WATSONVILLE—Just after a small cadre of school district officials cut a ceremonial ribbon at Pajaro Valley High School’s gleaming new sports field on Friday afternoon, a group of student-athletes took to the track, running a lap while onlookers cheered.
This simple athletic act was both the beginning of a new era for the school, and a bookend to a saga that began when the school was completed in 2004.
Athletic Director Joe Manfre stood on the field as he watched the cross country team test the new track, relishing a special moment in the school’s history.
“It’s kind of surreal to stand down here and just see where it was and where it is now,” Manfre said.
Manfre thought back about the first time he stepped on the campus as part of the athletics department. He’s seen numerous kids participate in the football, soccer, track and field and softball programs who never felt what it was like to play a “home” game
That won’t be the case anymore as Manfre mentioned that the new stadium now gives the sports programs and the students an identity that they didn’t have in the past.
“Just to think about playing a soccer game on a weekday at 3pm and having the kids be able to get out of class, walk straight down here and watch their fellow students play, it’s going to be amazing,” he said.
If everything lines up, the first sporting event will be a football game against cross-city rival Watsonville High School.
Generations of students have gone without access to a home field, holding PE classes in the school’s parking lot and playing games on other schools’ fields.
During this time, however, groups of vocal students and community members advocated for the field, and were instrumental in the passage of Measure L, the voter-approved $150 million bond measure created to fund construction and repair projects throughout the district.
The measure funded the nearly $14 million project, which includes a renovated softball diamond, bleachers and concession stands.
“To our past grizzlies, I say thank you for everything you did to make today’s dream a reality,” PVHS Principal Matt Levy said. “You fought for, petitioned for, gave passionate speeches and even marched for this dream to be a reality.”
Just over a dozen people attended the ceremony due to Covid-19 restrictions. This included Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker, Mayor Jimmy Dutra and former PVHS principal Frank “Pancho” Rodriguez. PVUSD Board President Jennifer Holm, Vice-President Jennifer Schacher and trustees Daniel Dodge, Jr. and Maria Orozco were also in attendance. Nearly 200 people watched the event via YouTube.
Holm spoke of the importance of sports, and said that the field stands as a symbol of the community-wide commitment to the students of the school.
“It is about demonstrating to the PV students that you are worthy of the investment, of having a field that inspires dedication toward excellence, that we believe in your dreams, drive and determination,” Holm said. “That if you are committed toward crossing the finish line, we are committed to giving you every chance to get that opportunity.”
The field hit several roadblocks on its way to completion. Concerns over finances were alleviated with the passage in 2012 of Measure L.
The field was also delayed with threatened legal action by the Watsonville Pilots Association, which expressed safety concerns that the field was in the takeoff path of the airport. They also said that lights from the field could distract pilots. The group dropped those objections in September 2017 after the district agreed to locate the field in the original footprint of the school. The California Coastal Commission required three separate environmental impact reports, since the school is located adjacent to fragile wetland habitat.
Work on the field began in April 2019.
Additional reporting by Juan Reyes.