John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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It seems like spring always finds a way to sneak up on me.
One day, I’m cruising down a snow-covered run on the slopes of Steamboat Ski Area, and the next I’m standing ankle deep in the mud trying to take a picture of some rancher’s cow in a pasture.
After spending 23 winters in Steamboat Springs, you would think I’ve figured it out, but every year I’m totally caught off guard when the ski season rolls into the final weeks, the birds return to the valley and the flowers start to bloom.
There was a time when spring was a slow time in the sports department. Back in the day, I would jump in my car and head to Meeker or Rifle to cover a track meet — because it was the only game happening. The chances that the dirt track surrounding the natural grass high school athletic field was going to host a meet was about as likely as the Nuggets winning an NBA championship.
But times have changed. No, the Nuggets are not going to win a championship, but these days, the sports schedule at the high school is packed with soccer and lacrosse games and spring is one of the busiest seasons for a sports reporter in Steamboat Springs.
We still don’t host track meets, but the athletes are able to train here in the spring.
I would argue that it couldn’t happen without the artificial surface and all-weather track at the high school.
To tell you the truth, though, I wasn’t a huge fan of the field when they first built it, but it had nothing to do with the usefulness of the field.
Personally, I enjoyed photographing those late fall football games when the frozen field was covered in snow and mud. I miss the day when the field became a slippery mess that resulted in the players waging a battle in mud- and grass-stained uniforms.
I knew that when the high school started building the new artificial surface a decade ago that those days were gone.
But I also knew that the field would allow teams to be more competitive in the spring and that a new field would result in fewer cancellations and fewer frustrations for the players who came out to play.
I knew that adding the new surface to the field was the right thing to do for the young athletes who competed on teams as well as for the community as a whole.
In the years since it’s been built, the new field has allowed spring sports to flourish in the Yampa Valley.
Boys lacrosse has grown into one of the high school’s biggest sports, and the soccer and track teams get out of the gym earlier and are more competitive.
The turf field has been an undeniable success, and it’s clear that the young athletes in Steamboat have benefited.
Those athletes' success only can make me wonder if a field house at the middle school would have the same value. Only time will tell.
The truth is that without the turf field at the high school, spring wouldn’t only sneak up on teams in our valley, but chances are it would pass them by.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966