Timea Fleury has two problems with the St. Francis Sportsfields. One is obvious—it’s a scab stretched across her knee the size of a couple of quarters from a fall she took over a week ago while playing soccer on the pitch.
“It was like I hit cement,” she said.
The other problem is that when it’s not a pain in her knee, it’s a pain in her backside. The first-year president of Borderland Soccer just won the playoffs with her Taggs team on Monday night but was still very much in the mood to speak her mind about the condition of the fields.
“I don’t know if it was a miscommunication, but they (the town) didn’t start watering until August,” she said. “That’s why it’s yellow now. Most of the grass is dead.”
In between the patches of browned grass are patches of dirt. Teams from out of town competing in the “Ball Blast” tournament this month were often asking aloud where the line was on throw-ins, having faded where the grass subsides. Fleury said the fields were lined before the tournament, but “if you’re lining dirt, it disappears pretty quickly.”
And, of course, the lack of grass to cushion falls is apparent when Fleury wears shorts on the pitch. She can’t help but think the soccer fields should be invested in better by the town.
“When you think about it, between youth soccer and the adult league, at least half the town is involved in one way or another,” she said, and brought up another issue—these fields are used so heavily that resting them and allowing the grass to grow is an issue.
That popularity is what makes the situation so hard to stomach for many involved in local soccer. Players complain aloud and draw parallels to local hockey, and wonder why despite more people in town playing soccer than hockey and upkeep for a field being nowhere near an indoor hockey rink, the field is in such a state of disrepair.
If the arena were anything but spotless, it would be accepted as a black eye on the town, they say. Fleury can’t help but share in some of that jealousy.
Megan Ross, physical education director with the town of Fort Frances, said the reason the fields have fallen into their current state was because the town lacked a vital part in their sprinkling system. It didn’t arrive until this month.
When asked why the town didn’t employ any stop-gap measures to get water on the field, she admitted, “we did not think Mother Nature would take a toll on the fields that it did.”
“Obviously we haven’t had any rain this summer, and we were watering them, but there’s only so much we can do,” Ross said. “I’m a soccer player myself. We did the best we could.”
Still new to running the local league, Fleury has other problems to contend with—another big one is ensuring there are enough referees and linesmen for games next year. The difference between that issue and the fields is the executives have a plan to tackle the referee shortage. Fixing the fields seems a little more nebulous.
“I don’t know if we need to put more pressure on the town, ’cause we pay them to use the field,” she said. “They finally watered the field when I threatened to water it myself a week before the ‘Ball Blast’ . . . I don’t know if it’s a matter of taking care of the fields or what, but we gotta do something.”
For Ross’ part, she said one of the problems is that the fields are used too early in the year and the grass doesn’t properly take root by the time Fort Frances Youth Soccer begins its season.
She also said the fields were built on top of a drainage field which means they don’t retain water as they should.
Ross wondered if the use of Fort Frances High School’s fields—just a short walk from the St. Francis fields—would take some of the pressure off. The Fort High fields are immaculate in comparison.
Ross also cautioned against comparing the fields to the ice at the Memorial Sports Centre, saying the $273 a soccer team pays per season is less than what a single minor hockey player pays annually.
Apples and oranges it may be. But with so many people heading to the St. Francis Sportsfields throughout the summer, one can’t help but doubt that we as a community would allow the town’s sporting heritage to be tarnished if it were a hockey rink being torn to tatters.