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FC Columbia County's search for turf

The opportunity may open up for the first ever artificial turf field in Columbia County


by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Lucy Davidson, at left in black, fights for possession of the ball during a intrasquad scrimmage between Scappoose and St. Helens high school on Wednesday, Aug. 14. Davidson commutes 25 minutes to play soccer on the campus of the University of Portland.The fall season brings Oregon residents back to reality after a hot, Indian summer. Colder air and relentless rain easily turns dust to mud, something that the coaches and players in the area are well acquainted with. That problem has pushed fledgling soccer club FC Columbia County to look for a permanent home where they can work on circumventing that very issue.

“Turf is so much faster,” said Alix Raya, keeper for the Scappoose High School girls team who also is a player for FC Columbia County. Raya, along with fellow teammates Emily and Natalie Muth, said that the rain on an already unpredictable natural grass surface make speed and consistency difficult.

“My gloves get trashed,” said Raya. “It’s really important to keep them clean, but they get muddy and it gets hard to hold on to the ball.”

Because a dry surface isn’t an option in a place as wet as Northwestern Oregon, the club has to turn to an alternative solution that has been catching on around the state in the last decade. Artificial turf, which has become commonplace in the wetter corners of the world, is the leading option for a club that faces the challenge of playing along the Columbia River.

That dream could go two different directions. One route is a soccer specific facility in Warren with the backing of grants from organizations like US Soccer.

“Those grants are usually for soccer specific fields,” said Date, head girls soccer coach at St. Helens High School and club director for FC Columbia County. Date said that the details weren’t quite worked out yet, but that he hopes that both high schools would be able to train on the centrally located field as well as using the facility for games.

The other option is to build a multi-use field, most likely located at either Scappoose or St. Helens High School. Date said that while a specific use field would be nice, getting a turf surface was still the ultimate goal.

Even at the 4A level, many opponents that area athletes face will play on artificial turf fields. That includes Roosevelt, Central and Seaside High Schools, all three of which are in Scappoose’s football schedule this fall.

“I wouldn’t say half (have turf fields), but it’s getting close,” said Robert Medley, athletic director at Scappoose High School. Medley stressed that he believed the facilities at Scappoose were of top quality and well cared for, but also understood the challenges of maintaining a field with the severe weather in the area.

“Once it starts to rain, the field gets torn up,” said Medley.

A turf field doesn’t come without drawbacks, however. FieldTurf, one of the industries companies, listed a price of around $700,000 for a field the size that FC Columbia County would need. Add in the lights that the club wants to install, and the price tag reaches even higher.

The initial cost of installing such a field is the largest drawback to the artificial turf solution. Maintenance costs are much lower, and because the field is resistant to rain and doesn’t get muddy, it is usable for much more of the year than any facility currently available in Columbia County. In addition, turf fields can be used more hours in a day without needing time for the field to recover between practices.

“Right now, the cost prohibits it from due to money type issues,” said Cyndy Miller, athletic director at St. Helens High School. Miller said that the school district would be focusing on replacing the dilapidated tennis courts at the high school, which will take precedent for the next two years. After that time, however, Miller said that the boosters were very interested in the possibility of installing such a facility.

For the time being, FC Columbia County will use the junior varsity field at St. Helens High School, but Date hopes they they will be able to raise support and generate funds to build a facility in the area, especially with the support of the surrounding community.

“We’ve thought about talking to the football people, and even the baseball people,” said Date.

Both Miller and Medley talked about the value of a facility that would be multi-use, meaning that it would be used by both the football team and the boys and girls soccer teams for games as well as practices.

The booster clubs in St. Helens and Scappoose will most likely play a very large role in whether the district is able to upgrade their football and soccer fields. Miller said that they have donated close to 1.5 million to the betterment of student’s experience at the St. Helens, and that the district could look into taking steps to generate revenue toward such an expansion in the future.

“We’ve always had great support from the community,” said Miller.

The hurdles are many, but Date understands that it’s a patient process. The final dream might look a little different than the initial idea, but Date said that the important thing was getting the best facility possible for the athletes.

Said Date, “We’d love it period.”