MHS Sports Fields a Muddy Mess

MHS Sharks baseball coach Billy Ashley with student athletes seated behind him

As Malibu High School athletes transition into the start of their spring season, many of them are left wondering: Where will we play?

While the school itself was left mostly untouched by the Woolsey Fire, the hills above campus were scorched. Torrential rain since then caused mud to flow onto the softball field, baseball field and tennis courts—all of which are used by spring sports, currently ramping up their seasons.

Concerns for the future of the athletic programs prompted a number of student athletes, parents and coaches—all clad in MHS Sharks gear—to come before the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District School Board during its meeting on Thursday, Feb. 7. 

Before they could speak during public comment, SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati addressed the issue in his report to the board.

While the district knew it would have an “issue with rains,” Drati explained, “We just didn’t know how much it was going to impact us.”

Furthermore, he said the district has brought in engineers needed to make long-term plans.

The first speaker, parent and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) member Melanie Goudzwaard, said they had been told otherwise—that the district had declined to clean up the fields again.

“The students currently attend a school that is a construction zone in the middle of a neighborhood that is now a disaster zone,” she said, adding, “We’ve had better times.”

According to complaints, softball team members are currently practicing on the football field, with their first game this week.

For senior members of the softball and baseball squads—many of whom have been playing since their Little League days—the fields hold a sentimental value.  

“I want to play my last game at the field I started at,” MHS Sharks baseball player Max Gordon said. “I want to have a senior night, is basically what I’m asking for.”

The school’s baseball coach, Billy Ashley, took a more critical tone against the district.

He described after the first storm at the end of November, mud flowed onto the softball field but the school district neglected to install sandbags. The next month brought more rain and still, no sandbags were put in place. K-rails—temporary cement barriers, typically used to separate traffic—were eventually installed, but as another speaker described, they were placed in such a way that mud flowed between them. 

One parent added that, with the loss of so much instructional time due to the fire and rain, early-outs—when student athletes are dismissed early from their classes to account for travel time to their away games—were taking even more time away from education.

“My big concern is, as a parent, that my kids have already lost 23 days of school—23 days of school that are not being made up,” Greg Hughes, a parent of twins at Malibu High, said. “And then you’re asking them to do early outs, where they’re going to miss even more school.

“Is this a board of education? What’s the priority?” Hughes asked.

Goudzwaard and Malibu Little League (MLL) board member Peter Hopkinson expressed concerns about the future of sports, since kids who play with MLL often end up playing for the high school sports programs.

“It’s challenging enough in Little League to bring girls in to play, and not having that field… It would kill the program,” Hopkinson said.

Several speakers brought up the City of Malibu and City Council, which has not agendized the issue. After public comment, Board Member Jon Kean mentioned reaching out to the city as well as local private schools and Pepperdine University to find alternative practice spaces as a potential short-term plan. 

School district spokesperson Gail Pinsker confirmed an engineer, contractor, MHS coaches and staff, and district facility leadership had been to the site this week.   

“We continue to work with the City of Malibu to address the mud flow from the bottom of the Clover Heights cul-de-sac, coming onto the Malibu High School campus … This effort includes the coordination of several agencies including the City, LAFD, water and the coastal commission for support and possible permits.,” she wrote in an email. 

“To me, it just seems like Malibu becomes a [forgotten] entity inside this district and it seems to happen over and over and over again and I’ve only been here four years,” Ashley said, later adding: “Malibu should be a priority. This should be a priority. Show us that you really care and make it a priority.”