Highland School Board member Dave Turoci talked to regionsports.com general manager Chris Ramirez about the situation surrounding the Highland football field and varsity football program.
CR: When was the last time the football field surface had any major renovations done?
DT: I am not exactly sure when the last time money was dedicated to the playing surface of the football field. I believe this is the first time since the early 1980s.
CR: Who has use of the football field for games and practices?
DT: The football field is used almost exclusively by the schools football teams and Pop Warner. The band and soccer have their own fields to play and practice on.
CR: What is the process for getting a new field and where does the money come from for a project of this magnitude?
DT: When we (our administrators) were establishing our needs to incorporate with our bond (big loan basically), it was decided to upgrade the football field by recrowning the surface leading to new sod, drainage system and sprinklers.
I think it was added for two reasons; first, it was long overdue and second, we could only afford the upgrades by bonding for the money. So we knew we were borrowing for the roofs and parking lots and we added in the athletic facilities that were in dire need (tennis, track and football). You don’t want to borrow too often, so get the most bang for your buck when you do.
CR: What is the process for choosing the contractor?
DT: We hired an architectural firm to design all of the plans and I think they were part of the athletic projects as well in coordination with Scott McWilliams, Director of Building and Grounds.
CR: Once approval and financing were secured, who made the plan for getting the work done?
DT: You’d have to ask our administrators that. We are handed the firms who they think will do the best job.
CR: Who oversees the contractors work?
DT: The architect, Scott McWilliams and our Superintendent Michael Boskovich, along with athletic director Mike Urban stay up to speed on things.
CR: The sod wasn’t put down until the season was just a few weeks away. Three varsity home games, including Homecoming, have already been lost, plus the feeder program games. A local newspaper columnist offered the opinion that the field situation is nothing more than a case of bad luck, do you agree or disagree?
DT: For the most part yes. After getting the money approved, we had a short window (summer) to get everything done on the field. Between a couple of unanticipated obstacles in the renovation and bad weather, our window closed before completion. Our margin for mishaps was narrow.
CR: Were contingency plans in place in case of bad luck?
DT: Unfortunately, to my knowledge, no. In retrospect, we should have been prepared to move the games to a neutral site where we could still get the gate, push off one more year, or set the schedule in advance for a bulk of the road games at the start.
CR: I walked on the field this week and the sod didn’t appear to have completely taken root yet. Plus sprinkler holes were exposed, one goal post was crooked and the field appears wavy. Is it ready for a varsity football game?
DT: I don’t know, that’s not my specialty. But here is my opinion; it’s better than some fields that I’ve seen games played on, but not good enough when considering that it is brand new. I was hoping for better, which may eventually be the case when given more time.
CR: It became public knowledge early last week, before the field was ready, that the school was going ahead with this Friday’s game, quite possibly because it’s the night o f the school’s Tailgate Party. With so much pressure on them, do you feel the people in charge are rushing to get home games in, even though the field may not be ready?
DT: I am sure everyone is anxious to let the seniors and the rest of the school and town enjoy a home game. Is it in haste, I’m not the judge of that right now, but I will be watching.
CR: A lot of money has been lost, not to mention what a psychological blow losing home games was to an already struggling program. Who, if anyone, should be held accountable for this fiasco?
DT: I would think any program at any school district that has to reschedule games because a facility is not ready should be scrutinized. I think the school board did what we needed to do initially in approving the project and adding it to our bond issue. After that, maybe we should have kept the pressure on our administrators to make sure the task was staying on target.
If there was in fact a delay, which I assumed without proof, our athletic director would have to have been the one to be putting the contractor’s feet to the fire. I don’t know if that happened or not, but the blame, if there is any to be laid, would ultimately be on the athletic department. But at this stage, progress is made only through learning and adjusting for the future, not finger pointing.
CR: Besides the new grass, what else needs to happen for the program to start gaining respect and to ultimately be successful?
DT: We have to earn (respect). The blame starts at the top and we need to question why we have fallen so far so fast.
CR: How does it make you feel as an alum and concerned member of the community that your rivals now take pity on the Highland football program?
(For those of you who don’t know, in games last year, Griffith led 46-0 at halftime, then played reserves the entire second half and was drawing up plays in the dirt. In the Munster game, once the score hit 49-0, several penalty flags began mysteriously appearing after each subsequent Munster score or big play. Video footage of the game shows no such penalties on those plays.)
DT: I’ve watched first hand as our rivals played freshman against our varsity in second halves of games. It is something all Highland alumni should take offense to.
CR: Has Highland football reached rock bottom?
DT: If this isn’t, I don’t know what is. However, I don’t blame the athletes one bit. I applaud them for going through the two a days and showing up and battling. I’m sure it’s hard to stay focused when looking at a lopsided score on the board. These scores are probably what keeps other good athletes away from the program.
CR: If you were in charge, what changes would you make with regards to the program?
DT: I’m tired of hearing about that good Pop Warner team that’s coming or our good ninth grade team. What happens between then and varsity? I think you clean house, start over, and make sure that new coach incorporates the Pop Warner program and any volunteer help that is offered. I know of alumni who have offered their services, only to be shunned by the current staff. I would surround myself with as much help as possible. Maybe the enthusiasm of alumni along with a new staff will inspire more kids to stick with the sport. Right now, building a winning team/program around 30-40 kids probably isn’t possible.
CR: Are there any final comments you wish to make on this subject?
DT: It is always hard for a board member to walk a line of “political correctness”. We saw a good coach chased out of town a few years back. I believe this situation is a little bit different. I have no vendetta or motivation other than the desire to see a winning program at Highland High School.
Every person in this community, regardless of political position, should feel the same way. Good people and good former players don’t always translate into good head coaches. My ideal situation would be to bring in new blood and retain Eric Miller as a teacher and an assistant coach. But, I will tell you this, if or when the time comes for change, I want nothing to do with the hiring process and will rely on our athletic director, who has a history of winning and has always had a great deal of Trojan pride, to find the right person for the job.
NOTE: The answers and opinions expressed above are strictly that of Dave Turoci and not the Highland school board. Dave is a 1985 graduate of Highland High School.