At Monday’s agenda setting meeting, Athletic Director Darin Morella presented several major ideas to the Ellwood City Area School Board.
Foremost, Morella, who was appointed AD this past summer, wished to reorganize the method with which the athletic department purchases equipment in order to cut down on wasted equipment, save money and have equipment arrive in a more timely fashion. His proposal is in cooperation with Richard Zarone, the district’s business manager.
As it is currently done, all sports order their equipment at the same time, around May. The athletic department then is responsible for ensuring the orders arrive and are correct. With this system, it is easy to lack track of orders or order unnecessary items. Since coaches don’t know how many athletes they’ll have for a season, equipment orders can be larger than necessary.
For example, Morella said that an order placed for volleyball equipment, a fall sport, still hadn’t arrived.
“When I started this job, I didn’t realize how much of it is just placing orders and then tracking those orders,” Morella said.
Morella also said that even apparently needed equipment is unused. A basketball coach may want a specific kind of shoe and order more than enough for the team, but then the players do not like them.
“Half of the basketball shoes weren’t worn by the kids,” Morella said.
Morella proposed that orders be placed throughout the year, when coaches have a better idea of how many athletes they have. Coaches would also be responsible for ensuring the order arrived in a timely fashion and was the correct order.
In addition, Morella wanted to create a spending limit for each sport, based roughly on that sport’s average spending in the past five years. To further limit spending, coaches will follow a tier-system for orders, with safety being top tier.
The new system will also provide a better safeguard in the event of a money shortage, as it will be easier to freeze orders as opposed to when all orders were done at once.
The Softball Fields
As it is, the softball field in Stiefel Park is not in the best of shape.
According to Steve Schuster, buildings and grounds supervisor, without repairs, the infield is unsuitable for play this season, which is a regularly occurring phenomenon in a region with high precipitation and temperature fluctuation. The outfield, although in needs of repairs, can wait another season, according to Schuster.
Morella’s full proposal was an overhaul of the entire field, which will include installation of a drainage system. This would greatly reduce the yearly maintenance needed and hopefully save money in the long term.
Morella and Schuster obtained two bids, $19,800 from DuraEdge of Grove City, which includes the drainage system, and $7,800 from Vance’s Landscapping of Beaver Falls, which does not include drainage.
Because the softball field is the property of the Ellwood City borough, Morella has communicated with Borough Manager Bob Villella and reported that the borough is willing to split the cost down the middle.
“Villella has been very cooperative and helpful in this process,” Morella said.
The tarp will protect the field during the season and is easy to remove with seven or eight people. The board’s biggest concern was the status of the tarp in the off-season.
Because the tarp would probably get vandalized in the off-season and subsequently need replaced, Morella advised storing it. Board members asked if the field would then get damaged without the tarp and undo the repair work.
Morella said that the drainage system will still greatly reduce the amount of maintenance needed in the pre-season and because the field won’t be used as frequently, damage in the off season isn’t as severe.
Turf Football Field
Morella’s final, and by far largest, proposal was to replace the football field at Helling Stadium with a synthetic turf field. There were several benefits he gave.
For one, Morella said the district spends around $50,000 annually on football field maintenance. This includes but is not limited to: cutting the grass, sprinklers, replanting grass and replacing dirt.
Each year, the football field gets torn apart during the football season. This past season, Morella came under fire from the Little Wolverines organization for cancelling a game due to muddy conditions. Morella confirmed that he stands by that decision and will continue the same policy to ensure safety.
Morella said the companies he has been in contact with sell a turf field that will last about 12-15 years. The initial contract can include a replacement plan, which means a single purchase will be a roughly 25 year investment.
“We have to provide a balance of education with extracurricular activities,” Morella said. “This isn’t just about football. This is for the entire community. Other sports, community residents, relay for life, the festival…they can all use this.”
The major bomb in the proposal is the cost: $800,000 to $900,000. Board president Renee Pitrelli and board member Danielle Woodhead laughed audibly when Morella stated this.
While Morella argued that in the long term, a turf field will save money due to greatly reduced maintenance costs, the initial expenditure is prohibitive to the district.
Morella suggested that the district launch a community involvement campaign to get donors, including alumni and local businesses.
“Residents can sponsor an inch of the field,” Morella said.
Some board members inquired about maintenance for turf fields and if turf fields cause more injuries. Morella said that turf technology has increased just in the past few years, leaving little maintenance requirements and that injuries are lower than on grass fields.
However, this list of studies shows largely inconclusive data regarding turf injuries versus grass injuries.
Another board member expressed concerns that the black dots on turf cause cancer. Morella appeared unprepared to address this concern.
The belief that turf causes cancer is largely anecdotal. This list of studies shows either no cause for concern or that there is not enough information for a conclusive determination, although it is noted that this list is compiled by an artificial turf company.
Regardless, it is unknown if the board will act on this or any of Morella’s proposals.
Vice President Matt Morella asked if Darin Morella could provide exact expenditures on the football field in the past five years, which Morella said he could.
“All educational programs from antiquity until now have had athletics,” LeRoy Cortez said at the conclusion of Morella’s proposals.
Since few cultures have had organized athletic programs prior to the 20th century, this is a shaky statement.
Later in the meeting, at a time far beyond, board member Danielle Woodhead mentioned that the football field wasn’t even in her head.