Richard Stroud

Grove Sun

During a preseason interview last August, Grove head football coach Dennis Millican opened our conversation with his stated belief that the Ridgerunners’ move up to Class 5A was likely to be a permanent one.

“We’re in the big-time to stay,” Millican said at the time, noting that Grove needed to plan accordingly.

Those that follow Oklahoma high school sports know that there is a world of difference between Classes 5A and 6A and the classes below. There are also those in this community who recognize that Grove is going to need a serious upgrade to their athletic facilities in order to compete with the bigger schools of Oklahoma.

Unfotunately, an incident at the most recent school board meeting shows how far Grove Public Schools may have to go to meet the needs of its student athletes in the coming years.

Athletic director Will Jones, during his usual report to the board, brought up the idea of raising private donations in order to install artificial turf at 50-year-old Ridgerunner Stadium.The idea was immediately shot down by board member Jerry Crossley.

Crossley, citing unverified sources, stated that installing the turf would cost the district $300,000 per year. In reality, Field Turf, which combines the feel of real grass with the durability of artificial turf, would cost an estimated $750,000 to install (according to the Field Turf company's website). The turf would then have a lifespan of 10-12 years, putting the cost in $65,000-$75,000 range.

Maintenance for Field Turf involves dragging a special vacuum over the field once a month behind a tractor. The vacuum is included in the $750,000 price tag.

Figures on how much the district spends now to maintain the grass field are not available, but the man-hours put in by the maintenance department are substantial and a savings in this area would go a long way to offset the costs of the new field. Plus, hours spent maintaining the field could be spent in some other area.

I haven’t even mentioned that Jones’s proposal to raise private funds for the turf would free up funds for use in other areas of need in the district, of which there are many. But this isn’t an argument for or against artificial turf. I would like instead to focus on the negative, do-nothing attitude displayed by Crossley’s reaction to Jones’s proposal. For one thing is abundantly clear, as anyone who has accompanied Grove teams on trips to other 5A and 6A schools can attest, Ridgerunner athletics is in another world now. The days of comparing ourselves to Jay, Miami and Vinita and being satisfied that we’re on par with those schools is over. No offense to those schools, but Grove is now measuring itself with schools like Tahlequah, Claremore and Skiatook.

To that end the 2015 bond issue, though still several years away, will be a great opportunity for Grove to even the playing field, so to speak. Now, there are needs across the district in all aspects, with academics being an obvious first priority and sports being a small piece of the pie. But this is the sports section so I’ll stick to that.

When asked to put together a wish list of priorities, Jones cited not only all aspects of the football stadium, but also the track, weight rooms and the wrestling room as priorities. Improvement and expansion of these facilities will help insure that future Grove athletes have access to the type of training and playing facilities to be able to compete at the 5A level.

And we’re talking about competing at a state championship level here, not just beating Jay and winning the Verdigris Valley Conference, of which Grove may no longer find itself a member soon.

The 2015 bond presents a great opportunity, but only if we as a community are prepared to embrace the future, instead of settling for how things have always been. Because one thing is clear, Grove is in a new world when it comes to athletics.