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Field of broken dreams

By: Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
[email protected]

If you build it, they will come, or will they?
A recent letter signed by Stephen Long, supervisor of athletics for Johnson County Schools, has created quite a stir among some youth club football parents and league officers.
The letter was written to inform the Johnson County Youth League that this will be the last year they’ll be allowed to play on the high school’s field.
The majority of his letter makes sense. And despite their frustrations, he makes a good argument.
His letter begins by informing the league that the school system is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of grounds and facilities. He points out that the field does not stand up well to extensive traffic, especially in wet weather and tells the league in the letter that they are currently looking into ways to make improvements.
Long’s letter states the importance of youth club football in the Johnson County community for future programs.
I will have to agree. It’s not only important, but critical.
Johnson County has only one feeder program. The kids that play youth club will later be the players that form the junior high and high school squads.
He provides the club three stipulations for using the field for the 2015 season.
​1. ​The field is not to be used after Johnson County plays a home game. They have six this season.
​2. ​Head coach Don Kerley will let them know by Friday at 10 am if they can play on the field due to wet weather conditions.
​3. ​Because of the need to preserve all facilities at the field location there needs to be steady supervision at games, even when Johnson County teams are not playing.
​L​ong’s letter applauds them for the excellent job they’ve done with cleanup after games and tells them the system knows that it will continue.
The final paragraph is where the stir gets created.
“This letter is to formally notify the Youth League that our facilities will not be available after this season. We do believe that it is unfair to expect them to find an alternate location at this late date, but after this season ‘we will no longer be involved’.”
Here is my response. You better be.
You stated that the school system was looking at ways to make improvements. Where? Are you talking about the current field or an alternate place to play?
The future of Johnson County’s athletic program lies in its facilities. And you better have them for all ages if you want to compete.
Have you driven to Elizabethton lately and looked at their new stadium? It’s a drawing card for the county athletes outside their school system. Yet Johnson County must compete against them.
Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten is a regular at the youth league games on Saturday. He knows they play a big role in his future program.
I am not pointing a finger at Mr. Long or trying to make him look bad. He’s trying to be fair. This was a decision made by more people than Mr. Long.  Everyone involved needs to step back and look at the whole picture.
Nobody loves the Johnson County community more than head coach Don Kerley. He is willing to bend over backward for the kids that play youth league football in Johnson County. He, his staff and players will conduct a football camp for youth players on Saturday. This is his busiest time of the year as a coach, yet he takes time out of his schedule to try and help the future players.
Is there a problem? There definitely is.
Is there a solution? I hope so.
I agree that the field can’t withstand the current traffic played there. It’s impossible to play varsity, junior varsity, freshman and junior high games on one field in addition to four or five youth league games per week. And some of the youth league games don’t involve Johnson County teams.
You also have a team walk through which takes place every Thursday night.
Coach Kerley’s aim is to see a field built at Ralph Stout Park to play games on. Is it possible? I have my doubts after visiting there on Monday. But anything can be accomplished if the community gets behind it.
The teams conduct their practices there but the conditions are not favorable. The field was extremely wet and bird droppings were scattered throughout. On hot days it could become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. It would take a ton of work and a lot of money to play football there.
So what is the answer? Here is a suggestion.
Johnson County needs two football fields. And the good news is that there are already two football fields.

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