Practice locations remain scarce despite new stadium

The Southerner

Phillip Suitts

No place to practice. Forced out of our own stadium. Unable to practice in a park right across the street.

This displacement afflicted Grady’s spring sports teams last year. One year later, nothing has changed.

Grady’s spring sports face eviction from their own field again this upcoming season.

Lakewood, Atlanta Public School’s other stadium, is currently undergoing renovation, a process that started last winter. If the renovation isn’t completed by the start of the spring season, then all home games for APS schools will be played in Grady Stadium for the second year in a row. This means less practice time for Grady teams once the season starts.

Last season, there were only eight spring days without games or track meets at Grady Stadium. Most games started at 5:30; however, most teams were given about 30 minutes to warm up. Six Grady teams—boys soccer, girls soccer, boys JV soccer, girls JV soccer, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse—had about an hour to practice on one full field and one small field to the side of the stadium before they were kicked off. The track team also had to stop practice once the games started.

Even if the renovation of Lakewood Stadium is completed before spring season starts, the numerous problems related to field space still will not go away.
At the beginning of last year, the lacrosse team practiced from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., while the soccer teams had the field from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The girls team would take one half of the field while the boys team would take the other. The JV soccer teams were left to fight among themselves for the cramped piece of grass next to the stadium. This meant that none of the soccer or lacrosse teams were able to simulate a game experience, since each team practiced on half a field or less.

The situation is made more maddening by the presence of a spacious public park across the street, which has been declared off limits to Grady’s soccer, lacrosse, baseball and ultimate Frisbee teams. Why?     The cross country and tennis teams routinely walk across the street to practice their sport, and the Piedmont Park Conservancy has never told them they couldn’t do so. The soccer team has been kicked off for not having a coach. The ultimate Frisbee team isn’t even allowed to practice in Piedmont when they do have a coach. I have heard various reasons for why Grady sports teams can’t (or haven’t) practiced—logistics, liability, money issues­­­—but fundamental inconsistency remains: why can only certain Grady sports teams practice in Piedmont while others can’t?
The sad part is the double standard isn’t even the worst part of the story.

There are areas within Piedmont Park specifically designated for softball, which has the same playing field as baseball—a diamond, but the Grady baseball team can’t even practice there.
Why can’t a public high school that’s right across from a public park access those park’s facilities?

What’s worse is that APS, who got Grady into this mess with the prolonged renovation of Lakewood Stadium (the renovation was suppose to be completed by Sept. 1 of this year), doesn’t seem to be doing anything to rectify the situation.

The football team had to deal with similar problems this season as well. They were only able to have two full days of practice each week—Mondays and Tuesdays. The ultimate Frisbee team had to practice at Central Park last year because they, too, aren’t allowed to use Piedmont’s fields. They also confront the same situation this season.

It’s time for APS to stand up and help Grady out. It’s time for APS to pay the $63 a day needed for Grady’s spring sports teams to be able to practice on a full-sized field. Here’s the number to call: 404-875-7275.
Do your duty, APS.

This story won second place in the Sports Column category of the Southern Interscholastic Press Association Mail-In Contest on March 4, 2012.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email