The Riley Hill Eagles youth football and cheer program didn’t have a home field on which to host its first two games of the fall season, and still hadn’t secured one as of Thursday.
The program’s director, Steven Perry, says he might have had a better chance finding an alternative home site had East Wake High School officials responded to his efforts to contact them over a two-month span he said he waited to hear from school officials.
He also claims it took more than a month for Wake County Public Schools to deny his formal request to rent the field, and that he learned that only after calling the school system’s Community Use office, which handles such requests.
“For the players, it’s not as much being upset as it is disappointed because these are the same high schools that are going to ask these kids to come play for them,” Perry said.
The Eagles had called the East Wake field home since the team’s establishment in the East Wake Football League in 2009. The program attempted to relocate to Rolesville High School this season, but when that didn’t pan out the team sought to resume its tenure in Wendell.
Perry said he tried to take the same steps to secure the field this summer that he had in past years – touching base with school leaders to gain general approval before submitting a formal application to the Community Use office.
He said he began calling East Wake Athletic Director Jon Hasbrouck in June and when his calls weren’t returned he stopped by the school and left messages that also went unanswered.
“When I didn’t hear from the school this year, I went on and submitted the application anyway, on July 17,” he said.
East Wake’s new Principal Stacey Alston on Wednesday disputed the amount of time Perry said passed without a response. He also cited significant changes that took place at the school since last year.
“We went through a transition this summer. The (school-level) administrators over the Community Use were no longer here,” Alston said. “There was never a long period of time where there wasn’t a response.
“I’ve directed everyone to do everything through Community Use. If I’m following board policy, people may be upset because there’s a paradigm shift, there, but I’m following board policy. It’s board policy for a reason.”
Lisa Luten, communication director for Wake County Public Schools, said in an email that “the process to rent school facilities goes through our Community Use program, not our schools,” although she said schools do provide input into the decision.
Alston’s input was requested by the Community Use office regarding Riley Hill’s use of the field. He said he met with division officials and walked them around the campus to show them several concerns he had about its facilities, including the football field and a leaky roof in the gym.
Perry said when he called to check on the status of his application on Aug. 26, a Community Use spokesperson told him they had just found out themselves that East Wake had denied the request. Perry met with Alston later that week and Alston said the field was in poor condition and couldn’t tolerate additional use.
“(Alston) said the field itself is in bad shape, that they weren’t going to allow anyone else to use it and that they were going to limit the amount of time even (East Wake) kids can use the field,” Perry said.
Alston described the condition of the field as an episode of crabgrass eradication gone wrong.
“Crabgrass was in the middle of the field and as soon as we (sprayed) it, we got a mighty drought,” he said. “While watering the grass helps some, it still left massive bald spots. Grass is starting to spread again, but there are some bald spots where it’s just dirt.”
Perry said he is most bothered that, despite Alston telling him no one else is allowed to use the East Wake field, Zebulon Middle School had night games scheduled for Oct. 7 and Nov. 4 at the high school. Those games, however, were relocated to East Wake at the start of the school year to limit the number of home games for the middle school as it faced an uncertain completion date on drainage and grading work to its field, according to ZMS football coach Mike Murray.
Alston on Wednesday said it was his understanding the middle school has now been cleared to resume play on its field earlier. He said it was his understanding the only game ZMS will now play at East Wake High is the Cougars’ Nov. 4 game against East Wake Middle.
Home field matters
The Riley Hill Pee Wees won the EWFL Super Bowl in 2013 and its Mighty Mites were runners up last season, when Riley Hill hosted Super Bowl Saturday for the entire league at East Wake High.
The program has a home practice field in Riley Hill, but there’s no lighting, no scoreboard and not enough space for parking for the site to host Saturday games.
Without a home field, where the program can charge $5 per adult and $2 per school-age child in admissions, plus concessions, Riley Hill loses its main source of revenue.
“Right now, we have enough equipment to supply the kids this season,” Perry said. “Each year equipment gets lost or damaged and we have to purchase more for the following season. At this point, we’re not sure how we’ll do that, because we don’t have any home games to generate revenue to make those purchases.”
Adapting to change
The season was supposed to begin with two home games for Riley Hill, against Wake Forest on Sept. 12 and against Fuquay-Varina Sept. 19.
“Basically, I called the directors of the programs we were supposed to host and asked them if we could use their fields and turn it into a home game for them, and they accepted,” Perry said.
Both of those games still had to be approved by the hosting schools (Wake Forest Middle and Fuquay-Varina High) and officially cleared by the school system’s Community Use office, Perry said.
“They were able to get it done in a week, and we waited over two months (for East Wake),” Perry said.
The team’s Sept. 26 contest at Louisburg began two weekends of away games, but the Eagles are on the schedule to host two more games this season, on Oct. 10 and Oct. 17.
“I’m able to take a week or so off as far as the stress levels and where my kids are going to play, but by the end of next week my stress levels will go back up,” Perry said.
Riley Hill was also supposed to be one of the two host teams for the second round of the EWFL playoffs this season.
Home search continues
There’s been some misses, but also some possible hits for the program of about 90 football players and 24 cheerleaders ages 6-12.
A Sept. 16 post to the team’s Facebook page asking for help finding “a place for our young men to play and young ladies to cheer,” yielded a couple responses.
That same evening, Greg Parrish, the director of Corinth Community Recreation, replied and provided his contact information. Perry said he was anticipating a returned call from Parrish Wednesday.
Brent Vaughn with the Raleigh Rugby Club added another reply Monday saying his group may be able to assist by providing a field for the upcoming weekend, when Riley Hill wouldn’t need one.
The club’s offer wouldn’t work even if extended on a future home-game date, Perry said, after learning Knightdale’s EWFL teams held their season openers at the Poole Road location, and that traffic issues at the single-entrance site spelled the end of the Knights’ use of the facility.
Perry has also made contact with a representative from Wilders Grove on the possibility of holding the second-round playoff games there.