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Sporting chance: Fredonia coach addresses field conditions

OBSERVER Photos by Braden Carmen Fredonia Board of Education members Sheila Hahn, front, Aaron Marshall, middle, and Tom Hawk, back, listen to comments from Fredonia assistant football coach Justin Sherlock at a recent meeting.

Several members of the Fredonia athletic community have addressed the Board of Education in the past year regarding upgrades to the District’s athletic facilities. Justin Sherlock has now added his name to the list.

Sherlock is an assistant varsity football coach under his father, head coach Greg Sherlock. He attended a Board of Education workshop prior to a recent meeting, along with his brother, Jordan, a fellow assistant coach with the varsity football team.

At the most recent workshop, the Board discussed facilities upgrades with architects from Young and Wright. The Board has had several meetings in the past year with Young and Wright as the District prepares for a major capital project.

Sherlock stated that at a previous workshop meeting, a board member ranked the needs of facilities in order, with football at the bottom of the list. Several board members and Superintendent Dr. Brad Zilliox later challenged that claim.

“There is no sport that plays on a more unsafe field than football,” Sherlock said. He compared the field conditions at Fredonia’s Orange Bowl to “running on the surface of a golf ball, where no two spots are at the same level.”

Fredonia assistant football coach Justin Sherlock addressed the Board of Education on the conditions of the district’s athletic facilities at a recent meeting.

More than 200 athletes play football at the Orange Bowl across all ages in the district. Sherlock stated he believes football has a higher number of documented injuries directly related to the quality of the facility than any other sport in the district, especially lower-body injuries. Sherlock noted that he has filled out multiple accident reports that noted knee and ankle injuries that were sustained at the Orange Bowl.

While there are field concerns at the Orange Bowl even in good weather, the field becomes even more dangerous after rainfall. The field is located at the bottom of a steep hill, which itself presents a risk for injury for not only players, but also spectators who attend. Games have also been delayed because visiting teams refused to play on the surface until problem areas were corrected on the spot.

“The school district has a glaring, known liability, and is considering an athletic facility that does not include a safe football field,” Sherlock said. “I’m concerned for what happens on the day that a parent decides the school covering their child’s medical costs is not enough. Is our district putting themselves at risk by continuing to avoid addressing the most dangerous facility, even at the most basic level?”

The Board has discussed an artificial multi-purpose facility at Grand Island High School as a model to address the needs of the district, but Sherlock does not believe that facility’s blueprint would be right for Fredonia. He noted that the facility is geared toward other sports and “is not conducive to an acceptable game day experience for athletes and their fans” because of lighting issues and seating concerns. He instead suggested Medina and Cheektowaga as districts to model after.

“The goal of multi-use fields is to benefit as many athletes as possible,” Sherlock said. “… The desire of other coaches to have standalone fields is not a legitimate possibility. The only way to get the best result for our kids is for us coaches to be creative and cooperative with each other to get a facility that is safe and inclusive for as many athletes as possible.”

Earlier this year, approximately 230 members of the school community responded to a survey from the district regarding capital improvements. The data showed the same themes the district expected, with athletic field improvements were “leading the pack,” according to Zilliox.

Following closely behind athletic upgrades was the need for larger music spaces to accommodate for high enrollment in music programs. Third on the list of priorities from the survey respondents was a focus on district playgrounds. At a previous meeting, Athletic Director Greg Lauer and Music Department Instructional Leader Andy Bennett addressed the Board of Education together, sharing a desire to ask for a tax increase to support a substantial capital project to address the need for both departments.

“What we’re grappling with right now is how do we do this in the most responsible way? How do we bring something forward that addresses as many of these concerns as we can, while still keeping in mind that we don’t want to over burden our taxpayers,” Zilliox said.

The Board anticipates another workshop with representatives from Young and Wright in the coming weeks. The District is targeting a capital project vote in December. Board of Education President Brian Aldrich urged community members to provide feedback on not only what they would like to see the district improve, but also how large of a project they would be willing to support.

“We have an open mind. No one on this Board came into this with any kind of preconceived idea of what would be prioritized over something else,” Board of Education member Sheila Hahn said. “We are in the gathering information stage, and to say anything else would be inaccurate.”

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