By Tom Kizzia, Ginny Espenshade, Lisa Zatz, John Rohr, Julie McCarron
When Homer’s varsity soccer teams opened their seasons Friday on Colony High’s shiny new artificial turf playing field, it was the first time all year that Homer players had gotten outdoors to play. Homer’s grass field was still sodden and untouchable. For their opponents from Houston High, who have access to state-funded turf and indoor fields in the Valley and Anchorage, it was already the fourth game of the year.
This is the pattern for Homer every spring. While our kids are still practicing in the gym, other Alaska teams are playing games outdoors on turf. The imbalance is only going to get worse. As of this spring, these million-dollar-plus fields are all over Anchorage, even at middle schools, and artificial turf is now being installed or designed, with state funding, for Wasilla, Palmer, Houston, Colony, Kenai and Soldotna.
As parents of present, past and future soccer players, we’ve been pushing for years to get a turf field for Homer. Legislators elsewhere were funding such fields for their districts, but we’ve been asked to take a backseat to other worthy priorities.
This was finally to have been the year. After the exceptional success of last season’s Homer boys’ team (only two losses all year, as the smallest school in the big-school division, including a 2-1 loss to champion Dimond at the state tournament), Homer and Soldotna were both going to get fields from the state capital budget, courtesy of a united Kenai Peninsula delegation.
But instead this became the year of oil tax cuts and new calls for budget austerity. In the end, Soldotna got their field but Homer was dropped. Now Homer is being told the era of generous state spending has come to an end.
To be clear, we’re not just talking about springtime soccer. An all-weather multi-sport turf field on Homer’s existing “football” field would be a boon to the community during those rainy muddy football seasons, and to the new small-side football teams from the Russian villages, and to the baseball team that would get the soccer players out of their outfield, and to gym classes, and to summer youth soccer and football programs.
Such a field would also be a source of community pride. With the view from the stands across the ever-green playing field toward the sparkling bay and the mountains, it would be hard to imagine a more beautiful setting for sports in all of North America.
The dream is not dead. One possibility would be to come up with a share of the cost locally, perhaps through a wider borough school bond. Such a strategy paid off in the Mat-Su area, where the legislature reimbursed much of the local money raised for school projects.
Whatever the approach, it is going to be important for Homer to keep making the case for an artificial turf field – to Kenai and Soldotna voters, who will soon have their own turf fields thanks to state generosity, and to our legislative delegation, especially our Soldotna-based state senator, Peter Micciche. Homer’s kids shouldn’t be the only ones left playing in gym shoes and in the mud.
The signers are current or former board members of the Soccer Association of Homer, the volunteer group that runs the summer youth soccer program.
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