Gavilan ‘grass roots’ effort takes literal meaning

Gavilan College head football coach John Lango points out some of the damage done by wild pigs to the school’s unusable practice field.

– From a distance, the Gavilan College football practice field
looks like an adequate facility for local student-athletes to run
drills and work out on.
But a closer look tells the true story.
GILROY – From a distance, the Gavilan College football practice field looks like an adequate facility for local student-athletes to run drills and work out on.

But a closer look tells the true story.

The deep ruts caused by wild pigs rushing down the hill and holes from gophers make it impossible for players to run sprints without twisting their ankle or injuring themselves in some way. To make matters worse, cows got out of the ranch behind the college during the rainy season, came down and grazed on the field for days before being rounded up.

Last year, the Rams were forced to move their practices to nearby Brownell Academy – which ultimately saved their season.

“I just don’t think people knew how bad it (the field) really was,” said Gavilan head football coach John Lango. “When the pigs came down and we didn’t have the manpower to fix it right away, it just got real bad.

“We still use it,” he added. “We find a little patch and use a little patch, and that’s about it.”

All of the other Coast Conference colleges have their own practice facilities on campus. Gavilan also trails the field in other football needs, Lango said.

“When you talk about recruiting and things like that, one of the things for us is we don’t have the facilities that other schools have,” he said. “We have the equipment that the other schools have as far as suiting our players up, but when it comes to our practice facility and our weight room, we’re not up to par with some of the other schools. That doesn’t bother us too much when we go to recruit, but it does bother our recruits.”

That’s why Gavilan has set up a first-of-its-kind 12th Man Club, dedicated solely to the betterment of the Rams’ football program.

“Those funds are dedicated to renovating the football field and getting a football stadium here on campus,” Athletic Director Ron Hannon said. “The field is still in same shape in was last spring. Right now, we’re not planning on playing on this facility.”

State budget cuts have severely hindered the renovation process, which leaves the football team in the same predicament as last season. The Rams are scheduled to practice again at Brownell Academy and play home games at either Gilroy, Live Oak or San Benito high schools.

Hartnell College in Salinas plays its home games at “The Pit” at Salinas High School, which last year was graced with a new artificial surface. But Cabrillo, DeAnza, and Monterey Peninsula colleges all have their own football stadiums on campus.

“Our goal is to ultimately build a football stadium that not only will benefit our student-athletes, but the entire community as a whole,” Hannon said. “Plans to move forward with this idea are ongoing, but addressing the immediate need of bringing football back to Gavilan College is our priority.”

The Rams’ 12th Man Club will help renovate the existing field area to new safety standards as well as level the football field and replace it with much-needed new sod, and install new fencing around the entire complex.

“So (our practice facility) is here. It’s on our campus. It’s a part of us, not another school,” said sophomore lineman Travis England about the importance of getting the field renovated. “We just go in and practice anywhere, anytime. But it would be nice to practice here.”

It would also help entice football players to enroll at Gavilan.

“The biggest thing for us is you bring a student-athlete on this campus and you bring them out here right now, this is beautiful,” Lango said as he stood on the football field. “It’s not like San Jose or wherever they’re at because it’s just beautiful out here. So the whole idea is let’s get them out here to see what our campus is like. That’s why it’s super-important for us to have this field done.”

The first stage is to put a fence around the field so no more wild pigs, or gophers or cows, can come down the hill and damage the field. In addition, the entire field needs to be leveled and new sod must be put in to ensure player safety.

“Ron’s big thing is to get a stadium here. I’d love to play Saturday afternoon games here. Right now, the whole idea is to get us practicing here,” Lango said as he walked across the field, pointing out the numerous and dangerous ruts. “I know our administration is trying extremely hard to get it done. But it’s just with the budget cuts right now we have to be creative and get something out here. It’s really important for us.”

Safety remains the top priority. If renovations to the field are not made, the team will not practice on campus, Lango said.

“Our kids have to come here to get taped up and then go to the practice facility (Brownell), and then our trainer gets there whenever she can because she has to take care of soccer, too,” he said. “We’ve had one student-athlete get into an accident on their way from here to there. Safety-wise, it’s a huge consideration for us to make sure we’re practicing on this facility.”

Along with the 12th Man Club, Gavilan has integrated several sponsorship programs to benefit all of its sports teams. There are sponsorships from as little as $100 for the Jump Start Club to as much as $3,000 for the Century Club.

“We’re trying to raise money to support all of our athletic programs,” Hannon said. “We’re trying to build partnerships with community members both individually and corporately… What we’re hoping is the community is going to take a tight grab on this program and call it their athletic program.”

Facility improvements include renovation of the football field, enhancing the soccer complex, repairing the Bud Ottmar Memorial Gymnasium, upgrading the baseball facility and completing the softball facility upgrade. The sponsorships will also help with recruitment and retention of student-athletes.

Before the start of the spring season, the Gavilan softball program received a grant of more than $8,000 from Calpine to completely renovate the softball diamond. The field now has new dugouts, a storage facility, infield soil, and a batting cage. Once the ball got rolling, other local businesses helped out – lightening the financial burden and making the softball facility one of the best in the conference.

“We’re hoping it will become a snowball effect here,” Hannon said. “This is the beginning of it. We’re fortunate to live in an area where some of the corporate community members that are housed here are financially in a position to make this happen for us.”

Hannon envisions building a football stadium with a seating capacity of 2,000 to 5,000 with a press box and scoreboard and, eventually, lights so night games can be played. He also wants the facility to be used for other sports at the college, high school, and community levels.

“I feel deep down inside that our administration is really trying to do it, but it’s just real difficult right now because of budget cuts,” Lango said. “They haven’t given up and I know we haven’t given up and I think it’s going to get done somehow, some way.”

For more information about the Rams’ 12th Man Club, call Ken Berry, Director of Corporate Sponsorships for Rams Athletics, at (408) 846-4936.

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