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If they build it, will they come?

ASHLAND — About 12 years ago, Brad Roupp sat in the stands with the rest of the parents at Mel Ingram Field in Grants Pass and watched his daughter Jamie play a soccer game.

Roupp, who would later coach the Ashland High boys soccer team to a Class 5A state runner-up showing in 2008, knew that the field used by Grants Pass High School for football and soccer was only 60 yards wide — the AHS girls play on a 70-yard wide field at North Mountain Park — and wondered to what degree its narrow dimensions would affect the flow of the game. The best way to do so, he figured, was to track how often the ball sailed out of play.

So Roupp, pencil and paper in hand, decided to mark down every throw-in, a stoppage in action that’s required every time a ball goes out of bounds on the side. By halftime, even he was surprised by the tally: Ashland and Grants Pass had already combined for for 100 throw-ins, averaging a little more than two per minute. Broken down further, that means that if each of those throw-ins required five seconds to set up and execute, players spent eight minutes of that 40-minute first half throwing soccer balls instead of kicking them.

“I’m not saying that’s going to happen every time on a 60-yard wide field,” Roupp said. “But the fact is, it changes the game tremendously.”

To understand the frustration felt by the spectators and players on hand that day in Grants Pass is to grasp the disapproval with which the Ashland soccer community views the plans currently being considered to replace the grass at Walter A. Phillips Field. Those plans, which have yet to be approved by the school board and superintendent Jay Hummel, call for a synthetic, multi-use football and soccer field 120 yards long by 60 yards wide. To install a field just a few yards wider than that would require the relocation of the visitors' bleachers, a move that would likely increase the project's price tag significantly since those bleachers sit on a concrete footing that would need to be demolished.

What happens next — possibly as soon as July 27, when the school board is tentatively scheduled to meet again — may determine whether or not Ashland High’s boys and girls soccer teams use the new field, which will cost at least an estimated $850,000, once it’s completed, or continue to play at their current home fields at Ashland Middle School and North Mountain. Three possible outcomes are:

• The board will decide that the cost of moving the bleachers on the visitors’ side is not worth the extra five to 10 yards gained and vote to begin installing the 120x60 field which has already been priced.

• The board will decide to wait until donations can fund the cost of a field that’s at least 65 yards wide, or …

• Engineers will come back with an option that includes a slightly wider — say 63 yards — field, and the board will move ahead with plans to install that.

When asked to name the minimum width the AHS varsity soccer teams would consider playing on, Ashland Soccer Club president Chris Annen said 70 yards wide is ideal. At the last school board meeting July 1, two former AHS boys soccer players and one current player explained to the board why it matters.

“We’ve played on 60-yard wide fields at Crater and Roseburg,” former Grizzly Nick Chouard said, “and those are always our worst games of the season because we just don’t have the space to play the game we’ve been taught to play. … I think that if we’re going to put the money forward and if we’re going to make this project happen, it needs to be something that can include more sports than just football. And if it’s only 60 yards wide soccer won’t be able to be included.”

Since the goal box is 18 yards wide and cannot be altered, Annen added, the narrower the field the less room the attacking team has to execute the fundamentals. Suddenly, “the beautiful game" is not so pretty.

“It limits the capability for the style of play, attacking,” he said. “Also on throw-ins, on smaller-sized fields, it changes strategies to something that is not complementary to the sport.”

The soccer club, he said, is doing what it can to avoid that.

“Since that (July 1) board meeting, the soccer community has been heavily involved in finding solutions to assist,” Annen said. “We actually have a board meeting tonight (Thusday) to discuss what we can provide toward fundraising for the field. And we’ve also been in contact with the school board on a number of different suggestions and potential solutions on closing any financial gap.”

How big that gap is has yet to be determined with any precision, but AHS athletic director Karl Kemper said during the board meeting that it will likely be substantial.

“Estimates from architects initially out of the gate is that it would be a $200,000 to $250,000 difference to make the renovations needed to make it a full-size soccer field,” he said.

If the district can make it work, Annen says it will benefit more than just the local youth soccer players. Ashland’s adult soccer league included 12 teams last season, each with a minimum of eight players for a total of between 80 and 110 players.

“From the soccer club’s perspective, we need more fields,” Annen said, “and this would be a huge benefit for the soccer community overall, to have another 65-plus-yard wide soccer field to use.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com

Many in the Ashland soccer community disapprove of plans currently being considered to replace the grass at Walter A. Phillips Field. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.