As the calendar turns to July, Forest Lake athletes will be working hard on their offseason training, even as they find time to enjoy their summer vacations. Some will be entertaining dreams of making a varsity squad for the first time. Others will be confident in making a return to that level for the second, third or fourth year in a row.
When they return to school and begin their seasons in earnest, however, some of them already know they will not be playing in a varsity-level facility.
“We have nine varsity teams whose home facilities are inadequate,” Forest Lake activities director Aaron Forsythe said.
While the athletes train, the Forest Lake Area School Board is considering a bond of up to $9 million that would go toward improving athletic facilities at the high school. The bond would need to be approved by a community vote; if and when the question will be on a ballot has not yet been determined. A task force recently surveyed the community to gauge interest and help the School Board make its decision.
Forest Lake athletes, fans and boosters likely do not need to be told which facilities need improving. The one impacting the most athletes is the main field, which supports the football, boys and girls soccer, and boys and girls lacrosse programs.
At home, Ranger athletes must contend not only with their opponents, but also with the pastoral quality of the field, which features uneven footing and has a tendency to kick up divots. On the road, the Rangers often play on high-quality grass fields or on artificial turf.
The tennis courts are another area of need. During a varsity contest at Forest Lake, the No. 1 and No. 2 singles and doubles matches are played on the south courts, which have a smooth, modern surface. The No. 3 singles and doubles and No. 4 singles players are left to compete on the lunar-like surface of the north courts, which is pocked with numerous cracks and craters.
“At our conference meeting, some of the other coaches said (that Forest Lake) isn’t going to get home matches,” said Violet Shortly, head coach of the boys and girls tennis programs. “In practice, if you have 80 kids out and can only use four courts, it’s not productive; it’s a scheduling nightmare.”
Improvements to the tennis courts would be a boon to more than just the Ranger athletes, Shortly noted.
“Tennis is a lifetime sport,” she said. “We could hold community tournaments.”
“I see communities with lower population that have much better tennis courts than we have,” Shortly added.
The track at the high school would likely also be a target for improvement. The surface is torn and uneven in places, and the lane lines and other markings have faded.
Kierstin Nygaard, a co-head coach of the girls track team, said the students deserve to have the track resurfaced.
“With our programs being as successful as they are, we deserve to be able to train on an adequate facility,” Nygaard said.
The varsity and junior high squads must train together on the track at Century, leading to overcrowding.
Additionally, no recent track and field schedule has included a home meet for the Ranger programs. The boys team formerly hosted a “jamboree” meet and a relays meet every year, but both events were last held in 2000. The boys last competed at home in a season-opening dual meet in 2001.
The girls team continued hosting an annual invitational meet until 2005.
Nygaard, who competed as a thrower for the Rangers before becoming the head coach, said, “I’ve never competed in or coached a meet at the high school, which is crazy.”
The Forest Lake boys and girls track teams sent 17 athletes to the state meet this season. A modern surface would allow the team not only to host regular-season meets, but as one of the most competitive teams in Section 7AA, would likely put the school in the running to host the sectional championships as well.
“We’d love to host track meets and show the other schools in the conference and the section the facilities we have,” Nygaard said. “Forest Lake would be a great place to host track meets.”
The School Board has until Aug. 25 to decide whether to put the bond question to the community on a November ballot. It may also defer the question until the spring of 2018 or later.
Forsythe noted that any repairs and improvements wouldn’t be flashy; they’d only put the Forest Lake facilities on par with those of conference and sectional rivals.
“These are fixes that would simply get us up to pace with our surrounding school districts and the high schools we compete against,” he said. “It would be a boost to those nine programs, and the tennis courts and the track could be used by the community as well.”