04-02-2020 Tri-City Area Sports

Watervliet Press Box by John Oliphant

Watervliet athletic facilities

With the prospect of no high school sports taking place until August we took some time to speak with the Watervliet Athletic Director, Ken Dietz. Dietz has been at Watervliet for 14 years, overseeing some great seasons and developing a fine group of coaches and some new programs. The programs are currently going through a tough period of smaller-than-usual classes with a corresponding drop in the number of athletes. That situation is changing rapidly as the incoming classes are bigger and loaded with potential star athletes.

Despite the past couple down years the programs are doing well enough that there are more athletes than the existing facilities can comfortably handle. For example, in the fall the football field has crossed the line from full utilization to over utilization with the addition of a boys soccer program. The field is in use four and five days a week now, with three levels of football games, soccer, band, and the occasional rocket football series on Saturdays. The field took a beating this year and looked worse than ever when the season ended. But thanks to the good autumn weather and a dedicated maintenance crew led by Mark Isbrecht it will be in fine shape and lush again this fall.

Just the same, the growing soccer program is looking for its own practice and game space, and Dietz has proposed one on the northwest corner of the school’s existing property. Such a field, if approved, would take a big burden off the football field and requires field prep and fencing along Red Arrow Highway.

In the winter the basketball teams are forced to practice well into the evening due to the limited practice space. Consider the needs of four middle school basketball teams and five high school teams where none of them get to practice on their own and they’re always sharing a court with another team. These middle school teams are loaded with kids, often so many that they have to play as two teams for each grade. The addition of sixth graders on the teams just made them that much larger, which is by all accounts a great problem.

In the spring the situation eases a bit, unless the weather is bad and then everybody is vying for limited indoor space. The track is one area where the designer’s vision failed; it’s just six lanes and cannot be expanded, preventing any state tournament meets from being held in an otherwise fine facility.

Thankfully we have a successful local recreational program and public park for baseball and softball because there are area schools developing middle school teams in the next year or two. The school doesn’t have any space for more ball fields.

Dietz made a good point that when a graduate from the 1960s or 1970s comes back to Watervliet they are seeing the exact same facilities they played on 40 or 50 years ago. Thanks to dedicated coaches and that amazing maintenance crew everything is well-maintained and in fine condition, but there’s little new about the athletic facilities since the school opened in 1965. The people who designed the facilities did a great job, especially considering they probably hadn’t anticipated the development and growth of girl’s sports which didn’t exist then like they do now.

Dietz has presented ideas for an auxiliary gym facility to the school board to greatly ease the winter season crush and provide year-round indoor space for various sports and other community programs. Potentially this facility could also provide a major upgrade to the concession stand and the old restroom facilities. Unfortunately the board has had its hands full since then and hasn’t been able to explore the opportunity fully.

On balance, this facility situation is a good problem because it means we have a lot of kids involved in athletic programs and these programs are a significant component of the student’s overall education and development. Hopefully the community will support facility upgrades or modest expansions to accommodate these well-run and popular sports programs.

Coloma Press Box By Dave Vollrath

All Michigan Sports remain, “Wait and See”

All sports in our great state of Michigan remain in a holding pattern. From the lower levels of elementary age children, who ar