Clouds Over Stierberger Stadium

A storm cloud moves away from Union's Stierberger Stadium Aug. 15 prior to the school's preseason football scrimmage.

Welcome to Stierberger Stadium, home of the Wildcats ... Eureka Wildcats. Or, perhaps Lafayette Lancers or Rockwood Summit Falcons.

COVID-19 could make that a reality soon.

“Rockwood School District has contacted us about hosting varsity football games,” Union Athletic Director Dan Ridgeway said.

Union is not the only area district to receive outside queries concerning athletic field usage. Both the Washington School District and Meramec Valley R-III School District also have been contacted, as has the city of Union.

Washington Athletic Director Bill Deckelman declined to identify which school district or districts have contacted him.

Washington Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said the request will be considered Wednesday at the scheduled school board meeting.

“Our board of education meeting is this Wednesday,” VanLeer said. “We will be re-evaluating our protocols, schedules and public use of facilities at the meeting.”

One school already has said no to hosting any games for other districts. St. Francis Borgia Regional, under the direction of the St. Louis Archdiocese, is sending any possible requests elsewhere.

“We have been advised by the Archdiocese that we cannot play the St. Louis schools that are not released to play,” Borgia Athletic Director Chris Arand said. “We also cannot let them use or rent our fields.”

Pacific High School Activities Director Blair Thompson said his district has been contacted by a Rockwood School District school but any decision will be made at the district level.

“We’re willing to help out where possible,” Thompson said. “We’re not against the idea, but we’re trying to consider all involvement and make an informed decision. It’s something that has to work out for us and them.”

St. Clair Athletic Director Brian Robbins said his school has not been contacted by other schools to host games.

The Union Board of Aldermen is expected to consider allowing the Rockwood School District to play softball and possibly field hockey at Veterans Memorial Park during a special meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Games would be played over six days between Sept. 29 and Oct. 9.

Rockwood Moves Forward

Rockwood School District, which comprises a large area of western St. Louis County, announced last week that it would be pushing forward with playing fall sports, including football, despite a ban by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. As of deadline, St. Louis County COVID-19 regulations do not allow for games to be played within Rockwood School District.

“This might happen and it might only be for a few weeks,” Ridgeway said. “It is all dependent upon what Sam Page decides.”

Union Parks Director Chad Pohlmann said he sent the Rockwood School District an agreement similar to what has been used for outside baseball tournaments, which are charged $125 per field, per day, for a total of $3,000.

In a press release last Friday, the Rockwood School District stated:

“While mindful of county guidelines and continuing to monitor health conditions, Rockwood Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles has asked district activities directors to honor previously scheduled competitions outside St. Louis County and to explore scheduling additional competitions beyond the borders of St. Louis County. In doing so, Dr. Miles is demonstrating his concern for students who otherwise may not have the opportunity to compete in their sports this season.

“I care deeply about the opportunities our students have inside and outside the classroom, and we are exploring avenues to engage in those safely,” noted Miles in the release.

Football fits the St. Louis County guidelines for a high-frequency contact sport. The Rockwood School District’s four high schools, Eureka, Lafayette, Rockwood Summit and Marquette, have opted to participate in the traditional fall season.

Schools had to decide whether to play the traditional fall season or opt into an alternate fall season to take place next spring.  At this time, many St. Louis County schools, including those in the Rockwood and Parkway districts, have opted for the traditional season.

Hosting Benefits

Ridgeway feels there are many benefits to being a surrogate host site for schools unable to play on their home fields.

“The No. 1 benefit is that those students will be able to play games,” Ridgeway said. “It sets an example to our students of how you should help others when you can.”

Ridgeway said the renting school would pick up expenses. Overall, doing so would not be for making a profit at the district level.

“This would be cost neutral to our district,” Ridgeway said. “Rockwood would be renting/taking care of all expenses.”

Ridgeway feels this will give Union the chance to shine.

“This would show off the Union community and how easy it is to live here and still be able to participate in the whole St. Louis area.”

Additionally, Ridgeway said people coming to games potentially would put extra money into the local economy at gas stations, restaurants and other stores.

That’s exactly what worried Pat Hoeft, a Union resident in attendance at a Monday, Sept. 21, city parks, buildings, development and public service committee. He questioned the committee about allowing St. Louis County residents to come into Union to play sports while COVID-19 cases are on the rise.

“They’re going to be going to restaurants, they’re going to be going everyplace else,” he said.

Committee Chairman Paul Arand responded that he can’t say the St. Louis County residents are any more likely to bring in the coronavirus than residents of Franklin or Jefferson counties are.

“The only answer to that would be that we close the parks, and we couldn’t do that,” he said.

Rockwood is doing all virtual learning and might not allow fans to attend its sports events, though it was unclear how that would be enforced in a public park, said Pohlmann, a former teacher in the Rockwood district.

There are restrictions. Ridgeway said Union only would rent out outside facilities and only when Union is not scheduled to play at home.

“Our facilities would only be available when not in use by our programs, such as Friday nights when we are away and Saturdays after youth football games are complete,” Ridgeway said.

The city of Union plans to have similar restrictions with its fields, Pohlmann said.

Ridgeway noted the same postgame cleaning protocols will be used after any events being hosted by Union High School.

­Union Missourian Editor Geoff Folsom contributed to this report.