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Critical Grass

NEWS GT1502Soccer players happy to have home turf back at Depot Park

Teenagers in athletic shorts are running all over an open field on a sunny winter day, cutting and zigzagging as they kick a soccer ball up and down the 120-yard plane. The young athletes are in an all-out sprint. Their cleats dig at the green blades that blanket the ground, dislodging tiny brown particles into the air which fall neatly back into the grass-like surface. This is the artificial turf field at Depot Park, which reopened this last month after several months of disrepair followed by a 14-month closure.

The new turf is a big improvement over the one that covered the field a couple of years prior.

“It’s a complete turnaround, and it makes the practices better when people are able to keep moving with the ball instead of falling on the ground,” says Maya Goldberg, a senior with the Santa Cruz High varsity girls soccer team, which practices at Depot Park.

When it had been open previously, the artificial turf at Depot wasn’t draining water properly, which left large puddles scattered across the field after rainy days. That old turf—installed a decade ago—was falling apart prematurely, practically at the seams. The grass-like surface was turning into rugged terrain filled with lumps and divots, prompting the city of Santa Cruz to file a $1.3 million lawsuit in 2012. Then a test measuring the compression of the field found it was too firm to play on safely. That ultimately prompted Santa Cruz to close Depot in October 2013.

“Clearly the field was an utter failure,” says lawyer George Kovacevich, who’s representing the city in its legal case. He expects a settlement for the case to be finished “shortly,” with a list of defendants that includes the contractor, an architect and the turf’s manufacturer.

Even before Depot closed in 2013, places to play were in high demand. So when the popular field went out of commission, it forced teams to jump back and forth between other spaces, like Mission Hill Middle School, UCSC, Harvey West Park, Soquel High School, and Cabrillo College. Coaches and players were forced to make do.

That made it all the more exciting when the spot reopened after repairs on Dec. 9, renamed Scott Kennedy Fields. The space is now being shared by the boys and girls varsity teams for Santa Cruz High and Harbor High School, along with a few soccer leagues.

Goldberg of Santa Cruz High first began playing varsity soccer as a freshman at Depot. On Tuesday, Jan. 7, she and her fellow Cardinals won their season-opening game against Saint Francis High School back on their old home field. “It’s nice to come back to Depot for the end of my Santa Cruz High soccer career,” she says.

The field isn’t only popular for organized play, either.

After games and practices, avid fans have been lining the sidelines, balls tucked under their arms as they eagerly await pickup games. “It’s a pretty busy field already,” says parks superintendent Mauro Garcia. “They’re making up for lost time.”

Players love artificial turf, because its smooth uninterrupted surface lets the ball travel better, allowing for a faster game. The even turf is also safer, preventing against ankle injuries. City leaders love it, partly because it doesn’t need water.

Depot’s new field, named after former mayor and Resource Center for Nonviolence co-founder Scott Kennedy, has a few new aspects that make it extra special, Garcia says.

For one, it has hash marks along one side, for players to use when running sprints, and it has features painted on that allow players to run drills. The field also has markings that allow it to be divided into two smaller fields side-by-side, allowing two games or practices to happen simultaneously. On the eastern side of the park, the grass extends diagonally, leaving an extra piece of land that often went unused in the old park. This time around, the parks and recreation department put in a tiny practice field on that patch for kids. It can also be used as a warm-up spot while another game is going on.

But one of the more significant features of the new field, Garcia says, is its “crown,” or sloped surface. Like a modern-day NFL field, this soccer field’s surface curves slightly down to the sides, with the field’s highest point in the very middle. That keeps the field from flooding when it rains by allowing water to drain better. Water runs down the sides, where it avoids forming puddles and it instead percolates into the ground.

Semih Sabankaya, Santa Cruz High’s boys varsity coach, loves that the new field makes it possible to play rain or shine. He adds that he was “very depressed” during the year Santa Cruz had to endure without its most prized soccer spot. And although he’s excited to have it back, he says Santa Cruz is ready for an additional field. And he even has some tips for how Depot could be improved.

“The field is wonderful. The only thing missing—and the community will love it—is stadium lights,” says Sabankaya, who played on the original San Jose Earthquakes in the 1970s. “That will be the most used park in the whole community in a good way. It will make for a safer community. Idle minds are troubled minds. Most of the kids, when they have nothing to do, they get themselves in trouble.”

Lights may be an intriguing proposition, but they certainly aren’t anything that the city would install overnight. It just so happens that the same idea was a hot discussion item when the first Depot field was being planned out, says Garcia, and the city opted not to go in that direction. “At this point we don’t have any intention of putting lights in,” he says.

During the initial discussions, Garcia says, neighbors had concerns about the evening glare from stadium lights towering over the streets. “That was a while back. It may be in the future, but it’s too early to say,” Garcia adds about the possibility of lighting.

As for an additional field in the city, that is something on Parks and Rec’s radar, especially if the right opportunity comes along.

“We would love to get another field out there,” Garcia says, “and we’re keeping our eye on a couple grant funding options.”


PHOTO: The new and improved artificial field at Depot Park has become a favorite for weekend pickup games. CHIP SCHEUER

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