Rained Out Or Ruined For The Season

By Joel Thornton

“Rain! Rain! Go away! Please come back another day!” Unfortunately, Mother Nature does not always listen, especially in April and May in Ohio. But when the rains do come (usually in buckets), it is important to protect young athletes, the fields, and the organization’s wallet with an effective “Field Closure Policy.”

Home-Field Advantage
Entering my fifth season at the Centerville-Washington Park District (CWPD) in Centerville, Ohio, I have become very familiar with closing fields through our own policy and program. In the late 1990s, the CWPD passed a levy that allowed us to do a major renovation of Schoolhouse Park. Schoolhouse is a 35-acre park on the south side of town. After the $2-million renovation that included parking lots, concession stands, restrooms, and a new field for Centerville Wee Elks Football, the program finally had a proper field to call home … for at least a minute.  After one season of uncontrolled practices, scrimmages, and games in all sorts of weather conditions, the gem of a field was reduced to a flattened, unrecognizable mud pit.

Protective Mode
No amount of maintenance and time could repair the damage and abuse that was administered to the field on a daily basis. The park district then decided—along with some practical practice-location solutions—to implement a “Field Closure Policy.” The policy gave sole control of field usage to CWPD and the ability to close certain sports fields that were deemed unsafe for players. This policy was also instrumental in saving the park district money in maintenance and repair costs. Many of you are probably shaking your heads, wondering how a field in a public park can be closed. Granted, not everyone will always follow the rules, but with a well-outlined policy, fields can win in the battle against wear and tear.

Develop Key Points
The first step is to determine exactly why a policy is needed, and then to state it. One day of harsh rain mixed with a die-hard Little League coach can destroy a field for the remainder of the growing season. And many people in parks departments don’t have the budget necessary to do major renovations or even significant “touch-up” work. Once the key points of the policy have been established, it is important to communicate them to the leagues and coaches. There may be some resistance, but at the end of the day, you need to do what is best for the playability of the fields.

The size of a district will always be a factor. The Centerville-Washington Park District oversees 1,000 kids on 85 teams in baseball, and nearly 2,000 kids on 150 teams for soccer. Wee Elks Football has 350 players on 18 teams playing nearly 100 games on two fields, and Centerville’s growing lacrosse program is now suiting up 220 kids on 11 teams—and all of them are fighting for practice times, scrimmage dates, and game times. If the fields are unplayable in the opinion of the park district, they should be closed to prevent unnecessary damage (See photo).

Enforce The Policy
Enforcing the policy is by far the hardest part. Communication—as with every other instance in life—is the key!  Reiterate to the league representatives and coaches the importance of keeping the fields in top shape. Make them understand and give some help. Get their input as well in order to work together for the overall good. Technology has come a long way since the days of players showing up to a field only to be told a game is cancelled. Since most districts have a website, consult the IT specialist about including a “field closure” link for people to check if the weather is questionable. CWPD has a set time on weekdays and weekends in which the field status must be updated. After an evaluation of the field conditions and a check of the forecast, the field is either “open,” “closed,” or “game-time decision.” A rainout telephone line has been updated for those parents without Internet access. If a district has money to spare, a $500 iPad can be used to update field status while inspecting field conditions. Start a Twitter or Facebook page for the fields and send constant updates. Do all of the above if time and the budget permit. No one will ever complain about having too much information.

Having a plan is always better than not having one—especially when the plan is to deal with bad weather. Having the right plan and involving the right people can both reduce the abuse to fields and ensure the kids are safe. 

Joel Thornton is the Operations Technician for the Centerville-Washington Park District in Centerville, Ohio. Reach him at jthornton@cwpd.org.

For more information on the Centerville-Washington Park District’s Field Closure Policy, visit our website at www.cwpd.org