There are two sides to every bubble…. well at least there is at the Mt. Olive High School Marauder Dome.... ‘aka’ the bubble.
Some parents and players are speaking out against the idea of the bubble staying up again this upcoming school year and information they heard about outdoor sports having to play inside the bubble for games and practices. Boys’ and girls’ soccer, lacrosse and field hockey would be subject to play inside the bubble.
Parents wrote a letter to the editor about their concerns and others complained about the idea on the sidelines. But Mt. Olive School District Superintendent Dr. Robert Zywicki deflates that bubble rumor, reassuring the community that there are other plans in the works.
Zywicki suggests that concerned parents and players should think “outside the bubble” …literally, and when they do have an issue to call him to discuss.
“Call Zywicki; he answers his phone,” says Zywicki. "They can just call me, and I can give them all the information. I’m here, people can just call me. Reach out to me. That’s what I’m here for; talk to me.”
In a letter to the editor this past week, parents raised several concerns about their kids playing in the bubble this fall located at the rear of Mt. Olive High School in Flanders. Concerns ranged from germs recirculating especially after the COVID 19 scare; uncomfortable temperature playing without air-conditioning; limited spacing and accessibility; inability to raise funds without concession stand; loss of video camera in sky box stadium; and decision to fund new scoreboard at Marauder Stadium rather than using those funds to take down the bubble.
See the full letter to the editor at the end of this article.
Why The Bubble Stays Inflated
The bubble over the turf field was an approved expenditure by the previous MOHS Superintendent Dr. Larrie Reynolds.
The bubble used to get taken down and put back up in the colder months. But when it got too costly, and the manufacturer’s warranty ran out, school officials decided to take matters into their own hands.
In November 2019, the Mt. Olive Board of Education was informed that it had violated the manufacturer’s warranty.
“They took it down and ripped it,” by accident, explains Zywicki.
Then last year, a snowstorm had caused more damage to the bubble.
School officials decided to do a pilot in the 2020/2021 school year to keep it up and see how it went, he explains.
In August, the bubble will come down to fix the panels that had been in disrepair from the snowstorm, but then it will go back up. The school district will then have to wait six to eight months before they can take it down again because of the manufacturer’s warranty, explains Zywicki.
Next April “will be detrimental” as to whether the bubble will stay up or come down.
“Once we make repairs in the Dome, we will see if we can put it up and take it down.
Sports Outside The Bubble
In the meantime, there are alternative plans for teams to play on other fields.
Like last season, the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, lacrosse and field hockey will get to play their games at the Marauder Stadium, where the MOHS football team plays, as well as the turf fields at Turkey Brook Park in Budd Lake, and the Mt. Olive Middle School Turf field, says Zywicki.
There is also another “project in the hopper,” says Zywicki. The current baseball field at the high school is faced with “terrible drainage.”
Bids went out to fix the drainage, but they were rejected in March as they came in too high, says Zywicki.
The idea now is to turn the baseball field into a “multi-purpose turf field,” to be utilized by soccer, football, lacrosse, baseball and softball, says Zywicki.
“We are going out for bid in September,” he says, adding that the field could be done earliest next spring or next summer.
The bubble will be used only on a “case by case basis,” Zywicki says. “We can if we need to, if it’s pouring rain. Once we get the other field in, we’re in a good place.”
The bubble will also be used during the school day, will be rented out and used for practices by teams including the football and soccer teams when there are games being played at the stadium, he says.
Vito Del Vescovo has two rising seniors and will not be happy if his son, Nico, must play his games in the bubble.
His other son, Tony, plays basketball so he should not be affected.
“Soccer is not meant to be played inside a bubble,” says Del Vescovo. “My main concern is there is no air circulation and since we are still in a pandemic, we would be putting our kids in a dangerous situation. Who will take responsibility from the district for this decision if God forbid one of these kids was to get the COVID-19 virus?
“Other concerns: Field too small, no quality air for parents to also breath in,” he says. “I don't think we can also get good video footage in a bubble, no sunshine on the players.”
When asked if there are any pros to playing in there, he says “There are no pros to playing [in] the bubble.”
He suggests: “If the bubble stays up, we have to have the ability to use the football field as we have done in the past. I am disappointed that we are discussing this now after everything we have been through in the last two years. It’s my kids last year and the district and school should be doing everything in their power to make this the best season/year ever.”
Some players are also unhappy with the idea of playing inside the bubble.
Senior Kyle Birmingham, varsity captain goal keep of the MOHS boys’ soccer team, says “I strongly dislike the bubble.”
He says, “reason one: You can tell it’s totally different on what we want to experience. We feel enclosed; lighting is different; can’t breathe. You feel closed in.”
Birmingham says he had a practice in there last year for a week and “it was terrible; air was musty; my skin felt itchy. I even got a rash on my skin. When you run in the bubble you feel disgusting; 90 minutes of straight running, just feeling enclosed, the feeling you have. I was not the only one complaining; it’s not just me.”
Reason two deals with tactical concerns: “Goalkeeper wise and soccer players- when you go in there, I’m supposed to see the whole field,” says Birmingham, who has been playing soccer for 10 years. He was told by his coach, “to get used to it.” But he realizes, you can’t see in there” as the lighting is dimmer. “From practice, we played worse. For punting, I hit the ceiling a thousand times; it all gets messed up.”
Soccer players, such as midfielders, like long balls, but Birmingham says “I feel you can’t play the ball like you want to. You can’t play at your full potential” inside a bubble.
Reason three: Booster club can’t make money, says Birmingham. Without food nor drinks allowed inside the bubble, the Booster club cannot use the concession stand.
“It’s our senior year,” says Birmingham. “I want people to come and see me play. I want my friends to come see me play. My dad takes the pictures; the lighting will be messed up. There’s just a bunch of cons to playing in the bubble.”
Reason four: Safety. “I feel it’s very unsafe in the bubble,” says Birmingham. “Players run into the netting; poles fall on players. There’s not enough space to play.” He says they had to move up the soccer goals about a foot off the line.
“What if the bubble just pops?” says Birmingham. “There’s very tight space. If a pole hits the side of the bubble, or cleats?”
If it is rainy or windy, Birmingham agrees the bubble could be a good thing, but "in the fall, it’s nice weather.
“I would love to play outside,” he concludes. “I’d play in the stadium,” if the bubble stays up. “I want my final games outside so everyone can watch me on a turf field school campus where everyone can see me.”
June 28, 2021
I am writing to you with concerns over the bubble at the MOHS and the understanding that it will remain in place with the start of HS fall sports. The turf field was just installed a few years ago but the bubble was always taken down so the HS teams could utilize the fields. Now, Dr. Zywicki has stated the bubble will remain up and the student athletes are expected to play their respective sports inside of the bubble. There are many concerns with that, safety being the first and foremost.
1 – COVID – Last year sports teams were not allowed to play inside of the bubble due to COVID protocols. However, we still do not know what the fall will look like when it comes to COVID and restrictions. These students have been through enough without worrying about their season being impacted due to spikes in COVID cases. Being indoors could once again increase the spread of COVID and once again jeopardizing the safety of the students and coaches. At the end of the school year, spectators were not allowed at the wrestling championship or drama club performance. The risk of this happening again in the fall is greater by playing in the bubble.
2 – Temperature – The bubble is not airconditioned nor does it have proper ventilation, especially for the summer heat when student athletes start their season. Supposedly fans will be installed, potential even misting fans. If we have learned anything from the mold situation at the middle school, wet air in a confined space is recipe for disaster, not to mention what implications fans have for COVID. Those that attended the recent BOE meeting held in the bubble can attest to the heat and can imagine how difficult it would be for athletes running around for over an hour to breathe.
3 – Spacing – Playing small sided 8v8 soccer games in the winter had kids running into the protective netting, running into the side of the bubble and the risk of injury was high. For an 11v11 indoor soccer game, NCAA rules state coaches and team benches need to be 10 feet away from the touch line while spectators need to be 20 feet, while NFSH recommends at least 10 feet for both. In previous years, spectators watched games on that field and stand on the ground just outside the turf which is outside of the perimeter of the bubble. How will spectators, college coaches, and even the players be ‘safe’ in the limited space in the bubble? What happens when a referee or another team see the space and refuse to let us play due to safety concerns?
4 – Money – Most are aware of the ongoing debate that the bubble costs so much money to take down, which is why it must remain up. One would assume these cost implications were considered when deciding to put the dome up in the first place. This was a debate before COVID so blame cannot be on the pandemic. The money was spent to put in the new turf field but decisions to keep the dome up permanently makes that field almost useless to anyone but MOSC. Instead of purchasing a new jumbotron for the football field, those funds could be leveraged instead to fund the cost of taking the bubble down for the fall season. The bubble was damaged over the winter so it will be taken down this summer for repair anyway. Aside from the cost of taking it down, repairing it, and putting it back up again, why not leave it down until the winter?
5 – Limited accessibility – the bubble is often locked or being shared with MOSC, so as players want to practice outside of school, the field is not available. At the stadium, goals for soccer and/or field hockey are often thrown over the fence making it impossible for players to use other space to practice on their own.
There are additional factors as well that impact these teams including the inability for multiple teams to raise funds through concessions, since food and drinks are supposedly not allowed in the bubble. The teams also lose access to the video camera in the sky box in the stadium.
Alternatives that have been discussed include playing on the baseball field. Why not allow all teams to play in the stadium? What is the cost there to retrofit the baseball field into a soccer /field hockey / lacrosse field and the cost to add ventilation/fans to the bubble? Should Varsity players be forced to play on grass while the Middle School teams play on turf at their field? Why are certain teams being displaced and punished for decisions made that are out of their control and without their input? Did anyone think about who they are hurting and the ripple effect of these decisions? These athletes deserve better.
Decisions were made in a ‘bubble’ (yes I did that) without the community’s knowledge. As I am sure there are political reasons at play here, but I must ask why wasn’t this decision voted on by publicly? The parents as well as the student athletes need to be aware that their seasons will be played in these unsafe and unfair conditions. Maybe the hope was once it was public knowledge it would be too late for the parents and players to act. Others in the community need to be aware. The only options acceptable to our student athletes is to either take down the bubble or allow teams to share the stadium in the fall.
Concerned MOHS Parents of Student Athletes