Case for a Track

By Brian F. McElroy

As a Little League and Philipstown Rec. coach and as a father of Haldane children, I wanted to attend last Tuesday’s Haldane Board of Education Workshop – an open discussion of the athletics fields. More importantly, as a payer of Haldane School District taxes, I wanted to attend.  After all, I reminded myself that the members of this school board answer to us–the taxpayers in the Haldane school district…more important still, the Board serves our Haldane students first and not the extended community who may benefit from our facilities.  That focus seemed all but forgotten in Tuesday’s polite discussion.  Too much of the time, the Board responded to the Little League organization, to Philipstown Recreation, to Pop Warner Football or even to some Garrison school district residents.  I am admittedly ignorant to some of the historical politics at play here, but this trend catches my attention.

During the workshop the voices of the Haldane teachers and coaches should have been given more priority.  Understandably, coaches expressed some embarrassment hosting visiting teams.  A cross-country father noted there is no home race course or track on which to train.  The tennis courts need work.  The phrase “sub-par,” was used several times.  But can we really call any location–the place–of any facility along this picturesque landscape “sub-par?”  Don’t we really mean it has been maintained at a sub-par standard?  Two very different things.  The issues need to be separated.

JOB ONE: find our Haldane kids places to play and JOB TWO: the challenge of maintaining or upgrading the existing facilities.

Places to Play
The greatest omission – and a glaring one–is the absence of a running track for Haldane students.  This sentiment is getting louder among parents I know and it will not be ignored, especially when expensive facility upgrades are proposed for other sports.  It would seem that in most American high schools, you have these basics: a gymnasium, a baseball field, and a football field – with a 400-meter track around it.  At worst, a tighter 300-meter track that nips the corners of the football end zones.  A track should be relatively inexpensive and could be made on grass, dirt, asphalt or cinder.  It doesn’t have to be an Olympic or NCAA-caliber rubberized tartan surface.  All that’s needed is a level loop with measured lanes.  Track & field.  How can any discussion of “Athletic Fields” or “athletics” itself omit a track?  This is where gym teachers can have children run the mile for the Presidential Fitness test.  Where field day or intramural races take place.  It’s where the football or lacrosse or soccer players can hone their 40-yard or 100-meter dash times in the off-season and get the attention of college recruiters.  It’s where large numbers of other kids–regardless of skill level–can belong to a competitive team sport with a variety of running, jumping and throwing events.  Track & field requires relatively little equipment and it rarely yields a significant injury.  Running introduces children to healthy lifelong habits which will improve their flexibility, overall aerobic fitness, and weight control ability (a growing concern for parents in today’s increasingly virtual and video game social culture.)  Parents should note that Division I colleges award great numbers of track & field athletic scholarships in many different distances and events.

Maintaining facilities
The school facility team seems to have its hands full.  So this is where the aforementioned extended community who use our playing fields–plus local enthusiasts, boosters, players, coaches and parents–can certainly pitch in to continue to improve conditions–even rebuild.  All seem to agree that our 9D upper girl’s softball field is a good example of this type of care and effort.  All agree the lower 9D field is in need of some fence repair that amounts to a safety issue.  Do we really need to spend district funds employing architects to study common sense problems or conditions such as this?  How much do these studies cost us?  Can’t we accomplish some of the improvements with our own hands and resources?  If necessary, get some fence repair bids.  In the case of Mayor’s Park, we have a Major-League-sized baseball field.  Period.  90-foot bases, 60-foot-6-inch pitcher’s mound-to-home-plate.  A 300-foot-plus homer to left or right field, just like Yankee Stadium.  Haldane baseball can be played at a high level here.  Rake the infield?  Dugouts need to be painted?  Respectfully, I say players, coaches, parents, boosters–grab a rake, grab a brush.  I know the football field drainage has been a problem forever…but hasn’t there been a football program using that field for a half century or more?  How many games have actually been canceled due to the conditions?  It might get sloppy, but it is still a place where football is enjoyed.  Are these fields really not playable?

What are the actual facts and costs?
It seems that the prospects of a track seemed over before they started and dismissed before they were discussed.  The conversation turned to talk of lights and Astroturf…I half-expected a Jumbotron or dome to be proposed next.  It is very hard for me to believe that a track cannot surround the football field at Haldane.  It’s even harder to believe that a track would not fit in Mayor’s Park.  Although this was the first Board meeting I have attended, I did stand and request that the track measurements and findings be re-examined.  What are the specific dimensions necessary?  And who is actually ruling a track an impossibility?Ã

Before we continue to speak about awarding seven figures to an architect or stadium contractor giving us some world-class venue for football, baseball, soccer or lacrosse, let’s remember that the teams using the existing fields already do at least have their places to play.  A ball field is not supposed to be a community status symbol.  It is simply a place to let the kids–the Haldane kids in this case–play.  Proposing a “walking track” is forgetting students.  Kids need places they can run.  Adults can walk somewhere–anywhere else.  Main Street is great for that, as are our great hiking trails.

Again, any project the Board talks about should focus on its benefit to the Haldane students, first and foremost.

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2 replies on “Athletic Fields: Case for a Track”

  1. Brian,

    I agree that a track should be looked at very closely as it would be an asset to the community as well as the school. However, I don’t think that one should be put down in haste just to have one if other work needs to be done on those fields – as the money supply is greatly limited and needs to be used judiciously.

    The initial drawing presented at the Board meeting showed the biggest track that could physically fit on the property owned by the school (I forget if they said it was a regulation track or slightly smaller). The problem is in order to get there there is a huge amount of fill that would be needed along with a retaining wall along route 9D and all of the storm water retention would need to be put underground which is a very expensive proposition. My comment on that was regardless of what the price is we should at least calculate it so if it is just completely out of reach price-wise we at least have that information to share with people when they ask why we can’t do it.

    As for putting the track at Mayors Park it might fit but then I’m not sure how you could continue to play baseball there as you couldn’t really have a track running through the middle of the outfield for safety reasons.

    The Philipstown Rec Center probably has the most available space but the down side for the school and residents living in the town is they would have to get transportation to and from there to use it.

    The “walking track” that was proposed was a three lane track with 100m straightaways from what I understand which is plenty for the track and field team to practice on (and much better than anything they have now) — it just would not be large enough for sanctioned sectional meets.

    I agree that there is a lot of people willing to help out in the community but the school (and town for their fields) just don’t want people showing up and figuring out what they think needs to be done. For the school in particular they have certain standards that have to be met for any facilities improvements that are required by the state. So any volunteering work needs to be coordinated and targeted.

    Just because the kids “have places to play” already doesn’t mean they are necessarily in a condition that they should be. I’m sure everyone would love to have facilities like you see at some of the other local school districts but we realize there is not the space and/or money for that, especially in the current economy. However, although Haldane and the community has done their best to keep the fields as best they can for the youth of the community they have had much higher usage over the years. 25 years ago when I attended Haldane there was no soccer (boys or girls) or lacrosse. The football field then really needed to have work on it and if you walk the field in the spring you will see there are really some safety issues for the kids there. The same goes for across 9D on those fields — there was no fall baseball or softball so those fields got a season off. The telephone poles and backstop at the 9D lower field have been there forever and the building is no longer used by Little League other than for storage.

    I’m all for a track being part of the plan that is developed as it is definitely a need, but I don’t think the poor state of the many fields that these and other athletes in the school system play on should be glossed over.

    I’m confident that the representatives from the Haldane Board of Education, Garrison School, Town of Cold Spring and Philipstown Recreation Department will put together a plan that will try to address all of the needs of the community in a fiscally responsible manner.

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