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$5 million later, school still has 80-yard football field

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

When is a multimillion dollar development project for a high school athletics complex not a good thing? When the renovations still won't bring it's artificial turf surface to 100 yards, meaning that the school's football, soccer and lacrosse teams will still have to play all of their home games on the road.

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Herbert H. Lehman High football

Herbert H. Lehman High football

That's the case at Herbert H. Lehman (N.Y.) High in the Bronx, which has never had a full-size athletics field on site. Prep Rally wrote about how Lehman has long been forced into perpetual road warrior status in September, and mentioned there was some optimism about a $5 million investment plan (at the time only $2.8 million had been set aside, an amount which was increased to $5 million in later meetings) to upgrade the school's athletic facilities and create a field long enough to host a home football game for the first time ever.

Evidently that optimism was sadly unfounded, with ongoing renovations scheduled to finish in September and -- you guessed it -- maintain an 80-yard playing surface that will ensure Lehman's football, soccer and lacrosse teams continue to play all their games on the road.

Now the New York Times and a handful of other New York-based sources are reporting that Lehman's football coaches, players and parents are considering drastic measures, with a distinct possibility of a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to force it to adjust renovation plans.

"I'm really shocked that they would really say, 'All right, we gave them $5 million to redo their field and there's absolutely no way any of that money can be used to make sure that every sports team can use the field,'" Lehman football coach Michael Saunds told the Times. "That's shocking."

Yet, as shocking as the proposed renovations may be, they pale in comparison to the utter lack of reliable information the New York City Department of Education used when trying to discern whether -- or even, how -- to acquire additional land adjacent to the school's existing athletic facilities that would allow Lehman to expand its field. The Times reported that the Department of Education had long held that the United States Corps of Engineers owned the land next to the school, only to be told starting in November (and repeatedly since) that the Corps does not own any land around the school whatsoever.

"We don't own property out there," [Army Corps of Engineers New York district chief of real estate Noreen] Dresser said in a telephone interview. "I don't know how that got out there. Have the city call me because it's news to me."

What does all this mean? Essentially, it means that the worst-case scenario has unfolded for Lehman High: A multimillion dollar renovation is ongoing that will add lights for night games, bleachers for fans, a brand new turf surface … and a shocking lack of 20 yards that will ensure that no home games are played at Lehman High for years to come. Once the construction is complete, the odds of Lehman receiving additional funding to acquire adjacent property and then add more field surface would seem to be remote at best.

And all of that is robbing Saunds and his program of the emotional connection that he describes below:

"It's hard to explain the feeling of having your own home," Saunds told the Times. "You have a sense of people have to come to you. Your fans are able to know you're in one central location. Kids in the neighborhood can look at the field and say, 'I want to play there; I want to play for a Lehman team.'"

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