A crowd of parents, players, and supporters of the football program came to the Switzerland County School Board meeting on Monday night to make their case for a locker room for the Pacer football team.
The school board had considered a proposal a few years ago for a stand alone locker room facility which would have included concession stands and public bathrooms, but that plan was shelved after it was determined that there was a need to build additional classrooms onto Jefferson-Craig Elementary School. There was a building built for concessions stands and public restrooms; but the football team is still using a collection of portable classrooms near the football field as locker room facilities.
On Monday night, supporters told the school board that the team and the players deserve better.
During public comments, supporters expressed their desire that the locker room project be returned to the budget so that it can be built as soon as possible.
Carrie Weatherholt, a parent of one of the players on the football team, told the board that there are a wide variety of concerns with the situation as it is now. She presented the board with some photos of the current locker rooms.
“I’m new to the this program, so I had to ask a lot of questions,” she said. “I spoke to the principal, I spoke to the football coach; but from what I have been told, in the fall of 2012, there were two dozen boys who were interested in football. At that time, the superintendent and the school board, they started football. As a result, twice the number of boys and girls have become active in fall sports.”
Weatherholt said that she’s been a ‘football mom’ for most of her kids’ lives, and has seen many positives.
“I can tell you it’s a positive thing for the kids and for our school and for our community,” she said. “For our athletic department, not only boys, but there were some girls on the team, as well. They deserve a locker room. They deserve someplace to take pride in, someplace to say, ‘Hey, this is our school. Come and see our school’, but right now, that’s not happening. It’s not a very clean locker room. It’s not a very aesthetically pleasing locker room; and it’s not very healthy.”
Weatherholt said that her son was one of six players who contracted ‘MRSA’ last year from the locker room.
She asked the board to put the building back into the budget for 2018, so that the project can move forward.
“We need to go ahead and get the new building built, so other sports can use it as well: soccer, cross country, baseball – it’s not just made for football, it’s made for different sports,” Weatherholt said. “Our athletes deserve running water. They deserve restrooms, showers, a secure place to put their stuff.”
Bonnie Baur, who has served as the equipment manager for the football team for the past five years, echoed how great the need is for a suitable locker room.
“I’m the one that takes care of the three buildings,” she said. “Everyday I come in, my boys come in after school at 3 p.m., but I like to get there a little early to make sure that they’re set and they can get out on the field. What I do when I come in, though, is I’m the one who has to sweep up the mouse droppings, and I’m the one who has to kill and sweep up the dead bugs. Every night before I go home, I spray the buildings, so that I can come in the next morning and clean them.”
Baur said that she checks the players’ lockers and helmets every day, and has seen ear pads in helmets that have been chewed by rodents during the night. She said that she then has to replace those ear pads before the athlete can wear the helmet; and said that she’s thrown away everything from ear pieces to socks and pants; chin straps and mouth pieces, among other things.
She also said that mold in the building is an issue.
“The reason that we have the mold is because the air circulation is not there,” Baur said. “The boys will come in. They’re sweaty. They bring their pants in. They lay them down. They won’t dry, because they can’t dry overnight. They’re either cold or we’ve got the heat in the winter.”
Baur said that she went out and bought tubs for the players to put their equipment in, and also noted that the team now has lockers to put things in — but the animal/rodent problem is still there.
She also said that helmets are warping because of the humidity and heat, which can be a safety issue as well as an expensive one, if helmets need to be continually replaced.
“I know my fellow parents, we work with the school,” Baur said. “I worked 25 hours this weekend on the Wine Fest, so that we would have money. So the parents are doing their share to try and bring money in for this program. It is a football program that is here to stay. We are going to do everything as kids and as parents to make sure that it stays here.”
Stacey Niswander also spoke to the board in favor of the new locker room.
“It is very important that these kids are treated with the respect that they deserve,” she said. “They are putting their bodies out there to represent your school; and they need to have you guys support them.”
Niswander said that her family moved here from Florida in 2015, and the family chose to live in Switzerland County because of the football program, and how her son could benefit from that.
“It wasn’t because it was a well known football program, and it wasn’t because you guys were established and a winning team.” she said. “We chose here because you were a new program. My son has played since he was in the third grade, and we figured that he could lend his knowledge to the team, to the coaches, and help you build your football program. These guys just deserve to have clean, efficient, storage space for them to go during the games, and that is very important for these guys. Important for their morale. They bring the community together every Friday night.”
Also speaking was Teresa Earls. She said that she has an autistic child, and he’s been playing football here in Switzerland County for the past two years.
“When we moved here in 2011, the school taught these kids he’s growing up with what his autism was all about; and they’ve been very good with him,” she said. “Being with the football team has made him hold his head up, where you have a child who walks around like this all the time, to see him hold his head up and be proud of something is really hard. He works hard at it, and the boys that he works with are his family.”
Earls said not only these players, but the players of the future deserve something better.
“I’d really like to see these coaches get what they need. They’re not asking for a million dollar building,” Earls said. “They’re just asking for something small that they can put their kids in and be proud of, and that when another team’s here, that that team can have a place to go into, instead of having to run across the driveway or whatever.”
Earls said that when the Switzerland County team and fans go to other schools and see what they have, she feels that this school corporation can do something better than what is currently being provided.
“It’s not just for football, it’s for basketball, it’s for the soccer team, it’s for everyone to share,” she said. “And that’s what we need in this community. We can’t wait another year. These kids bring dinner with them in bags. By the time they get done practicing and get back to their dinner, the mice have already eaten it, so they do without until they get home.”
The Building and Grounds Committee will hold a public meeting for more discussion on the issue on Monday, September 11th at 6 p.m. at the administration building.