Still kickin’

Published 11:42 am Monday, March 14, 2016

AHOSKIE – When the Hertford County High School girl’s soccer team takes to the field for their home opener March 16 they will still be playing at the West Main Street Field, across from the Ahoskie Police Department.

At their March monthly meeting the Ahoskie Town Council voted to allow the school to continue to use that facility for the remainder of the school year rather than move their activities to Ahoskie Creek Park Recreational Complex (ACRC).

In 2014 the town’s Parks and Recreation Department requested all soccer activities be moved from the field, adjacent to the Rec Dept. gymnasium, to the ACRC because of complaints from neighborhood homeowners, traffic congestion, and inadequate parking. Once the sprinkler system was installed at ACRC, the team was supposed to vacate Main Street for practice and for matches.

However, with soccer being a revenue sport whereby Hertford County High charges admission, the school said they needed other upgrades at the Complex– including installation of a fence and expanded restroom facilities.

Tuesday night, Principal James Futrell, Athletic Director Charles Simmons, and soccer coach Michael Kinkead appeared before Council to make their case; discussing those issues and more.

“The NC High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) requires us to have a plan in place to put visitors, players, and staff in a safe location in case of severe weather, and right now I don’t think we have anything in that location that would meet that demand from the Association,” said Futrell. “We recognize the shelter (off Lakeview Drive), however, that would not be the best or safest location to put spectators, students, and staff if the game were ever delayed. We recognize the work that’s been done at the facility and we wouldn’t want to interfere with things such as Disc Golf and playground equipment. These are just some of the things we’d like to discuss with you for further consideration.”

Futrell added that visiting coaches have remarked they were impressed with the Main Street facility.

“It’s something to be proud of,” the principal stated, “something to show what Ahoskie has, and how we work in partnership.”

Seven-year soccer coach Kinkead, who now heads up the girl’s program, said the field at Camlin and Lakeview used by others for soccer matches has uneven terrain that posed a threat for possible physical injury.

“It’s a very easy place for a young girl to turn an ankle,” the coach said. “Overall, there’s just a safety issue. On the field where the little kids play in the fall (at Lakeview and Edgewood) I’d be afraid of tearing that field up if it rains even mildly so there’d be no way we could host (an event) or practice without out it being a ‘minor swamp’”.

Kinkead said in the event of lightning strikes, visitors could use their activity bus for shelter while the school would have to provide for its student-athletes, spectators, and staff.

“We would have to provide shelter for our players,” Kinkead stated. “There’s no protection from damage, wind, or anything along those lines.”

Councilman Charles Freeman, himself a retired game official, inquired if the NCHSAA had a soccer policy for inclement weather.

“I know they have one for football,” Freeman noted.

Kinkead said there was, and that it was updated every year. This year there is a policy where if there is lightning within a five-mile area of an outdoor athletic event, all play must stop.

Councilwoman Linda Blackburn asked about the dressing rooms policy as far as accommodating female athletes when the gym is in use. Kinkead said most soccer practices and matches take place when the gym is not in use.

Councilman Justin Freeman returned to the question of weather liability, at which time Town Attorney Buddy Jones stated in that case the Main Street facility is better because of the gym.

Mayor Jimmy Rowe asked the school personnel if they were aware of complaints that have made their way back to town officials.

“If there were (complaints) they were never brought to our attention,” Kinkead said, “not to Mr. Simmons, Mr. Futrell, or to myself.”

Simmons was asked if the football field at the high school could be used for soccer matches and he said there would be a conflict with the school’s track-and-field program. As for the fence, he cited its necessity based on collection of admission fees.

The school had used the ACRC for softball games the first year after the facility was opened

“In the Northeastern Coastal Conference we all have to charge,” Simmons said. “It costs about $200 per game in expenses. We can’t collect at the park entrance because of others who want to just come to use the (swing-sets). That’s why we made the effort to return softball back on campus (after playing at ACRC in 2012).”

Blackburn returned to the complaints, and said they include not only the narrowness of Main Street right at the field, but also crossing side streets Colony, Curtis, and Pembroke.

“I go up and down that street quite often, and people and kids are jumping in and out between cars, and this worries me,” she said. “That’s not a reason to not be there, but it is a real concern.”

Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh was also present at Council and he said because of the proximity to his headquarters he’d observed soccer balls going over the fence into homeowners’ yards.

“They would call me and I would go out and speak with the kids, not to any of the staff,” the Chief said. “I spoke to Tina (Parks & Rec Director, Pritchard) from one department to another.”

Fitzhugh said in February there had been a vehicle accident at Curtis and Main he felt was caused by traffic congestion.

“It’s very narrow there when people park on both sides of the street,” he said.

Councilman Maurice Vann asked if it were possible to convert the old filled-in swimming pool area at North Street between Curtis and Pembroke into a parking lot. Town Manager Tony Hammond said he felt that idea was workable, and Blackburn said perhaps some parking signs could be added.

When more discussion ensued over parking, both on Main and at the ACRC, Charles Freeman interjected that they were all missing what he termed “the elephant in the room”.

“I’ve been a (NCHSAA) member for 43 years, and the key word is liability,” Freeman said. “I have stopped games, even when principals have stood on their head insisting on playing, because of safety issues and the word: liability. We have a field that’s available that will accommodate children, they have shelter and bathroom facilities, and we will have met our burden of liability.”

After more discussion on complaints, parking at the old pool site, and the differences in soccer field locations, Justin Freeman made a motion to allow the school to use the Main Street facility for the remainder of this school year; it was seconded by Blackburn.

“Is that okay with you guys?” the Mayor asked the school personnel just before the council vote. “We’ll grant permission for this year and then we’ll re-visit.”

The motion passed unanimously among the four council members present, Councilman Rev. C. David Stackhouse not present for the vote due to an excused absence.

“I think it’s a great partnership and a reasonable request,” Justin Freeman said. “We’re in this together, and we all work together.”