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COLUMN: Shelby wins this one

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Scrimmage underscores need to upgrade soccer facility

By John Herndon

C.J. Penny might have put a dagger through Shelby County's collective heart back on March 10.

Jacob Brown might have dominated Shelby on May 20, then came back and did it again – with a little help from Luke Hawkins – seven days later.

But you can rest assured there is one place where a 3-point shot or nasty curve ball won't make up even a smidgen of the difference between Anderson County and its northwestern neighbor. And it is less than a long fly ball from the pitching mound from which Brown and Hawkins combined to shut down Shelby in the district and regional baseball tournament finals.

We're talking about the Shelby soccer facility. Sitting right next to Shelby's baseball and softball fields, Shelby's soccer field is simply one of the best around. This is not the first time I have written about the vast differences between where the programs play and it probably won't be the last. That's because the gap between the facilities is roughly equal to the difference between I-64 and Wildcat Road.

OK, that might be a bit harsh but you get the idea.

While Shelby has a level facility, complete with beautiful grass, small grandstand and separate practice fields, Anderson's boys' and girls' soccer teams divide practice and game time on a field that is about 10 yards shorter and 20 yards narrower than a regulation field.

(The Anderson field is acceptable under National Federation for High Schools rules, but is smaller than the optimum size.)

The Anderson field also has a very high crown in the center, making ball handling and passing very difficult.

“Other coaches hate our field,” Anderson girls' soccer coach Jason Earnest said.

But those are not the main issues. Even with its problems, the Anderson field is not the worst in the state. It is far from the best, but the great teams find ways to overcome.

The real problem is two teams dividing one place for game and practice time. It is compounded by a grass surface that, unlike a hardwood floor, is easily damaged when over-used. By halfway through the season, the field is no longer in decent condition, putting the Anderson teams on a field that is sub-standard at best, dangerous at worst.

This year, there was an attempt to make things better by reseeding the current field, which is located inside the track behind what is now the high school annex. But, in order to let the new grass grow more, practices were held in other spots, including the school's baseball field.

The teams have practiced on the softball outfield too. It is not uncommon to see bad hops in the spring, a result of fall soccer – and occasionally, football – practices on a field not designed for it.

“When you do that, you hurt everyone,” Earnest said Saturday, moments after his team had scrimmaged South Oldham on the Shelby pitch. “It is not good for our team or the boys' team. It's not good for the other fields either.”

There's no question that it is a bad situation for soccer. It doesn't matter if soccer is your bag of tea or not. The bottom line is that if you are fielding a team, then you just need to do things right.

I am an Anderson County fan and the fact that the Board of Education sanctioned the sport more than 20 years ago also requires that Anderson County kids deserve adequate facilities. With all the other improvements going on at the high school, this is one that is long overdue.

From this corner, it would have been nice to have some sort of first-rate complex at Community Park but the existing fields there are too small and have some of their own problems.

Earnest believes the solution is not quite as complicated as it seems.

“We really need a practice field. We could have a practice field at at the (present) game field and upgrade the middle school field into a really nice facility.”

Whether or not that is imminently possible, I have no idea. What I do know, though, is that Anderson County's soccer facilities have long lagged behind others in the area. It's long past time for an upgrade.

After all, if Shelby County was able to do it, why can't Anderson do the same?

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.