By Erica Thomas, managing editor
TRUSSVILLE — Representatives for the Trussville Lacrosse teams once again made an appearance before the Trussville City Council on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020.
The teams have been asking for permission to use Husky Field for several years, according to Tandi Smith, who serves on the city’s Park and Recreation Board and serves as a liaison for the Lacrosse Program. Smith’s daughter is also on the lacrosse team.
Smith, along with a team coach, attended the council workshop Thursday.
“We just haven’t heard anything,” said Smith. “Our season starts really soon and we would really love to play in the stadium.”
REQUEST FROM LACROSSE
The boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams would like to use the field for home games. There would be 6-10 home games each season. The girls’ team is currently using the youth football field, which they say is not of regulation size or up to standards for their games.
The public push for an answer started at a Trussville City School Board meeting on Monday, Dec. 16. At that time, Smith and other parents said they felt their request is being ignored by school officials. The group was told by Trussville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Pattie Neill that the issue would be considered and that the board would get back to the teams at a later date.
The following night, the group showed up for the Trussville City Council meeting to express their concerns. Lacrosse supporters explained how they have attempted to be approved for use of the field.
According to the school system’s website, Hewitt-Trussville Stadium is a state-of-the-art, $14.6 million facility. Husky Field has artificial turf, which cost about $400,000. Those asking for use of the stadium said since the city of Trussville spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to build the stadium, the city should have the right to allow teams in the city to use it. However, it is unclear who makes decisions concerning the use of Husky Field. There is no written agreement on the matter, according to city leaders.
In reality, the city spent the millions required to build the stadium after the city council raised the sales tax by 1% in 2011. The move came after voters rejected a proposed 7.5 mil property tax increase in 2010 that would have been shared by the city and the school system.
During the school board meeting and the city council meeting, Tandi Smith said she was told that those who would make a decision on which sports can be played at the stadium were Athletics Director Lance Walker, Head Varsity Football Coach Josh Floyd, Facility Coordinator Barry Davis and Hewitt-Trussville High School Assistant Principal Barry Allphin.
Athletic Director Lance Walker said he will not comment on the matter.
DECEMBER 2019: LACROSSE RESPONDS TO CONCERNS
After extensive research, team parents have come up with solutions to various concerns relayed to them during denial of use of the football stadium, according to Smith. They said they emailed letters to Walker, Floyd, Davis and Allphin, and copied Mayor Buddy Choat and Superintendent Pattie Neill on the emails.
Among concerns given to the lacrosse team were painting on the field, wear and tear on the field, lighting and cleanup and possible scheduling conflicts.
Smith and other parents contacted the manufacturer of the turf field to find the best water-based chalk spray, that Smith said would not cause a “ghosting” effect on the field.
“This is the chalk we plan to use, it does not hold up to heavy wear and tear, but we plan to remove the lines after each game,” said Smith. “This spray does not cause ghosting and it is water-soluble.”
As far as to wear and tear, Smith said the team has an insurance policy from the US Lacrosse Association for up to $1 million in damage.
“However, if the field can be damaged in only 12 hours of game time, why is the football team allowed to practice on it?” Smith asked. “Why was Nick Saban allowed to land a helicopter on it? We are asking to use it for less time in a year than the football team uses it for practice in a week.”
Smith also said the team would pay for lights and cleanup of the stadium. The team is willing to be flexible with scheduling and set games for days when no other team is using the field.
Another concern relayed to the team was the fact that the games are not sanctioned by the AHSAA (Alabama High School Athletic Association). Smith said none of the other teams in their league, including Oak Mountain, Spain Park, Hoover, Mountain Brook and Vestavia, are sanctioned either. Those teams, however, are allowed to play at their stadiums, although Smith said some of them don’t have to use their football stadiums because they have their own lacrosse fields. Smith pointed out that other teams have been allowed to use the stadium, such as track and field. Events such as the Special Olympics and the Senior Games have also been held at the stadium.
“They have even allowed the University of Tennessee to practice on the field,” Smith said. “We are affiliated with both the high school, as a club team and the City of Trussville as a rec team. Our players live in Trussville. Just because our students don’t play football or run track shouldn’t exclude them from using this fabulous facility.”
PLEA FOR USE OF STADIUM
Parents who came to the school board meeting in December, such as Amy Nielsen, said they want to see their athletes treated equally.
“I’m kind of disappointed and sad for our kids,” said Amy Nielsen. “They play so hard. They put so many hours into it. They just want a chance to have what some of the other sports have.”
Nielsen’s daughter, Brooke, has been playing lacrosse for five years.
“The sport itself is so much fun, said Brooke Nielsen. “It’s complicated but once you learn about it, it’s so enjoyable.”
Brooke Nielsen addressed the school board about the request to use the football stadium. She said the youth football field is often unusable, muddy and uneven.
“It is embarrassing when teams such as Auburn, Mountain Brook, Oak Mountain, Vestavia and others come to play on a grass field while they play their games in beautiful stadiums or at least turf fields made specifically for lacrosse,” said Brooke Nielsen. “For some of our visitors, the field we currently play on is their only impression of our city, while we have much more to offer.”
Brooke Nielsen said some games have had to be canceled or rescheduled because of the condition of the field.
“This reflects badly on Trussville as a whole city,” Brooke Nielsen told the board. “Because we play on a rundown, grass field it gets muddy very quickly, and the mud and water cause the strings on our expensive sticks, as well as the other team’s, to wear down very quickly. If we were allowed to play in our stadium it would solve the majority of these problems.”
The boys’ lacrosse team has also been told they are not allowed to play at the stadium. A parent of one of the team members said the boys’ team has been practicing on the field at Clay-Chalkville High School.
JANUARY 2020: CONTINUED PUSH
The group asking for use of the stadium once again attended the Trussville City School Board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Tandi Smith spoke during the meeting and asked for an answer from the board. The board thanked her for attending. Smith was not given an answer at that time.
On Thursday, Jan. 23, during the city council workshop, council members discussed the issue with Smith and with each other.
Councilmember Zack Steele first asked Smith to clarify the team’s insurance policy. Smith said the $1 million policy covers players and all stadium facilities.
Councilmember Jef Freeman, who serves as the city council’s liaison to the school board, asked Smith if all players were students from Hewitt-Trussville High School. Smith said all the boys’ team players are students but two of the players on the girls’ team are enrolled in home school.
Smith went onto say the team would be willing to raise funds in order to pay for the cleanup of the stadium and for power during events. Mayor Buddy Choat said he thinks it will take time to weigh the costs of play on the field, so he wouldn’t expect a measure to be approved for this season.
“We’re all in agreement that we would like to work with them to see if there’s a way to make this happen,” Choat told Smith. “I don’t want to say it’s a tricky subject but it is because you’re not affiliated with the school and you’re not affiliated with the city, you’re not sanctioned.”
Smith again pointed out that no lacrosse program in the region is sanctioned through the AHSAA, but other schools allow their teams to play on their fields.
Steele said he spoke with the Athletic Director at Mountain Brook High School about how their program is able to play on their football field. Steele said the team has a lease agreement in place with their lacrosse club. It is important to note the Mountain Brook City School system owns the property where the stadium sits.
Steele said since taxpayer money helped pay for the stadium in Trussville, he believes the city should be able to work something out for the lacrosse teams. Councilmember Alan Taylor disagreed.
“This is a school issue, this is not a city issue,” said Taylor. “That’s the way we’ve done it. There is no resolution that needs to come to the city because it’s a school issue.”
Taylor said when the stadium was built, then-Mayor Gene Melton had a verbal agreement with the school system.
“Mayor Melton said, ‘That’s yall’s stadium, don’t come for us for maintenance, don’t come for us for anything. It’s yours to take care of,'” said Taylor.
Taylor said a good example of how the responsibility falls with the school system, is the fact that taxpayer dollars also paid for school buildings, yet the school system makes decisions on who uses them. Taylor said the concern he has with making decisions over the stadium, includes assuming responsibility for the facility and the costs associated with that responsibility.
“Just remember, with control, comes the cost of maintenance,” Taylor said. “The school has absorbed all the costs of maintenance and all the control of operating it.”
Taylor added that the school board has already made the decision to avoid renting or leasing the stadium to outside entities. He also said while the city took out a bond issue to purchase the stadium, the school system is paying the debt owed.
However, upon review, it was found that the city does pay the debt on the stadium. Out of the city’s 4% sales tax, the school system gets 1%. Before the city sends the 1% to the school system every month, they take out the monthly payments on the debt owed on Paine Elementary, Magnolia Elementary and Hewitt-Trussville High School. No money is taken out for the payment on the debt for the stadium.
The school system pays for insurance and upkeep on the stadium.
Choat said the city has a meeting planned with TCS Superintendent Pattie Neill and board president Kathy Brown. He believes a written agreement should be put in place.
Steele said showcasing the stadium to teams from out of town could be a positive reflection on the city of Trussville. He also said the draw could bring in revenue to the city.
“I don’t really know if we’ve been given a good reason why,” Steele said “I’m not saying that the school board has to give us a good reason why. I would like for them to, but I’m not saying they have to. Just know that we are going to try in any way that we can.”
Taylor said he agrees with Steele when it comes to showcasing the stadium. He said he isn’t against the lacrosse team using the stadium, he just doesn’t want the city to interfere with a decision the school board has already made.
After listening to discussions among other council members and Smith, Jef Freeman said he is concerned that there is no written agreement on the use of the stadium.
“We’ve got an issue because it was not properly documented when all of this was done and it was built and control was turned over to the school board,” said Freeman. “It was done on some flimsy, ‘here do-it, we’re not going to blah, blah, blah blah, blah.’ That’s not the way it should’ve been done and those loose ends need to be tied up by this council and this administration before somebody is debating this 10 years from now and there’s still nothing in place.”
Freeman said written agreements need to be in place for the stadium and all school buildings.
Smith said the supporters of the lacrosse team’s use of the stadium will continue to attend Trussville City School Board meetings and the Trussville City Council meetings until they get answers.
“I hope that if you do decide to get it buttoned up, that you will consider asking them to please allow community organizations that meet certain criteria … to light it up,” said Smith.