Blair High Parents Confront Parks Officials Over Softball, Baseball Field Closures

Blair High Parents Confront Parks Officials Over Softball, Baseball Field Closures

Father of student-athlete says coaches no longer have keys to fields, storage facilities

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Montgomery Blair High School

Via Montgomery County Public Schools

Tensions have been simmering for a few years between Montgomery Blair High School sports teams and the Montgomery Parks officials who care for their playing fields, according to parents of student-athletes.

But when coaches started getting locked out of the fields this season, some of the parents finally boiled over, said Kirsten Martin, president of the Montgomery Blair Athletic Association.

“They’re beyond frustrated,” Martin said. “They’ve been dealing with this for so long, but they hit some kind of tipping point this year.”

The breakdown has resulted in unnecessary cancellations and deprived the softball team of practice time and games, parents contend. The fact that the problem primarily affects female students on softball teams also raises questions about gender disparities, Martin has argued. 

The softball and baseball fields and football stadium at Blair High in Silver Spring are on a roughly 12-acre piece of land owned and maintained by the county parks system. John Nissel, deputy director of operations at Montgomery Parks, said Blair teams use the fields free of charge and have preference over private groups when it comes to scheduling. He said his crews make every effort to keep fields open, but not at the expense of player safety.

Martin and other Blair parents are expected to meet Tuesday with park system leadership to discuss the issues.

Scott Mackenzie, whose senior daughter plays on the softball team, said he’s heard that the working relationship between Blair teams and parks crews ran smoothly for many years. Blair’s softball and baseball coaches had access to the fields and helped prepare the playing surfaces before games, and the student teams seemed to take priority over outside groups, he said. More recently, though, the situation has soured, he said.

Citing poor field conditions, parks officials are calling cancellations early in the day, hours before practices or games are scheduled, Mackenzie said. And because coaches no longer have keys to the fields or storage areas, they can’t take matters into their own hands and make the surfaces playable.

“There are times when we have a 7 o’clock game, and it’s 2 and Parks cancels the game. There’s a lot of things that can happen before 7,” he said.

Earlier this month, Mackenzie wrote a long letter to Blair Principal Renay Johnson listing grievances with the parks system. Rocks on the baseball infield, standing water and the late arrival of parks crews to unlock the fields are among the maintenance problems he documented.

“It’s starting to feel like a landlord-tenant relationship rather than a shared responsibility,” Mackenzie said.

Nissel said his crews maintain the Blair fields at a high level and do so out of the parks system operating budget. Comparing one field with another on any given day is problematic, he added, pointing to poor drainage at the Blair softball field as one reason it might be closed while other facilities stay open for athletics. His crews use their best judgment to determine whether a field can dry out in time for a game or practice, he said.

He said he believed coaches did at one point have keys to the fields, but he wasn’t sure when or why they lost access.

“It’s difficult to put players on the field when we have standing water on both the infield and the outfield,” he said.

However, Nissel said he’s open to hearing parent representatives express their frustrations.

“We’re in listening mode,” he said.

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