THE synthetic football field under my Bass casuals made me feel like I was walking on marshmallows. Yes, it was definitely soft, springy even. The faux grass surface is bright green with black specks those are the cryogenically produced rubber granules. The fields adorned with drop-shadowed yard markers and bright endzone markers in school colors.
Come up here and take a look, directed Bassett Unified School District Athletic Director William Baca. I followed him to the top of the new aluminum bleachers where I could see the scope of the new $3.4 million Bassett High School football stadium.
He wanted me to see the golden Olympic rings and the words B-A-S-S-E-T-T O-L-Y-M-P-I-A-N-S that adorned the 50-yard line.
Also, in full view was the salmon-colored polyurethane, EPDM rubber-embedded track that encircled the football/soccer field.
One needs to gain perspective when writing about million-dollar stadiums for, well, a high school whose API score is 633 (out of 1,000) with a school rank of 3 (out of 10). To be fair, Bassett schools (in unincorporated La Puente and portions of La Puente, Whittier and Industry) have improved their test scores; Torch Middle School was recently named a California Distinguished School. An enthusiastic superintendent and a new high school principal are making positive changes.
Still, the $64,000 question is: Can new athletic fields be the catalyst that produces community respect, student pride and higher academic achievement?
That remains to be seen. But one thing is certain. Bassett is not alone in using athletics to polish a schools image.
Baldwin Park High School and its cross-town rival, Sierra Vista High School, just put the finishing touches on brand new synthetic football/soccer fields. West Covina High School is about to unwrap its new state-of-the-art football/track turf. San Marinos multi-million renovation includes an artificial track. Maranatha High School in west Pasadena installed its artificial football/soccer field atop a parking garage a few years ago. Monrovia High School will be undertaking major improvements to its gym and fields thanks to a $45 million high school bond just passed by Monrovia voters.
Call it the second wave of bond dollars for schools. After new classrooms, science labs and air conditioning/heating units, schools are getting around to improving or in some cases replacing out-of-date athletic fields and stadiums.
Going, going gone is grass and dirt. Fields and tracks are being torn up and replaced with synthetic surfaces. New scoreboards and public address systems are gravy.
Some have criticized this sea change. But I think the movement is fantastic. It represents the public investing in children, which is never a bad thing and is something the San Gabriel Valley does not do enough. We could still use new libraries and new parks, more soccer and baseball/softball fields, basketball and tennis courts.
All this emphasis on recreation and sport can be part of an anti-gang strategy something very much needed today. The new tracks and fields could also raise property values and more importantly, they can raise morale of the students attending these schools.
Why should Bassett, a low-to-middle class Latino area, invest more than $3 million in a new football stadium? Well, even the question is racially offensive. When San Marino or Arcadia did it, no one blinked an eye. But suddenly, when Latino kids get a new stadium to play football and soccer on, it is wrong? No, that is a racist argument. Baldwin Park and Bassett students deserve high quality fields and facilities just as much as west Pasadena private school kids or San Marino students.
Theres evidence that kids from the Valleys blue-collar neighborhoods are holding their heads a little higher these days.
I think it is motivation, said Matthew Rodriguez, 17, a senior and varsity football linebacker for the Baldwin Park High School Braves. He also spoke of the better stance he gets on the artificial turf.
BPHS will play Sierra Vista in its annual city football classic at the Braves new stadium this year. I cant wait to play on this field. That will be a really big thing, he said.
Baca, who also teaches science and AVID (a program aimed at introducing students to college earlier through positive reinforcement) at Bassett High, said having quality athletic equipment and playing fields sends a positive message to all students. A lot of students can only tell me the college they know based on sports. They know USC, UCLA because they know of their sports (programs). Yes, academics are No. 1 but people judge us by our athletic programs.
Earlier this month, Bassett hosted an All-Star football game in which parents from all over the region came to its new field. Baca stood at the gate and overheard one woman from out-of-town say: Wow. This is a very nice field but thats good … for a private school. I interrupted her and said, Thank you, maam. But we are a public school, Baca recalled.
Theres talk that rival Bishop Amat High, the private school athletic powerhouse down the road, may get a synthetic turf football field as well, just like Bassett High Schools.