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Some athletes at Lafayette High School skip the sidewalk along Longhill Road and take a worn path through a ravine to travel to the Williamsburg Indoor Sports Complex for practice.
Williamsburg-James City County School Board member Sandy Young (Berkeley) joined three Lafayette students Monday afternoon tread the path. When she returned, she said she was glad she wore rain boots, which were caked with mud from the route.
“It’s pretty steep. There are no steps of any kind,” Young said of the descent. “It’s just a rough trail.”
A walkway to WISC is one of three capital improvements members of the LHS Athletics Booster Club advocated for last year. All members of the WJCC School Board and some members of the James City County Board of Supervisors toured the school Monday to see the need and hear from coaches and student-athletes.
“Nothing tells a story like coming here,” said Kathy Woollum, president of the booster club. “We just want everyone to have a shared perspective. That’s all we’re asking for.”
The booster club successfully campaigned for three items to be added to the CIP they believe would benefit athletes at Lafayette and address space constraints – the walkway, an auxiliary gym and lighting on the practice field.
Tour groups went into the school’s auditorium, gymnasium, weight room and wrestling room and then outside to see a multi-use field and the path entrance.
Volleyball coach Keith Nowadly and Nancy Scott, a health and physical education teacher, showed groups Lafayette’s gymnasium and explained that only one team can practice in there at a time, as the room cannot be evenly split.
Some teams hold practices at the WISC while others go to the former James Blair Middle School, which is set to be demolished this summer.
“We’re really concerned [demolishing] James Blair is going to devastate our sports program,” Nowadly said. “I’m just concerned there wasn’t some forethought given to the sports usage of that gym.”
When JCC Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman John McGlennon (Roberts) asked Scott how an auxiliary gym would solve the problem, her answer was simple – students would be able to stay in the building.
“That’s so key to some of this,” Scott said, adding athletes are able to attend study hall or see the athletic trainer if practice is held at school. Otherwise, there is not enough time to get help before catching a bus to James Blair.
A room that was once labeled on school maps as the “auxiliary gym” now functions as the weight room. Andy Linn, Lafayette football coach and a health and physical education teacher, said the room is not the right dimensions for a basketball court.
The room is 52 feet wide and 68 feet long, but it would need to be at least 50 feet wide and 84 feet long for a basketball court.
“Your basketball team should never have to leave your building to practice, but [Lafayette students] do – they go to James Blair,” Linn said.
The school’s wrestling and competition cheer teams practice in the same space in Building 900. Cheerleading coach Channing Wynne said it is very difficult to teach and execute cheer stunts in the room because the ceiling is too low.
“We’re doing such a modified practice it’s almost pointless,” Wynne said.
Senior Branisha Meekins, a member of the competition cheer team, said it’s “a fight” to get access to the gym for practice.
“If we do it outside and a girl hits the ground, we’re done,” Meekins said.
As a result, the team does not feel “as prepared” as it would like before competing, Meekins said, and yet it continues to excel – Wynne said the team has qualified for state competitions four years in a row.
Athletes are not the only ones feeling the squeeze; the theater department is, too.
For example, theater director Suzan McCorry currently uses space in the wrestling team’s Building 900 room to store materials for plays and musicals.
Some costumes are kept in dressing rooms, but many outfits and set pieces are stored in the homes and cars of theater parents, McCorry said.
“Several parents are building and storing things in their garages,” McCorry said.
School board members said they appreciated the tour and seeing the facilities. After the tour, Young said a full gymnasium might be the solution, rather than an auxiliary gym.
Holly Taylor, the Stonehouse School Board representative, said it was a great opportunity to see the areas of improvement community members have identified.
“Safety needs to be our primary concern,” Taylor said.
Sue Sadler, the Stonehouse representative on the Board of Supervisors, said the needs at Lafayette should to be taken into account when discussing plans to build the fourth middle school.
“I think, for me, we need to seriously take a good hard look at what we’re going to embark upon at James Blair and address the real needs at Lafayette,” Sadler said.
Supervisor Ruth Larson (Berkeley) said the tour emphasized the need for a “true” athletics facility study, a recommendation she first made as the Berkeley District School Board member last year.
“It’s a tough balancing act. There are things that we put off on [the School Board and the Board of Supervisors] during the economic downturn,” Larson said. “Now as we find ourselves crawling out of that, how are we going to address these needs and how are we going to prioritize them?”
The JCC Planning Commission’s Policy Committee ordered the auxiliary gym No. 14 and the walkway No. 15 in its recommended ranking of 15 funding requests for the upcoming five-year Capital Improvement Plan.