The rain late last week brought more than the usual reprieve for the athletic fields behind Towson High School.
Of course, the fields could have used the water after the area's recent dry spell, but the rain also meant that for one afternoon, the fields were more or less empty.
"When it's raining here, the fields are so fragile from overuse that they have to cancel everything," Jennifer Bolster, president of the Towson Recreation Council, said last week as she walked the fields.
That's no knock on the maintenance efforts of anyone involved. Bolster said she has no problem with the county Department of Recreation and Parks or the school system — it's just a factor of use. Between the high school teams that use the fields and Towson rec council participants, the fields are busy every day of the week.
When the rains came last week, the field behind the parking lot was the only one in use. Despite the recent run of good weather, the field was spotted with dirt patches.
The field situation has improved slightly in recent months, thanks to an agreement with Towson University.
After months of negotiations, some 400 youth lacrosse players have been shifted off the high school fields completely, as rec teams have begun practicing on fields behind Towson University's new basketball arena in early March.
Once Towson University's baseball season ends, the rec council's middle school baseball teams will be able to use the university's field as well.
The plan to use TU fields was a result of a meeting called by Del. Steve Lafferty last summer. After gaining support from County Councilman David Marks and cooperation from Towson University's athletic department, the arrangement came to fruition.
"This is a huge positive development for Towson rec," Bolster said. "The kids practicing on the gorgeous TU fields are in heaven."
But others are in a slightly different place.
The Towson rec council tried a few years ago to help maintenance and upkeep of the fields, dedicating $21,000 for rehabilitation. That money was used to lay grass on the goal creases of the fields. But with such little field space in Towson, the fields had to be used before the grass could set.
Before long, the creases were dirt patches.
On the far side of the tennis courts, the JV soccer field is jammed between the edge of the baseball diamond and a set of temporary classrooms across the building.
Gale Della Santina of the Towson High Sports Boosters said generations of young soccer players have learned set plays on that field based on its quirks. For instance, just below the surface, a drain pipe spans the field and prevents grass from growing on it. The result is a depressed dirt ditch that along the length of the field, all the way to nearby Herring Run.
Of course, that JV field can't be used for lacrosse when the baseball diamond — the only 90-foot diamond in town — is in use. When a game runs late, there can be unintended overlap, and Bolster said young lacrosse players who have strayed too far into the baseball outfield have frequently drawn the ire of umpires.
The congestion is even worse in the fall, when football is added into the mix with soccer and field hockey. The JV football team practices on a softball field just off Aigburth Road, and when one gender has a JV soccer game, the other is relegated to a half field beside the stadium.
And the stadium field, home to boys and girls soccer games and football practices and games in the fall and boys and girls lacrosse in the spring, is off limits to the rec council because it's already in such poor shape.
Though the new pact with Towson University for some field use there has helped, everyone acknowledges that it's not a long-term solution to the overuse of fields at Towson High. The boosters, in fact, have a specific solution in mind.
"If we had a synthetic turf field, that would at least fix the stadium problem and allow us to play games there and have a safe, playable field every day of the week," Della Santina said.
A turf field with an estimated cost between $850,000 and $1 million is the cornerstone of an estimated $1.2 million capital campaign that Della Santina is chairing to improve the grounds of Towson High School. The boosters have not yet received estimates for a turf field, but are basing those projections off other similar projects.
Towson would join several other high school, including Franklin, Woodlawn, Catonsville, Lansdowne and Hereford, in having an artificial turf field.
The campaign kicked off with a sports boosters fundraiser this past Saturday evening at the County Club of Maryland.
"Towson is a great school," she said. "We just want the athletic facilities and exterior to reflect the excellence inside the school."
A turf field would benefit not only the high school teams, which wouldn't lose game and practice time because of muddy fields, but the entire community, Bolster said.
"If we had turf, it would be used from the first bell at Towson High School to sundown, and on the weekends from sunup to sundown," Bolster said. "It would be amazing."
For more information about the boosters' effort to raise money for a turf field, email Gale Della Santina at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun