Aging gym floors become focus of safety efforts

SIDELINES

January 30, 1994|By PAT O'MALLEY

Safety is a top priority in high school sports, and there is no question that Anne Arundel County's Board of Education emphasizes that, especially in this age of lawsuits.

With boys and girls slipping and sliding on gym floors and basketball officials stopping games to wipe off problem areas, there is a growing concern in the county over the playing conditions of some gymnasiums.

Many coaches and basketball officials consider several county high school playing surfaces dangerous and fear a serious injury that could result in a costly lawsuit.

Excessive use of the gym floors that cuts time for proper maintenance and a subpar sealant the county is using when there is maintenance appear to be the main deterrents to safety.

The playing floors at Annapolis and Severna Park are so deplorable because of constant use that the head of the basketball referees has written a letter to the superintendent's office expressing his concern.

"Many of my officials have told me that the floors at Annapolis, Severna Park and Old Mill are too slippery and they're afraid for the players and themselves getting hurt," said Mike Malone, commissioner of Board 23 of the International Association of Basketball Officials.

There is no time to maintain the floors because of constant use of those gyms by outside adult and youth groups on what are the original floors.

County custodians and maintenance department cannot be blamed. Schools with the most serious conditions have been mentioned, but unsafe conditions can be found at many others because there is no set plan to maintain them.

Ralph Luther, the county's director of maintenance, said the life expectancy of properly maintained floors is, "because of lack of money, at least 10 to 15 years, and I like wood floors because they last almost forever."

Severna Park is a good example of "forever" because its floor is 35 years old and they're still playing on it -- but is it safe?

"Ours [floor] needs to be replaced or better yet, build us a new gym," said Severna Park athletic director Andy Borland.

"But by the time something is done, our gym, which is the smallest in the county, will be 40 years old. Playing on our floor is like playing in your stocking feet. It's dangerous."

Improvements have been made at Old Mill, which is 16 years old, said boys coach Paul Bunting, but the 15-year-old Annapolis gym and Severna Park are aging fast.

"Our floor was redone twice in a three- to four-day period in December and it's good now," said Bunting, pointing to the double coating of polyurethane sealant put on his wood floor.

Old Mill, Severna Park and most of the rest of the county public high schools have the more expensive (approximately $100,000) wood floors. Annapolis, Broadneck and South River have gyms with rubber-like, tartan floors, which can be extremely difficult to maintain.

The poly substance cannot be used on the rubber floors, and instead Teriglaze is used. Annapolis coach John Brady calls Teriglaze "inferior because it turns to flakes and sand, like putting dust on the floor."

"The sealant [Teriglaze] we use is not the top of the line, but it's not the bottom either," said Luther. "By state law, we take the low bid and our specs are somewhere in the middle."

Southern coach Tom Albright gets the best sealant money can buy for his gym because he takes it out of his own pocket.

Brady said his Panthers have had a rash of ankle sprains and other injuries, but nothing serious.

Brady thought Annapolis was in the budget for a new floor, but director of Construction and Planning Mike RaiblE said Broadneck is the only high school to be so lucky. A new gym is in the 1995 fiscal plan for the Broadneck addition/renovation project.

Annapolis and South River offer quite a contrast in rubber surfaces, with Annapolis' floor like sand in places and South River's in good shape. Why is that?

"We can't get in [at Annapolis] to properly maintain it," said Don Clark, the area operations foreman.

"It used to be that we had an open night at each school to get in there and work on the floors, but now it's a seven-day operation. South River's floor is in good shape because they free their gym up one night a week for us."

About 10 years ago, the county reached an agreement with Recreation and Parks for building and field usage, but the situation has gotten out of hand. The use by Rec and Parks should be curtailed somewhat for the sake of safety.

A return to open nights and a small fee for gym use (at least for the adult groups) with the money going to purchasing top-of-the-line sealants could go a long way.

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