Rain and mud may be a bothersome at best to most but it can be downright devastating to many. Just ask the students involved in athletics at Malibu High School.
In an un-agendized opening to a Thursday, February 7 SMMUSD board meeting, several public speakers took to the dais to express their frustrations to the board about unusable athletic fields at Malibu High School.
Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati opened the evening with statements seemingly prepared for the frustration that would follow.
Drati thanked athletes from Malibu High, expressing his regret for the continued challenges the school continues to face in the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire.
After cleaning the school’s facilities and assuring communities the sites were safe, a rainy season caused heavy mudflow. This mudflow engulfed much of the school’s baseball field, tennis courts and track field, with cleaning efforts momentarily halted.
Drati explained that when cleaning the mud, rain would cause more mudflow, wiping out previous cleaning attempts. To curtail this and solve the problem, Drati says he’s held talks with engineers and the City of Malibu to create a long-term plan to prevent mudslide damage in the future and create short-term plans to get kids playing sports on their respective sports’ fields.
“Direction has been given,” Darti said. “I can’t tell you when it’s going to open up, but you’ll be apart of the conversation. Our commitment is to get [the sports fields] opened up as fast as possible.”
Drati said that in the meantime if games are scheduled and the school site is still struggling with mud, the district will “do what we can to get you a place to play.”
Though polite in their comments, students and coaches alike were understandably upset.
Speaking in front of a sea of Malibu High shirts and jerseys, public speaker Melanie Goudzwaard thanked Drati for his words — noting she was told that the district was just halting mud clean up — and expressed her concerns.
“The softball girls are practicing on the football field. Our next game is next Tuesday. We have no infield, they can do nothing more than throw the ball and run around the track. This is absolutely unacceptable when we play in a league that is competitive. Our students have gone through too much already … athletics are important for stability right now … we don’t want athletics to be ignored.”
She went on to thank the district for certain measures during Woolsey such as therapy dogs and later proposed sandbags to divert mudflow.
She expressed confusion as to where the teams should go to play or practice, noting Samohi or other SMMUSD schools are too far to practice. “There’s no easy fix and we understand it’s no one’s fault but a solution needs to be found.”
Amelia Goudzwaard spoke next, discussing how important softball had been to her life, even through the Woolsey Fire. She expressed how upsetting conditions were, practicing softball on “just a grassy area”, urging SMMUSD board to do what they can.
Billy Ashley, MHS baseball coach, said it took two storms before precautions were being taken to prevent mud. “To see that, it shows me there was no professional consultation … two more storms and we’re right back to where we are now.”
Many public speakers followed, expressing the same frustrations.
Board member Jon Kean wondered aloud if SMMUSD could work with Pepperdine, private schools, or nearby sites to “help a community that needs help. This is about letting students get their season in.” Kean also questioned when a timeline could be set. “Let’s do what we can. When to expect short term plans, long term, there’s got to be something out there.”
Several board members offered to personally volunteer with moving sandbags to divert mudflow.
Board members echoed Kean’s remarks with Craig Foster asked if the district’s highest priority is getting the fields clean and keeping them clear right away due to difficulties in finding off-site practice and playing fields. Drati answered, “Yes.”
Drati told board members he’d release a full report of previous prevention efforts and what will happen moving forward.