MUHS board discusses new turf sports field

MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board last week began to discuss the concept of installing a turf field at Middlebury Union High School.
At the same May 17 meeting the board agreed to open the boys’ and girls’ ice hockey programs to a limited number of players from other schools.
School board members last Tuesday were told that a turf field at the high school would provide a more stable, weather-friendly surface for multiple MUHS sports teams.
Board member Lucy Schumer of the UD-3 facilities subcommittee said her group recently heard from supporters of offering a turf field option for MUHS teams that have been seeing — particularly this spring — multiple game postponements and practice difficulties due to soggy field conditions.
Schumer stressed that the turf talk is very conceptual at this point. Some board members pointed to a potential price tag of $750,000 for a turf field, a sum they acknowledged could not be built into a UD-3 budget.
That means MUHS sports boosters would have to spearhead a turf field project. Leonard Barrett, UD-3 chairman and vice president of the Friends of Middlebury Football, said he will recommend the formation of a committee to explore a turf project.
Barrett said the committee should be made up of community and school board members, and that supporters of all MUHS teams should join fund raising forces if a project is pursued.
“I think between the boosters and the community, this is something that we should look at sooner rather than later,” said Barrett, who hopes a proposal could take shape for a public referendum next year. Barrett believes that while boosters should take the lead in fund raising, they will be unable to raise all of the necessary funds to pull off a turf field project. He figures it will cost more than $1 million to do the job, which would include expanding the field to ensure it can be used properly by multiple sports teams. Such an effort would likely require some assistance from taxpayers, Barrett said.
Friends of Middlebury Football have to date raised tens of thousands of dollars to help upgrade the MUHS football field, recently equipped with new lights.
In the meantime, Barrett said Middlebury-area teams owe a great debt of gratitude to Middlebury College, which has made its turf facilities available, when possible, for some high school games. Record rainfall has put numerous high school fields out of commission this spring.
“It’s a blessing,” Barrett said of the college’s generosity.
UD-3 board member Bob Ritter is head football coach and assistant lacrosse coach at Middlebury College. He said turf field at the college has “exceeded expectations,” in terms of providing convenience and low maintenance advantages that have justified the upfront costs.
“When you look at the cost per use and the amount of students it would affect at the high school, it’s very cost-efficient,” he said of the potential of turf.
Also last Tuesday’s meeting, school directors also agreed to continue allowing six student athletes from neighboring school districts to fortify the MUHS Tigers boys’ ice hockey team. Those players helped the Tigers win the state title earlier this year — a hefty achievement for a team that four years ago was struggling to field a varsity squad amid declining enrollment.
And for the first time ever, the girls’ hockey team will be allowed to accept some players from outside the ACSU. UD-3 directors agreed to allow the program to take on two student athletes from Fair Haven Union High School who want to join the girls’ team.
The addition of out-of-district athletes is being made possible through the Vermont Principals Association’s “Member to Member” program. It is a program through which a school is allowed to fill certain varsity team roster spots with students from other districts under certain conditions. For example, there must be no takers for the spots within the home school; MUHS coaches can’t recruit out-of-district athletes to fill the spots; a lottery must be held if there are more takers for the slots than slots available; and the guest athletes must abide by the receiving school’s academic standards and sportsmanship rules.
Each visiting athlete must pay $1,000 to help pay the costs of the sport for the receiving school.
Sean Farrell, UD-3 athletic director, said the Fair Haven student athletes will greatly help an MUHS girls’ hockey team that struggled at times to field a healthy team this past season.
The girls began the season with 15 players on the roster — a lower number than coaches had hoped for. The team lost a player to a career ending injury early in the season. Other players lost time due to injuries and another player was deemed academically ineligible at one point. The Tigers entered the playoffs with 11 healthy players — two of whom were relatively new skaters, according to Farrell.
Looking forward to next season, the addition of the two Fair Haven players would elevate the roster to 21, Farrell said.
“It’s a safer, more sustainable level for us to be at,” Farrell said.
UD-3 board member Devin McLaughlin, also a hockey coach, said the Member to Member program has served MUHS well. He noted many of the visiting players have experience with their MUHS counterparts through the Middlebury Amateur Hockey Association programs.
“There are a number of ‘win-wins,’ in terms of how the Member to Member program ends up working effectively,” McLaughlin said. “For those people who are concerned about the cost of hockey, it’s a revenue source for this school. It helps people concerned about budget issues. From my perspective… the nice part about it is that all these kids have played together.”
McLaughlin said it is also exciting to see schools, who are rivals in other sports, join forces and root for each other on the same hockey team.
“The community aspect of Member to Member is hard to diminish,” McLaughlin said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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