequate amounts of water during the growing season but that seems to have been remedied. But a total fix was a coming, or so we all thought.
In 2006, Payson Unified School District decided to hold a bond election for 33 million dollars and an advisory committee was formed. According to the Payson Roundup, the advisory committee membership included Craig Swartwood, Rory Huff, Steve Drury, Cari Day, and Kristi Ford. This group helped determine priorities for the bond that included building a new Julia Randall School and incorporating the old rock building into new school district offices and a board room. Part of the recommended 33 million dollar bond that was the inclusion of field turf that was to be placed on all high school athletic fields. This was in the bond language that was overwhemingly passed that November with a 73+% yes vote. School Board Explains Proposed School Bond Including Money for Turf Fields
I can remember the excitement at the high school for the prospect of having “real” fields to practice and compete on. But things changed, and the 2009 school board composed of Rory Huff, Barbara Underwood, Matt Van Camp, Vickie Holmes, and Richard Meyer pulled the plug on having fields to be proud of by voting to eliminate the designated funding in March of 2009. Mr. Meyer had made it very clear that he was not about athletic programs and coaches and his influence may have persuaded others that the district didn’t need to spend the money that the voters had approved for turf. His dislike for Coach Josh Anderson had been quite apparent and I remember after Coach Anderson had resigned to take the head coach position at Dakota State, Mr. Meyer stating at a public meeting in the auditorium that “we” were not going to hire somebody who could be a coach but rather we were to only think about academics in the hiring process. We all know that the school suffered as a result of that thinking. I don’t even remember who we hired in a last ditch effort but it was a disaster. All of that thinking probably played a part in pulling the community backed funding for turfed fields.
When deciding against the turf, school board member Van Camp was quoted, “It’d be a waste of taxpayers’ money to put in fake grass.” (yes this is the same person who thought the town should use tax money to give employees a paid day off for their birthday instead of recognizing the national MLK Day as a holiday.) School Board votes in 2009 to Eliminate Turf on Athletic Fields When the Roundup published the article there were those in the community that got quite upset that the funding had been pulled and some even wrote letters to the editor complaining of the pulled funding. (Any voted on bond money must be used for facilities, grounds, buildings, etc but cannot be used for salaries, adding staff, and so on.)
The Payson Roundup in their attempt to be “fair” allowed School Board Member, Barb Underwood to pen her opinion on why the funding was pulled. In the op-ed she writes, “I also feel a responsibility to the student athletes. I believe that with proper maintenance, and maybe keeping the football team off of the baseball field, the fields can be safe, playable, and something that we can all be proud of.”