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The Turf Dilemma in Blacksburg

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The Turf Dilemma in Blacksburg

Photo by Allison Douglas

Photo by Allison Douglas

Photo by Allison Douglas

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Embezzlement and corporate sponsorships are two topics that do not commonly appear in discussions about a high school’s turf fields. However, as recent history has proved, Blacksburg High School is a special case.

As the football team completed a dominant 13-1 season, there was a noticeable element missing from their playoff run: a home field. Due to an unusable playing surface within the confines of Bill Brown Stadium, the Bruins had to play their four playoff games at nearby Christiansburg High School. The conditions in Christiansburg were far better due to their recently installed turf field.

Bill Brown Stadium, home to eight different sports teams that will combine to play over 50 games there this year, is still a field of natural grass. Because of an unusually high amount of rainfall in the Blacksburg area, the field was essentially a swamp by the end of football season.

“It was awful,” said Craig Weaver, Senior. “When we played Patrick Henry in the mud bowl I watched their QB, who is a really good college prospect, tear his ACL, and it was frightening; . . . those conditions make it so much more likely that injuries like those will happen. Even though we won all of our home games this year, I feel we could have won by even more if the field was in better condition.”

The history between Blacksburg and turf football fields goes back nearly a decade, and these conversations have once again become relevant to everyone involved. Before the current school was constructed, the school’s administration made the decision to build a new football stadium at the future site of the new school. At the time of its construction, turf fields were not a common commodity in high school athletics.

This resulted in grass chosen as the playing surface. As the years progressed and turfing technology advanced, the Blacksburg Athletic Club started a fund for both a new fieldhouse and a turf field. They had made significant progress on this project before they hit a major roadblock. The treasurer of the booster club stole over 500 thousand dollars from the donations.

“Had there not been the embezzlement case, I believe that we would have had turf in the year that we opened this school or in the second year, paid for by private boosters,” said Principal Brian Kitts.

According to Kitts, the reason Blacksburg does not currently have a turf field goes beyond the embezzlement problem. The stealing of 500k discouraged private donors, and the school system is in no position to provide monetary support. After receiving a new school and football stadium in a similar window of time, Montgomery County Public Schools has turned their attention to schools that may need more urgent attention.

Every school in the county got a new school building with the exception of Christiansburg High School, which has undergone extensive athletic renovations, and the construction of a new school is reportedly imminent.

“I think you’re seeing the athletic renovations as part of their renovation budget. It’s confusing to people because they feel like Christiansburg is getting six million for athletics when we might divide this up. The reality of it is they’re in a large-scale project renovating the whole school, and they had the money to do some of the things in the renovation early,” said Kitts.

Despite the turf field being a critical need in the eyes of many Bruins, the school system can not afford to make it a priority at the moment.

“We’re down 35 teachers . . . we’ve got to add onto Harding Avenue, we’ve got to build a new elementary school, we’ve got to renovate Christiansburg. We’ve got to do projects to get growing because if not, then you’re gonna end up with a real crisis on your hands when we don’t have enough seats for the kids,” said Kitts.

Current Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Mark Miear has made his goals very clear: MCPS will address the pressing issues at other schools before turning their attention to the turfing issues in Blacksburg. Mr. Kitts believes in Miear’s plan.

“The current superintendent is really well-rounded . . . he does a lot for us, he does a lot for East Mont, he does a lot for Auburn, and, right now, with Christiansburg, he has an opportunity to do a really fantastic job. . . . I wish we would’ve had the opportunity to build this high school with someone with his mentality and mindset,” said Kitts.

Due to the inability of the county to fund the project, Blacksburg reached out to corporate donors, offering naming rights to the sports complex. Large donors such as Carilion Clinic and Duncan Automotive showed interest, but despite pitches created by the BHS graphics department, no deal was finalized.

As spring sports approach, the state of the field becomes an even more relevant issue. The boy’s and girl’s soccer teams have combined to win 16 state championships. This includes the 2018 4A Boys State Championship, where the Bruins did not lose a single game. With a program of this caliber, many expect more from their home field advantage.

“I’m very concerned. Like even before lacrosse started using the field, it would struggle to handle soccer. I honestly feel like it will be borderline unusable this season,” said Sam Schott, a Senior defender for the Bruins.

Kitts recognizes this concern held by many athletes and feels that the effort the athletic department puts into maintaining the field will render it in a usable condition, even if it is not perfect. He also recognizes that turfing the field is critical to BHS, and he believes this goal will be accomplished sooner rather than later.

“Where the money is going to come from, I don’t have a crystal ball to know. I just feel like there will be folks in the community that can afford it that will step up, or something will happen at the division level that will create a unique opportunity. . . . Turf would just be spectacular; it would be a game-changer,” said Kitts.

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The Turf Dilemma in Blacksburg