West county athletics on the ballot

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SEBASTOPOL — The words themselves, alone, without adornments, are quite benign: “Improve, construct and upgrade physical education facilities for school and community use.”

You wouldn’t know those words are worth $3 million, the price for all-weather football fields and stadiums at Analy and El Molino. Wouldn’t know that sentence is three years in the making, that countless parents, alumni, coaches and kids in the west county have raised $295,000 on behalf of that benign sentence.

That sentence is contained in Measure I, a $23.8 million ballot measure that, if approved Tuesday by at least 55 percent of the voters, will be responsible for a significant makeover in the West Sonoma County Union High School District. Performing Arts Center for El Molino, a new library for Analy, roof repairs, permanent classrooms, technology upgrades and “green” building projects that involve solar power represent an incomplete list of what will be funded.

Athletics, however, is always a lighting rod that ignites a large spark, due in part to its place in popular culture. Two multi-use, synthetic football fields have and will invite pointed commentary, from those who champion athletics as well as for those who think too much attention is paid to sports. That both fields will occupy a sizeable chunk of land makes the discussion all the more dynamic, especially in the small towns of west county, where everyone knows everyone and everything.

Where everyone, no matter what their point of view, asks the same question: Will my taxes go up?

With the black cloud of unemployment and home foreclosures hovering over this country, it’s a logical and necessary question.

That question arose within minutes of interviewing Analy athletic director Joe Elwood, Analy football coach Dan Bourdon, El Molino athletic director and football coach Mike Roan and county school superintendent Keller McDonald. All enthusiastically answered the same way. In fact, Bourdon didn’t have to be asked.

“And taxes will not be increased,” Bourdon said with a firmness he would usually reserve for an official blowing a call.

When the school district first began discussing the funding of the football fields last February, assembling the things-to-do-list, it became clear to McDonald that there was only one solution.

“There would have to be no tax increase,” McDonald said. “Otherwise it wouldn’t have worked.”

According to McDonald, the current tax rate will be extended. A bond approved in 1996, McDonald said, will be paid off between 2018 and 2020. If Measure I is passed, McDonald said the tax rate will be extended to 2040. McDonald and all the proponents of Measure I have sampled local opinions on that tax rate extension and their respondents said they would go for it. Which means a provocative look into the future.

“That kids who are now students at El Molino and Analy would be taxed for Measure I when they are in the 40s,” McDonald said.

That Analy needs a new all-weather football field is obvious, after one observes the mud flow that currently passes for the grass field, constructed in 1922 by the way.

“I am walking between the 35-yard lines, inside the hash marks,” Bourdon said from his cell phone, “and there’s nothing but mud.”

Right now the field wouldn’t even be playable for cows, as there is no grass on it.

For the last 88 years the field has received the same maintenance, each and every year.

“Fertilize, water and mow,” McDonald said. “That’s it.”

The rickety Analy stands and the equally rickety covered public-address structure remain standing for no apparent reason. They are so worn, they may not even be of use to termites. The field itself is worn into submission, as it is used by physical education classes, with boys and girls soccer on them along with three levels of Analy football.

The El Molino field is only 21 years old but because of the rented bleachers used by visiting fans, the track is unusable. And the field? Well, it’s in west county, where it feels damp even on a dry day.

“To have a new all-weather field,” Roan said, “that would spark interest in kids coming out for sports. Whereas it might be difficult from time-to-time to get kids out for sports, a new field would be attractive.”

That last sentence is not to be lightly dismissed. Athletics remain a strong lure for kids who want to play a sport but are not academically motivated. Make grades and you make the team — that statement is gaining a lot of traction with educators who are looking for ways to keep students in school.

“And that dumb-jock stereotype is outdated,” Elwood said. “Our student-athletes at Analy have a higher GPA than the non-student-athlete. Most people now understand the value of a non-curricular activity. To have an all-weather field would take so much pressure off our other fields. It is a community benefit.”

The Analy Field Goals Renovation Project began three years ago when Analy residents had come to the conclusion that the then-85-year-old field needed a new face. The Analy folks raised $200,000. But they were told that was only about one-fifth of the necessary cost. Sorry, the people were told back then.

At about the same time, the El Molino Track and Field Renovation Project began. A rare spirit of cooperation began to develop between the two schools. El Molino opened in 1964 but played all its home football games at Analy until it had its own field in 1989. That’s 25 years of built-in hostility. But, the El Molino folks and the Analy folks knew it would be to their mutual benefit to cooperate, as they both come from the same school district. They would regularly check in with each other, for fund-raising ideas and progress reports. The El Molino people raised $95,000 but were told, just as Analy was, that would pay for just a fraction of the total cost.

And there it stayed, for a little over a year, all that enthusiasm and money waiting for some sort of harmonic convergence. It came this past spring. Massive repairs were necessary on school buildings. Energy-saving and water-saving technologies emerged. Computer and science labs needed upgrades.

“It was obvious something had to be done,” McDonald said. “It all came together, dovetailing, and the fields were not the driving force. But it seemed quite logical to include them.”

If Measure I passes, McDonald said the two new football fields will be ready by the fall of 2012. Sure, he admitted, the wording in the measure about “improve physical education fields” is a bit vague. Because it includes much more than football fields. McDonald estimates it will cost about $1.5 million each for Analy and El Molino new fields, grandstands and tracks.

The bond issue is for $28.5 million. That’s $25.5 million left for all manner of improvements that cry out as necessities, such as new computers, which opponents claim will be obsolete soon after they’re purchased.

“Or you could do nothing at all,” he said.

And what does one get for nothing? Nothing except nostalgia. Parents, coaches, kids, friends, relatives can always stand around on two campuses and daydream of how spiffy these schools must have looked. Back in the day.

For more North Bay sports, go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blog.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.