Flooding washes up issues at Witter Field


Not fall season, not winter season, but rain season. A sea of Piedmont community members arrive at Witter Field carrying thin, wooden boards tucked tightly under their arms to participate in the field’s most notorious winter activity. Their feet splash as they run through the rain-soaked turf, set down their boards and glide through the bed of water. The riders dip and curve, navigating around dry patches and bubbling air pockets, popping out of the field’s thick rain coating.IMG_20170120_092141

Renowned throughout Piedmont for its flooding capabilities, Witter Field fills with water almost each time it rains, creating a wide, lake-like abyss.

“It’s more like Lake Witter instead of Witter Field,” athletic director Victor Acuña said.

Even though the field officially shuts down in these circumstances, community members often still go to play games, run, splash and most famously, skimboard, in the unique rain-soaked field.

“I went to run across the field with a friend, and we splashed in the deepwater,” junior Sofia Barker said.

Skimboarders partake in one of the most highly anticipated activities that can be witnessed at the flooded field. This acclaimed activity typically occurs after three to five hours of heavy rain, because of the inadequacy of the field’s drainage system, Acuña said.

“The drainage underneath the field is not setup to handle that much water, so that’s why it floods,” Acuña said.

Flooding shortens the field’s lifespan, since the turf is not meant to hold the water, Acuña said.

“The amount of water that [Witter Field] is trying to hold right now is actually causing some bubbling on the turf,” Acuña said. “The water is looking for the path of least resistance to get out and as it’s coming up, and since there’s so much water, it’s pushing turf. When that turf comes up, the rubber pellets that provide the base of that turf get pushed out, creating a bubble.”

Acuña said that those bubbles can be fixed by heavy duty vibrating roller, but the bigger concern is the safety issues that they create.

“[Those bubbles] are actually more of a safety concern for me than the water,” Acuña said.  “[The bubbles] change the footing for the athletes, since they are going from a flat surface to now stepping on a bumpy surface.”

Not only the actual water, but also the activities that the flooding brings, negatively impact its condition, Acuña said.

“I think the skimboards that jam into the turf or tear into the turf create a problem for [the school],” Acuña said. “It’s one thing to get rid of the water, but then there’s a hole in the turf because a skimboard hit it.”

Administrators, coaches, and janitors often kick off skimboarders and other individuals when they are on Witter Field while it is flooded. The freshman skimboarder said that threats to call the police often cause him and his friends to leave the field.

These precautions are taken for safety, because standing water causes the footing of the field to become very slippery, which causes even sports events and practices to be canceled, Acuña said.

“[The school’s] first and foremost concern is safety, so anytime that we think that the field is unsafe, and therefore unplayable, practices are canceled, and games are postponed and rescheduled,” Acuña said.

Flooding greatly affects winter sports played on Witter Field, sophomore soccer player Clara Kochendoerfer said.

“It is frustrating because it’s supposed to be an all weather field, but it floods even when it doesn’t rain very hard,” Kochendoerfer said. “[The soccer team] won’t be able to perform as well because we’re not getting the practice that we need and the repetition to build as a team.”

However, the soccer teams and skimboarders may not have to worry about being kicked off the field anymore because Acuña said that he and the director of facilities for PUSD, Pete Palmer, are working with the hydrologist and civil engineer who fixed the same drainage issues at Memorial Stadium at the University of California Berkeley. In the near future, the school plans to fix the drainage issues at the field, so the problems that arise from the flooding can end.

If the field were to be fixed, the controversial, rainy-day pastime of skimboarding would be forced to end, which would be a loss for many since activities in Piedmont while it is raining are limited, the freshman skimboarder said.

“I hope that [the school] understands that [skimboarders] are only trying to have fun and be outside on a rainy day,” the senior skimboarder said.