Florence school board considers drilling new well

By Nick Talbot

Killeen Daily Herald

FLORENCE - Kaleb Hardy doesn't remember anything.

The Florence High School quarterback doesn't remember his head snapping up as his helmet ricocheted off the dried, compacted ground at Stampede Stadium. He doesn't remember how the game ended, nor does he remember his 303 passing yards by the middle of the third quarter.

"I only remember one bit from the game and that is when (my offensive lineman) Luis (Robles) told me to get up," said Hardy. "That's it, though. It was a good concussion."

The city of Florence has been in either Stage 4 or Stage 5 water restrictions for more than a year, which has made it impossible for Florence football coach Paul Smith and his staff to water the stadium or practice fields.

As a result, the fields have turned into what resembles a cracked concrete slab covered in splotches of grass.

With fall practices a month away and the risk of player injuries mounting, the Florence school board agreed unanimously Monday to request a bid from Associated Drilling Company to drill a well that will allow the school to water the fields.

But there are no guarantees the well will be in place for the start of fall practice or even the season.

"It is going to be a challenge," said Karla Moyer, Florence superintendent. "It depends on when the drilling and well companies can get to it. The goal is to move forward. We are doing it for the safety of our kids. ... We want them to have the opportunities that kids in other schools districts have."

Drilling a well

Reflecting on Hardy's injury, Smith wishes he would have never let his team play at home last season - the field was too dry, cracked and hard.

"Everyone thinks water is for grass to keep the field green," he said, "but it is really to keep the ground soft so when you have head-to-ground contact it doesn't give you a concussion."

Smith presented solutions for the water shortage to the school board last month. The first was to put artificial turf on the field and resurface the track, but that would have cost more than $1 million.

"We looked at the option for turf and it is a local decision and (the well) is what our board is more comfortable with and what our community would be more comfortable with," said Moyer.

The well project will cost anywhere from $69,000 to $84,000 based on proposals already submitted to the school district. It is expected to be paid for through the general fund, which is used for facility upgrades and emergencies. The project will not provide drinkable water to the school.

The project will take place in two stages - drilling and creating the casing and pump - and the well will be tentatively located 400 feet south of the stadium.

It is expected to connect with the Trinity Aquifer 650 to 750 feet below ground, but whether the well hits it dead center or on the edge is a gamble the school board must take.

"You don't know if you are going to hit water," said Smith. "The school board has some tough decisions to make and I don't envy their position. But, the bottom line is I have to make plans."

The school board will revisit the issue Monday.

Hitting the road

"Stay up! Stay up!" The coaches at Florence yell out.

No one can tackle at practice and no one can hit the ground. It isn't worth the risk.

"You teach them to stay up, but it hurts your ability to play the game," said Smith. "You think that might have something to do with how we practice? Is it something people can see? No. But, is it something as coaches we see? Yes. It is a hell of a difference."

Next season, the Buffaloes, who have had only two winning seasons in the last 20 years, are expected to return nine starters on offense and another nine on defense.

"For the first time in a long time Florence has a chance to put some wins on the board," said Smith. "But we might have to do the entire thing on the road."

With the water restrictions and poor field conditions, Smith has looked into relocating all of the Buffaloes' home games to another city, such as Georgetown or Killeen. Georgetown gave Florence a bid of about $24,000 to rent the school district's facilities and with four high schools already, Killeen ISD was unable provide the necessary fields.

"It is kind of nerve wracking knowing that we would not have any home games, but I would rather go play in Georgetown or wherever than take a chance of what happened to Kaleb happening again," said Florence offensive linemen Luke McNeil.

If Florence plays its season on the road, it could not only impact the team's performance, but the school's pocket book. Last year, Florence's gate revenue fell between $18,000 and $20,000 for its home games, not including project graduation and booster club revenue from concession stands.

"There is a lot of impact that is coming, but that is all out of my control," said Smith. "What it means is we are going to pay more for travel and lose gate money. I don't know (how we are going to do it)."

However, if the field conditions are not improved in time to start the season, Smith is favoring a full road slate.

"In 7-on-7 (two weeks ago), we were not even tackling, but I had to dive to touch the guy and I got up and there were scrapes all over my knees and elbows," said Florence linebacker Javonee Daniel. "My first experience on that field was pretty bad."

Alex Byington contributed to this report.

Contact Nick Talbot at ntalbot@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7569. Follow him on Twitter at KDHsports.

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