Pinelands Football, Track Teams Lose Home Field

Hit the Road, ’Cats: Field Renovation Bars Use in 2018
Mar 07, 2018

The Pinelands Regional High School Wildcat football team will be playing every one of its games on the road this fall, and the boys and girls track teams will host no home meets this spring.

In January 2017 voters approved, on the second try, a three-question package of referendum questions totaling $53 million. Question 3 was far and away the smallest. It was for a relatively mere $1,943,750, of which the state would chip in 19 percent. The money would be used to update the district’s outdoor sporting facilities, including a new grass football field and the resurfacing of the district’s tennis courts along with a handful of other, smaller projects.

This reporter, however, doesn’t remember the public being told the football field and track projects would necessitate its track and field teams and football teams to become road warriors for a season. The closures were announced at Monday evening’s workshop session of the Pinelands Regional Board of Education.

The track and field and football squads will be the only district athletic teams affected by the work at the football/track stadium. All other district fields will continue to be open and used. But the closing could be devastating to the aforementioned teams.

It is one thing for a track team to have to compete on the road. After all, 1,600 meters is 1,600 meters and the 100 hurdles is the 100 hurdles, no matter where they are run, meaning the home advantage is probably smaller than in many other sports. But where will the Pinelands track teams practice?

One resident at Monday’s meeting stepped up to the microphone to suggest the district hold off on the track repairs until summer. The district’s students and especially its athletes, he said, have been moved around enough this year due to the high school being closed from October through the middle of January. Give them a break, he said.

But board member Thomas D. Williams Jr., who represents Bass River Township, said the track and football field project was already underway.

As for the Pinelands football program, practice won’t be a problem. The practice fields will still be available for use. But an all-road schedule could be yet another handicap for a program that looked promising just two seasons ago.

When Brian Wilkinson took over as the varsity head coach before the 2013 season, the team had suffered through a few miserable seasons, losing 21 straight games and not posting a single win in either 2011 or 2012. Wilkinson slowly but surely built the program back up. In 2013, it finally had a win, if only one. In 2014, the varsity team had two wins, although one came from a forfeit of a previously lost game. The next year the Wildcats legitimately won two games, and in 2016 the team went 4-6, with one loss coming in overtime and another in the game’s final seconds when a 42-yard field goal attempt fell short.

But in the spring of 2017, despite the pleas of many his players, Wilkinson was one of six district teachers laid off because of a falling enrollment. Not to disparage the new head coach, Matt Fuller (who previously coached the high school girls track team), who stepped into an untenable situation, the ’Cats slipped to 2-8 last fall.

Now the team will have to play a season on the road in a sport where home field advantage is definitely significant.

There are a couple of other football field stories to follow as the year rolls on.

One: Will the Class of 2018’s graduation be forced inside because of the stadium work?

Two: Can a new grass football field take hold at Pinelands?

The district’s athletic fields have been overrun by Canada geese for years, leading to many complaints about their droppings. What do Canada geese eat? Mostly grasses. The battles to keep the geese away from a fresh field of succulent young grass should prove interesting, exhausting and perhaps futile.

— Rick Mellerup

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