It’s 9:30 a.m. on a drizzly, dreary Monday morning.
Your friendly neighborhood sports writer is looking out the window, pondering the possibility that his daughter’s spring soccer game will be rained out.
If it happens, it will be the fourth time in eight weeks that the Fairfield Island sports field has been deemed too soggy for soccer.
.500 is an admirable batting average in baseball.
In this case, it stinks.
“Every year a few key fields in Chilliwack (Exhibition, F.G. Leary, Fairfield) close for a period of time, typically during the summer, for maintenance.” Chilliwack FC head coach Glenn Wilson observed. “And they come back the following year in the same condition. They’re not being improved.”
F.G. Leary is a particular sore spot for CFC, with its standing as one of the only lighted pitches in town.
“I don’t keep record, but I swear that field is probably closed more often than it’s open during the winter months,” Wilson noted. “It’s a nice field when it’s in good condition, but it’s probably the worst in the community in terms of how it drains. The water just pools on the surface in no time at all, and we get very little access to it.”
These problems are usually more prevalent in the fall.
Having field closures wreak havoc on the spring schedule is a new problem, one that worries CFC president Andrea Laycock.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, and I suspect at some point we’re going to start seeing emails and getting phone calls from people wanting a refund,” she said. “We only have so many days to make these rained-out games up, and it’s not our fault that the fields aren’t usable.”
Laycock said CFC has a track record of diligence when monitoring and judging the playability of local fields. The association has a vested interest in protecting the pitches and the health of the players playing on them. CFC officials often conduct their own field checks on game days, and matches have been called off many times even when the fields have been left open by the city.
The City strenuously insists that regular maintenance is being done, but Laycock said that whatever is being done is clearly not enough.
This past weekend a team from Penticton came down for a Pacific Coast Soccer League game at Exhibition Stadium. The Penticton coach had to be persuaded to play on grass that was deemed to be way, way too long.
“These PCSL games are of the same calibre as the (B.C. Junior Football) Huskers and we need the best field available,” wrote CFC fields coordinator Mike Hawley in a letter to the city. “We have teams coming from different areas of the province to play these exciting U-21 games, and it’s an embarrassment to our teams and club when we have to play on such a field.”
“If they’re closed for maintenance then I would expect to see some maintenance being done,” Laycock added. “And I don’t count throwing some seed and lime down as maintenance. To me, it’s fixing worn-out goal-mouths and improving drainage where there is chronic standing water.”
The City’s position on the matter is that the field renos required to fully eliminate the problems would be prohibitively expensive.
They do their best with what they have and they do more than lay down seed and lime.
Contacted last week, mayor Sharon Gaetz said five days of sun and wind would help a lot, and she has full faith in the folks who oversee the city’s soccer pitches.
“We’re generally praised for our fields and we’ve had all kinds of acclamation from people from other communities,” Gaetz commented. “But this year has definitely been an exception to the rule. This has been one of the wettest Aprils on record and all the other communities seem to be facing the same kind of challenges.”
Gaetz conceded F.G. Leary’s status as the most problematic field in Chilliwack, but said there’s not enough money in the City coffers to make it right.
City workers dug a test hole a month ago, going 12 to 18 inches into the ground.
They found a huge layer of clay, the type of stuff that leaves water with nowhere to go but back up to the field.
“What we would have to do at Leary is remove all the clay, put new soil and better drainage in,” Gaetz elaborated. “It’s a really costly solution and not one the City currently has the funds to do. It’s a big fix for that field.”
The cost to properly fix Leary has been estimated between $100,000 and $300,000.
In the case of Fairfield Island, a lack of irrigation and drainage limits usage to spring and summer soccer. That would require another costly fix.
The City often tries to aerate the fields and apply a top dressing of sand.
But getting heavy machinery on the over-saturated fields is likely to cause more problems than it solves right now.
The bottom line is that Mother Nature may be the only one who can alleviate the current issues.
Long term, it appears to be a matter of money and finding enough to pay for what needs to be done. For frustrated parents and players, real relief may be a long time coming.