There is no home-field advantage for West High's girls soccer team.
The team for years has played at a nearby park and this year at a former West track and field area. Rainy fall days left the girls kicking around in knee-deep mud where shotput concrete once lay, risking injury. Sometimes they were forced to cancel or transfer games."The girls feel left out," said girls soccer coach Gabriel Bran, adding his team, for the first time in recent history, has risen from a .500-ball club. "They feel they're the most winning team here and get no recognition."
It is unclear whether the situation boils down to a Title IX, or equal access, issue. The boys soccer team uses the football field in the spring. Girls soccer is played in the fall, when the gridiron is in use.
Either way, a new soccer field could sprout up, thanks to a vote by the Salt Lake City Board of Education. The board approved West's use of four acres of district property across 300 West, where the Horace Mann Building stands. The building, which housed West while its school was remodeled, will be razed by summer.
A soccer field is West Community Council's top priority for the parcel, a move welcomed by athletes.
"We never knew where we would play each day," senior soccer player Melissa Christensen told the school board of current conditions. "It's hard on the students and the coaches."
But West is not alone in using off-campus athletics facilities.
Highland High soccer plays at nearby Highland Park Elementary School; baseball diamonds are at Sugarhouse Park. Highland and East High swim teams use Steiner Aquatic Center. East, whose new building is less than a year old, is building a campus soccer and softball field, though smaller than average.
The three Salt Lake high schools are landlocked and, with East and West erected more than 80 years ago and Highland built more than 40 years ago, they don't have the athletic facilities newer schools do.
"You're always in a position of wishing you had better and more. But our students do very well with facilities we do have," said Highland assistant principal Mary Petersen.
West, however, has less acreage than its district counterparts. East and Highland have 32-acre campuses; West's is 28 acres, including the new lot.
"No one was aware of the acreage difference until the board asked for it," school board President Karen Derrick, a West High parent, said of an analysis.
"When one high school perceives one has more than it does, there's always a question of equity," she said. "We are concerned not only with the legal aspects but that we have facilities for kids to play sports."
A West Community Council memo-randum and priorities list states facilities are inadequate for the school's 1,500 physical education students.
Softball and baseball fields overlap. The tennis courts need locking gates plus an additional court is needed to host matches. The new property will need movable bleachers and restrooms.
"You want to do your things at home. West High has been spread out all over the place," said West volleyball coach Kristy Proesch, a former softball coach who successfully fought to secure a home field for her team.
The community council is to work with district officials in determining how the new land will be used.
In the past, girls soccer played at Riverside Park a few miles away, which was not reserved this year. Travel was problematic, as several players did not have driver's licenses and buses often were late or in use for other activities, Bran said. The field was bumpy, putting girls at risk for injury.
"The way you practice is the way you play," he said. "If you don't have the proper facilities, practice will be good but not the best, and so the team is good but not the best that it could be."