Stafford football teams stay home
BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE
With the clock winding down, Stafford High School’s football coach attempted a Hail Mary. And Chad Lewis won the chance to keep his football program on campus for practices while a new school is built.
Tuesday night, the Stafford School Board voted to allow Stafford High School football teams to practice on the school’s competition field during a major construction project that will render the practice fields unusable.
As part of the deal, Stafford High will forego home games next year, and seek an alternative for the years after while the construction continues.
This summer, work should start on the rebuilding of the aging school. The new school will be constructed on the same site as the current school, and work will take place on the current practice fields. The project is planned to last about three years, and the practice fields will be unusable during most of the construction.
For nearly eight months, the School Board has explored options for continuing the football program, along with a handful of other sports that will be disrupted by the rebuild. The tennis and lacrosse teams were relocated with little fanfare. But finding a new home for the football program wasn’t so easy.
At first, the School Board was told that the three football teams—freshman, junior varsity and varsity—couldn’t possibly share the school’s competition field, which would still be usable.
An early option moved the football teams’ practice to the baseball and softball fields, a proposal that drew ire from the parents of Stafford High’s baseball and softball players. Those parents spend several thousand dollars each year to maintain those fields.
Tuesday night, the School Board members were scheduled to vote on an option that would move the football practice to the Gari Melchers Complex off U.S. 17.
Football players and their parents opposed that plan. More than 20 of them came to Tuesday night’s meeting to protest the suggested move.
Vaughn Lewis, a longtime football coach in northern Virginia and Chad Lewis’ father, told the board that plans to move the football practices would be akin to sentencing the program to “the death penalty.”
Stafford High football player Steven Jett said that moving the practice would “almost completely eliminate the opportunity to receive after-school tutoring.”
Parents argued that busing the players to the complex was dangerous and expensive. The school division’s facility director Scott Horan estimated that using the Melchers Complex would cost $135,000 the first year for transportation and renovating locker rooms.
But the most persuasive argument came from Stafford High’s football coach. The day before the meeting, he called School Board member Meg Bohmke and asked to talk about the program’s future. Bohmke met with Lewis on Monday afternoon.
In that two-hour discussion, Lewis told Bohmke that the 140 football players could stagger practice on the competition field. The teams would alternate watching films, lifting weights and practicing on the field.
Lewis also said that the team would give up home games for the next season. That concession had to be made, because daily use of the field would tear it up and make it unusable for games.
His last-minute appeal worked. And the School Board voted Tuesday night to keep football practice at Stafford High School. The motion also stated that the baseball and softball fields would not be used by the football teams.
School Board member Dewayne McCosker said the measure “isn’t perfect” but that it buys time to explore other options—like putting in an artificial turf, a proposal that was popular among parents, players and coaches but dismissed by the School Board as too expensive.
Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973 firstname.lastname@example.org