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Should it stay or should it go?

CCA parents, constituents argue for and against keeping softball complex in town of Oxford
CCA’s McAreavy Field, located in Oxford about eight miles from the district’s high school and middle school campus, is home of the Clipper girls’ softball team. Some district residents would like the aging field to be moved to Tiffin, while others wish to maintain tradition and keep the team’s home field in Oxford. (photo by Lori Lindner)

OXFORD– The Clear Creek Amana (CCA) School Board fielded comments about its softball diamond at a regular meeting last Wednesday, but Superintendent Tim Kuehl made it clear: there is no money in the district’s budget for a new sports complex.
The board had been asked to consider moving its softball field from Oxford to the central campus in Tiffin, a suggestion first raised at the board’s June 10 work session, during which several members of the public asked the board to recognize the poor conditions at CCA’s baseball and softball fields and the safety concerns associated with students driving to and from facilities.
Currently, the girls play softball at McAreavy Field in Oxford, while the boys’ baseball field is next to the CCA Middle School in Tiffin and adjacent to a road extension project now under construction by the city.
Both diamonds are in low-lying locations that take on a lot of water in rain events, according to a document circulated by some CCA parents, causing uneven field conditions and significant wash-outs that require coaches to frequently replace infield material. Additional concerns were inadequate parking at both facilities, lack of ADA parking and accessibility, poor lighting and fencing at the baseball field, no storm shelters at either field and additional wear and tear on the softball field that it shares with Oxford Elementary. The inadequate conditions at the softball field, the document stated, requires the district to rent fields from the University of Iowa to play tournaments at an annual expense of around $5,000.
But proponents of moving the field expressed bigger safety concerns over players driving back and forth from the school in Tiffin to Oxford for practices and games.
“My biggest priority is safety,” said CCA parent Tanya Reade. For the last four years, the district has heard many concerns about students driving themselves to and from athletic practices and events. In the wake of the 2011 fatal accident which claimed the life of Mackenzie Lown and injured four other students plus two adults in another vehicle, questions have been raised about the district’s policy of allowing students to carpool to and from athletic activities. In that accident, then-senior Zach Swenka was driving a car full of cross country team members back to the high school following a practice session at Kent Park when he crossed the centerline and collided with an oncoming vehicle. Swenka was sentenced in 2013 to two years in prison for vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaugther, while Lown’s parents signed a $300,000 settlement with the district and released the district from any further claims.
“We are in the CCA district, we are growing, and things need to change. Put it back on campus and keep everybody together,” Reade continued.
Parent Angie Ogden agreed.
“Everything should be centrally located. Our facilities are definitely outdated. We need improvements,” Ogden said.
Those who want to keep the softball field in Oxford argued last week that people who live in a district with a large rural population like CCA view transportation to and from activities as a matter of course.
“My daughter drove at 5:30 a.m. from Oxford and 3:30 p.m. from Tiffin. There wasn’t transportation through the school, and we made due,” said Oxford resident Marlene Drake. She noted that CCA’s cross-country home meets are held in Coralville, and the golf team and swim team use the facilities in Amana. “We are spread out, and our activities are spread out. I understand we are growing, but I don’t think that means we need to take the things we have from our other communities.”
And not everyone believes McAreavy Field is in poor shape. The district expended several thousand dollars in 2012 to update the field’s lighting, electrical systems, bleachers, and concession stand area.
“How anybody can say ‘let’s move the field someplace else,’ when we’ve made all these improvements to this field, and have one of the best fields in the state?” asked Oxford resident Judy Cochran. “Everybody knows that, it’s taken a lot of hard work to get it there, it’s well-maintained, and we get good crowds.”
Moreover, McAreavy Field is a bit of a historical landmark for CCA, donated by and named after the family of the late Tom McAreavy, a longtime teacher, principal and four-time state championship coach in the CCA district. Tom and his wife, Pauline, were inducted into the CCA Hall of Fame in 2002, and their son Matt now serves on the school board.
Sentimentality over the field’s history and its meaning within a district that has sent 34 teams to the state softball tournament is a factor for many, including Tom Fuller, who said he had been a CCA sports spectator, fan and coach over the last 10 years.
“It means a lot to this community and to the town of Oxford specifically. But that’s not reason enough,” said Fuller. “So I would compel the board to think about the investments that have already been made in Oxford. It’s been tremendous.”
Fuller said he would agree that there may be a time to move the softball diamond.
“But today’s not the day, and for the foreseeable future, it’s not that time. I ask you to make an objective decision. It’s hard to put that sentimentality aside. I hope the town of Oxford can continue to host the Clippers,” Fuller concluded.
In addition to the sentimental significance, there are others who see the moving the field as having an economic impact to the community of Oxford.
“Oxford is the original city of the school district, and pulling everything out of Oxford just isn’t right,” said Jennifer Downes.
Still others said that regardless of where the fields end up, improvements are still greatly needed.
“Some of our athletic facilities haven’t necessarily caught up with the growth,” said Chris Henze. “And not just athletic facilities but educational facilities as well. Whether we keep it here or build a new complex in Tiffin, baseball and softball need an investment. There is a heck of a lot more that needs to be done, whether you factor in the safety issue for driving or not.”
A few residents offered that the district does not have the funding to build a new softball diamond on the Tiffin campus, particularly as it works to finish a new elementary school and a middle school expansion, projects financed through a $48 million bond issue approved by voters in February 2014.
While the board members did not respond to public comments, Superintendent Kuehl addressed a couple of points raised by those hoping to relocate the softball diamond in his report to the board; specifically, there was a suggestion that a new complex was also part of the 2006 bond issue that built the high school and a new elementary school in North Liberty.
“The previous bond for North Bend (elementary) and the high school did not include a baseball/softball complex,” said Kuehl, though he said one schematic drawing showed it had been considered at one time. Also, Kuehl dispelled the rumor that the City of Tiffin had offered to relocate the baseball field and pay for it.
“We went through the records and can’t find any official documentation like that,” Kuehl said. While past board minutes reflected that it was brought up for discussion, no official offer had been recorded, he said.
Kuehl told the board if there was interest in pursuing a new complex on the Tiffin campus, more discussion would have to take place, but he pulled no punches.
“Baseball and softball are issues, but there are a lot of issues: with elementary attendance, with hitting (building) capacities and how we are going to need to shift students, and/or build further in the next several years. In specific to baseball and softball, right now we don’t have the funds to do something like that,” Kuehl said.
Board president Steve Swenka told the sizeable crowd that all discussion was still very preliminary, and community input was the only thing the board was seeking at the moment.
Board member Jim Seelman said the community had obviously responded to that call.
“We’ve contacted the public; they are in the discussion mode now,” said Seelman. “We need to keep the process moving forward one way or another.”
The board directed Kuehl to put the baseball and softball fields on a future agenda as a discussion item.