New tone on ‘tradition’: Lauer supports move away from Orange Bowl

OBSERVER Photos by Braden Carmen The Orange Bowl is located at the bottom of a steep hill on Main Street in the village of Fredonia.

Athletic Director Greg Lauer waited until an open forum for community input to state his opinion publicly on where Fredonia should be hosting athletic events moving forward.

Prepared for the backlash set to come his way from a faction of the community, Lauer planted his flag in favor of practicality and player safety, rather than on the side of tradition and nostalgia that comes with hosting football games at the Orange Bowl.

Lauer voiced his support for a multi-purpose athletic complex at Fredonia’s main campus to be constructed as part of a future capital project, rather than opting to renovate the historic Orange Bowl, at a recent public meeting with the Board of Education.

“I don’t know how much more that we can sustain continuing going on like this,” Lauer said.

Scheduling is one of many major challenges created by the current state of athletic facilities at Fredonia, in addition to major safety concerns. Boys and girls soccer home games have been played on the turf fields at SUNY Fredonia, while the teams train on uneven, inconsistent natural grass fields on the main campus, which often become muddy or even flooded after storms.

OBSERVER Photos by Braden Carmen Fredonia Athletic Director Greg Lauer voiced his support for a multi-purpose athletic complex located at Fredonia’s main campus, rather than renovating the Orange Bowl.

Baseball and softball games are played on the same wide open fields with poor drainage, along with bumps and holes throughout the spacious outfield without a fence to determine field parameters. Regular season scheduling has been challenging for teams because non-league opponents do not want to play on Fredonia’s fields, as previously noted by varsity softball head coach Jesse Beers in comments to the Board of Education, while postseason games have even been moved because of field conditions.

And then, there is the Fredonia community’s precious Orange Bowl.

A symbol for “Hillbilly pride” dating back nearly a century, the Orange Bowl is located on Main Street in downtown Fredonia, beneath a dangerously steep hill that leads down from the damaged pavements of the Wheelock School parking lot. Guests are offered only a thin rope to cling to as they trek down the hill to a field that has stood nearly untouched for decades.

Once guests finally arrive to the field, they are tasked with avoiding deer droppings as they walk across the uneven ground to climb upon either the home field bleachers, which needed emergency repairs less than a decade ago, or the visitors’ bleachers, which are in a state of disrepair that borders on negligence, a characterization multiple speakers have uttered at Board meetings regarding Fredonia’s athletic facilities over the past year.

This journey to the field that some cling to for the sake of nostalgia is only available on select occasions throughout the year, as the Orange Bowl is often flooded and frequently deemed unplayable. Rivalry football games against Dunkirk and in the postseason against Southwestern have been moved to Dunkirk’s Karl Hoeppner Field in recent years — at a fee to Fredonia — because the Dunkirk City School District invested in an artificial turf field that is still playable in poor conditions, when the Orange Bowl is not.

“We’re just at a point where too much actual playing on that field just destroys it, and you get to October and you can’t play games,” Lauer said.

None of these concerns even touch on the fact that the location of the Orange Bowl is on the other side of the village from the main campus. Between the Orange Bowl, the baseball fields on Chestnut Street that host contests when the main campus fields are unplayable, and the soccer contests which are held at SUNY Fredonia, the district has no centralized site for athletics.

Lauer did not hold back at the recent public forum on his reasoning for wanting a multi-purpose athletic facility to be located on the district’s main campus. He said, “We really need something up here. In terms of what we can afford, it’s got to be a baseball, softball, football and soccer field — something that’s a one-purpose facility, up here; that all our sports teams can use, up here; that all our P.E. classes can use, up here.”

Lauer stated upgrading and redesigning the Orange Bowl would be a substantial cost to the district, while it would only be addressing needs for football and soccer teams. Baseball and softball teams would not benefit from any potential upgrades to the Orange Bowl, so a separate facility would need to be constructed to satisfy their needs, as well.

Board of Education President Brian Aldrich later raised the question of whether artificial turf fields would potentially lead to more injuries than natural grass fields. Lauer responded by stating that while he is not a proponent for artificial turf over natural grass in all cases, in Fredonia’s situation, it is the most logical choice.

“I can tell you that, when it rains in the morning, we will be able to play baseball that same day if it’s on artificial turf. If it’s grass or a regular dirt field, probably not. I’m not saying it has to be artificial turf, but it makes it easier,” Lauer said.

Pertaining to player safety, Lauer highlighted the danger that athletes currently face on the natural grass conditions at Fredonia’s facilities.

“In the current conditions our fields are in, the unexpected when a soccer player is going after a ball and there is a hole or there is uneven ground, that’s way more dangerous than what we’d be dealing with on turf, without a doubt,” Lauer said. He also addressed potential concussion risks to a player whose head strikes a turf surface by mentioning that the district purchased helmets that are highly-rated in safety tests to limit potential traumatic brain injuries.

“I just think it makes more economical sense, and more practicality, to finally move everything up here. Yeah, I understand the tradition. There’s nothing better than being able to go to a game downtown and watch the kids come down to the field. But the reality of trying to move forward, it’s a new age and our kids deserve a much better facility,” Lauer said.

Aldrich said in response to Lauer’s comments, “Thank you for understanding our predicament in this whole thing.”


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