By Tom Johnson & Becki Creed
George Mason High School is a nationally ranked school academically that also offers a multitude of clubs and a variety of JV and varsity-level sports. We have a proud tradition of fielding competitive teams despite our small student-body size. We hope to continue this tradition, but need community support.
A proposal has been floated to reduce costs for the Mason Campus redevelopment project by eliminating certain athletic facilities. While we understand the need to reduce the financial burden of the project, we consider slashing funds for athletic facilities to be short sighted. Compared to other Bull Run District high schools, the indoor and outdoor athletic facilities at Mason are inferior. Particularly worrisome is the plan not to include any gyms at the new school due to the misconception that we already have a competition gym at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School (MEHMS). The reality is that the gym at MEHMS does not meet the standards of a competition gym. Not only does Mason need a competition gym that meets Virginia High School League (VHSL) standards, it needs a space to assemble its entire student body (up to 1,500 students) which would allow Mason to host graduation onsite.
Below is a list of needs that will put our indoor and outdoor athletic facilities on par with those of our competitors:
• A true Competition Gym
• An Auxiliary Gym for basketball practices, rec basketball games, and many other activities.
• A room for wrestling, which can also be used for PE, cheer, and tumbling. Wrestling currently practices at MEHMS without the extra padding needed for safety. The $8,000 wrestling/cheerleading mats are currently stored on the floor of the Aux gym and are damaged by people climbing/sitting on them. Due to the size and weight of the wrestling mats, they cannot be moved over to MEHMS.
• Indoor cages for baseball/softball
• A weight room. The current weight room has old, unsafe equipment and its capacity is 15. This is a safety issue as P.E. classes and sports teams that use it are over capacity.
• Turf practice field. We currently use an open grass space for sports practices, unless it is raining.
• Six tennis courts. Rental space for our team will cost Mason $3,140 this spring.
MEHMS’s gym falls short of VHSL competition gym standards in the following ways: Seating capacity is 1,000 (VHSL = 1,500); the basketball court is too short (84’ vs 94’); and the ceiling is too low (VHSL = 25’ high). Other problems with the MEHMS gym are that the entrances open directly onto the court instead of the side (a safety/security issue); the training room is at Mason so personnel have to go over to Mason if there is a serious injury (e.g. one requiring crutches); the Athletic Director’s office is at Mason, so there are no supplies for repair/maintenance at MEHMS; the bathroom is upstairs, which presents an ADA accessibility issue; and there need to be four locker rooms (two each for boys and girls for home and visiting teams). Lastly, scheduling conflicts with MEHMS often lead to our athletes losing practice time and games having to be rescheduled.
Mason athletic facilities are used not only by George Mason High School and MEHMS students, but also by the community at large. Recreation leagues currently use the facilities for basketball, soccer, lacrosse, flag football, football, baseball, softball, and summer camps. The Mason facilities are in almost constant use over the summer for camps, and in use until 10pm most nights throughout the year. Recreation & Parks camps and activities generate $500,000 in revenue annually for the City of Falls Church, while FCCPS receives $143,000 in rental revenue each year from the City. Knowing the extent to which the greater community uses these facilities, we are hopeful that you will see the value of investing in space that benefits so many.
Everyone agrees that we need to build the best school we can with the funds available. The motto at Mason is “excel in mind, body and character.” Over half the students at Mason participate in athletics. We understand that the cost of these athletic facilities is a big ticket item and there is a natural desire to slash the big ticket items. The current high school is over 60 years old, however, and the new school is expected to last just as long; therefore, it is common sense to build a school that fits the needs of our students and our community for that length of time or longer. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we need the School Board and City Council to make the best decision for our students and the entire community.
>Tom Johnson and Becki Creed are members of the George Mason High School Athletic Boosters Association board.