Pop Warner teams go out of bounds
South Lake Tahoe Pop Warner teams defied a new city policy Saturday when they used the South Tahoe Middle School soccer field to hold three playoff games.
The Lake Tahoe Unified School District, the Community Athletic Coordinating Council and the city Parks and Recreation Department approved in February a field closure policy and annual field closure date. Hoping to preserve the existing fields, the groups decided that after wet weather all fields could be closed.
South Lake Tahoe Parks Superintendent Steve Weiss said he believed a heavy rain on Wednesday had left the field “too tender” to support the games. Especially when considering the field is needed on Wednesday for a South Tahoe High School varsity soccer zone match.
Melinda Garratt, vice president of Pop Warner Football, said she had received permission earlier in the week from the school and the school district, and the children deserved to play on the field.
A heated argument ensued Friday night as the Pop Warner teams arrived to practice. The youth league has approximately 150 children, ages 7 to 14, and 90 of them are in the playoffs.
“Everything was going well. On Friday nobody at the middle school had heard anything about a change in the use of the field,” Garratt said. “I tried to get a hold of the district. These kids deserved to have this field because I went through everything I was supposed to.”
Weiss said he and Steve Morales, director of facilities for the school district, decided that the field would be closed on Saturday.
“We told the president of Pop Warner and it was agreed that they (Pop Warner) would use the softball field,” Weiss said. “It is a smaller field, but Pop Warner used it last year for the same purpose.”
“We’ve always been at the bottom on the crate. We did use the softball field last year, but it is really unsafe for the players because of the amount of dirt vs. grass on the field. Plus the fences are so close to the out-of-bounds lines that players can easily run into the fences,” Garrett said.
Pop Warner President Nancy Griffith was unavailable for comment Monday.
Weiss said the first and foremost rule about the city’s 12 fields is that they are all on school district property. The city parks department maintains the fields through a contract with the school district. And the city has also entered into contracts with the school district to improve some of the fields to allow for more community use.
“Ultimately they are school district property and school teams have first priority,” Weiss said. “Even if I close the fields the schools can use them for their events, and P.E. classes are out on them everyday, and they should be. They are their fields.”
Garrett said she was glad the Pop Warner children were on hand to witness the disagreement between the adult organizers and the parks department on Friday.
“They saw I was fighting for them,” she said.
Originally the games were scheduled at South Tahoe High School’s field, but then the high school’s football team qualified to host a playoff game at home, and Pop Warner was out. Weiss said despite Pop Warner’s organizers’ disregard for the decision to close the field the games only caused minimal wear and tear on the surface. Any action for the policy violation has not been determined, Weiss said.
“The bottom line is we don’t have enough facilities. There are too many people and not enough fields. All sports are growing by leaps and bounds, and not just in participants, but in the length of the season,” he said. “We don’t have the ability to close a field for a year and let it recover. We need to work as a community to find other options.”
Garrett said the rest of this year’s games will be played in Reno or Sparks. Both sides agreed that there needs to be more discussion before the next season.
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