WINTER GARDEN — As many of you might have heard, the synthetic turf playing field at West Orange High’s Raymond Screws Field has been deemed unplayable.
If you haven’t heard, there’s a lovely writeup about said situation on the front page of this newspaper.
As the headline of this column may suggest, I’m writing this as a way to voice my support for the community coming together and helping the school raise the necessary funds to replace it.
But wait — there’s more.
I don’t think the Winter Garden community should stop there.
A few weeks ago, before the field that we all knew was in bad shape got the official “y’all can’t play here,” I got a glimpse of what West Orange could be; its name was Lake Brantley High School.
Like West Orange, Lake Brantley has an old-school concrete grandstand — the kind they simply don’t build anymore — and the Patriots have a (newer) synthetic turf playing surface. What they also have, and what I think local business leaders should give serious thought to donating toward for West Orange, is a rubber track (in addition to the field — can’t forget the field).
Here’s a quick story to illustrate why. A few weeks ago, I was working on a story about the boys and girls track teams at Dr. Phillips (the gist of which was, they’re really good). I noticed that, for three weeks in a row, the Panthers had competed at Lake Brantley — which was seemingly holding a meet every weekend and substituting words like “Classic,” “Invitational” and “Showcase.”
I went to the most recent of these and, while there, it really struck me that A) what a fantastic facility of which the community in Altamonte Springs should be — and is — proud, and B) there were students, coaches and families from more than a dozen schools present; much as there had been each of the past three weekends prior to that. These meets, on a good day, end by 3 p.m. after starting at 8 or 9 a.m. The point being, if West Orange were hosting similar events every weekend in the spring, where do you think those hundreds of people are grabbing lunch?
My money’s on Fowler’s Grove (specifically, a line out the door at Chipotle).
Much like the West Orange Trail and historic downtown Winter Garden, first-class sports facilities can — and in some cases already are — bring people to the area, where they will spend money.
A rubber track is just another way to bring people to the area for several weekends; Athletic Director Adam Miller, who confirmed such a track is on his wish list (again, after the replacement field), said he would host a track meet nearly every Saturday if the school had a rubber track.
But there’s reason beyond the economic impact. West Orange is one of those schools that truly has a unique relationship with its community. That’s something not to be taken for granted — it’s increasingly not the case elsewhere. While staying within reason, it is a worthy endeavor for the community to donate and take care of the school and its facilities as something of which it can be proud.
Finally, a word on the whole field thing.
Through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve gotten the drift that a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the situation has a somewhat inaccurate impression of how we got here. Simply put, the school does make a substantial amount of money renting the facility out on the weekend already, but that money is going toward paying off the initial field because donors who had pledged contributions when it was first installed backed out.
Had those donors fulfilled their contributions, the money made from renting the field would have gone toward the replacement. That’s not to completely absolve anyone on the school’s end of poor decision-making, but it’s worth noting that neither West Orange’s current principal or athletic director was in that position in 2007 when these decisions were made.
It’s not a joke — there will not be another game played on the current playing surface. Home games will become road games. For those wondering, at this point, it would be significantly more expensive to go back to a natural grass playing surface.
It is my hope that the community will come together and help the Warriors replace their field, at which point I hope the community will go a step further and help this school, which I know is a source of pride for many, purchase a rubber track to encircle it.
And then, it is my belief that more people will come to Winter Garden, spend money in Winter Garden and drive away saying great things about Winter Garden.