By Brittany Christensen
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is written by a student journalist from San Juan Hills High's The Express newspaper.
Worried about student safety, officials fenced off the baseball dugouts at on April 23, just before one of the more important games of the season – and they have remained off limits ever since.
The Stallions have their last game of the season Thursday.
Officials have been curious about the dugouts since December, according to Principal Tom Ressler, but left them alone until shortly after the , when Interim Deputy Superintendent Tim Holcomb ordered the dugouts closed until further notice.
Later, workers hammered out two holes in one of the structures to determine if it met state guidelines for public schools, said Jeremy Wooten, San Juan Hills baseball coach.
CUSD spokesman Marcus Walton said the dugouts never went through the permitting process and therefore have not yet been approved. District officials now doubt whether the structures were built to state standards.
The dugouts were finished this year after an intense, two-year fundraising process enabled the construction to move forward, Wooten said. Parents and athletics boosters raised almost $20,000 for the project – $6,000 for the concrete and $12,000 for the structure itself, plus paint and other materials.
The dugout lockout came as a surprise to many of those who worked to get them built, Wooten said. The boosters submitted the plans to the district, which ultimately gave the go-ahead.
“We did everything we were supposed to do. I asked them what to do, and we followed their guidelines,” Wooten said.
The plans were originally submitted in February of 2011 and resubmitted in November of 2011, Wooten said.
The closure's timing upset many players and coaches, Wooten said.
“It was right before one of the most important games of the season, if not the most important game,” said Wooten, referring to the April 25 matchup against Trabuco Hills. Trabucco went on to beat the Stallions by four runs, 7-3.
The Stallions have their last home game of the year Thursday against Aliso Niguel High. They are 4-7 in the Sea View League and 17-10 overall, according to OC Varsity.
While the district figures out its next move, players have to deal with not having dugouts for their final games.
“It’s definitely a distraction, but you can’t let stuff like that affect the way you play the game,” said James Watt, freshman baseball player.
“The good news is when it’s all said and done, we will have a structure that’s not going to be questioned," Ressler said. "But the bad thing is, for the next few weeks of the season during playoffs, we will be left with a very strange environment out there.”
The district will make the final call as to whether the dugouts need to be rebuilt, Ressler said. Until then, they will remain closed.
KEEPING SCORE: BASEBALL’S TOP NEEDS
Here are other needs for San Juan Hills High baseball, according to Coach Wooten:
- A second field: Originally, SJHHS was designed to have its varsity field adjacent to the track and football field. But the diamond was placed too close to nearby power lines, causing the field to be closed and later fenced off. Varsity then chose the upper field, affecting frosh and JV teams that all must share the upper field.
- Dugouts: The need for usable dugouts now moves to No. 2 on the list because of the recent closure. Dugouts provide a safe and sheltered environment for players and coaches. It remains to be seen how the district will address this situation.
- Scoreboard: Not a comparatively high-cost item, a decent scoreboard would help spectators enjoy home games. Many Little Leagues have better scoreboards than the Stallion baseball field, which now has nothing.
- Shed/locker room: Some kind of storage area is needed to keep equipment safe and dry. Players also have no place near the upper field to change from school clothes into uniforms before practices and games. When the school's enrollment was smaller, there were extra classrooms where players could change. That situation no longer exists.
- Bleachers: Baseball is fun to watch, but not if you can’t see it. Right now, there is only a small row of stands. More permanent stands are needed for Stallion fans. Many spectators have to bring their own beach chairs, placing them at ground level, which doesn’t afford a very good view.
- Better P.A. system: There is sound, but not the kind of public address system you find at the new pool or planned for the stadium. An upgraded sound system and perhaps WiFi capability would add a lot to spectators' experience.
- Lights: Wooten puts this low on the list. Permanent or portable lights would offer an alternative to the need for a second field. Lights could allow players and coaches to practice and play into the night. However, night practice could hurt players' family and academic life, not to mention create a potential nuisance for the new neighbors who might try to block such a move.