It was not the kind of early morning wake-up call Matt Martinez wanted to get.
Martinez, the athletic director at Pojoaque Valley High School, found out at 6 a.m. Friday the football field was vandalized overnight and the concession booth trashed after parents and other volunteers had spent Thursday evening preparing it for the Elks’ season-opening game against Shiprock.
Vandals had soaked the P in the middle of the artificial-turf field with oil and gasoline.
“That is just gut wrenching,” Martinez said.
It appears the vandals left in a hurry, abruptly halting whatever further damage they may have intended to inflict: The the oil and gas canisters they used to were left behind, he said.
Juan Ríos, a spokesman for the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the crime, said Friday afternoon he did not yet have information about the incident.
Martinez estimated the vandals caused between $25,000 and $50,000 in damage to the $300,000 FieldTurf surface, but it was only cosmetic. Contractors with Lone Mountain Contracting, which had installed the material four years ago, used a solution to soak up the the oil and gas, added rubber pellets to the affected area and declared around lunchtime the field was ready for Friday night’s game.
Martinez received even better news — the stained portion of the field did not have to be replaced.
“We were able to save the turf,” Martinez said. “[The field] looks normal out there from my window.”
Pat Mares, Pojoaque’s head football coach, said he walked around the field with Martinez and maintenance workers in the afternoon and was impressed with the cleanup work. A couple of bubbles he had seen at midfield in the morning were gone.
“They threw new bags of rubber pellets on the field, so it’s nice and hard now,” Mares said. “And you can’t really smell [the oil and gas]. This morning, it stunk so bad.”
Mares and the team were greeted by oil and gas fumes during an emergency meeting outside the field Friday morning, just before school started, as Santa Fe Country sheriff’s investigators examined the scene.
When the Elks took to the field later to begin warming up for their opening game, several went to midfield to test the ground and see if they could smell any lingering odors.
Pojoaque senior lineman Kevin Martinez said he felt angry and violated when he saw the condition of the field.
“I mean, who takes time out of their day to do this to a football field?” Martinez said. “This is where we come to work. This is our home away from home.”
“That made me feel worse,” Mares said, “knowing my boys work hard over the last nine months getting ready for this night — all of that blood, sweat and tears — and this is how our first game is gonna come out? I felt worse for them, but we talked about it, and we are going to move forward. This isn’t going to stop us.”
Concerned the field wouldn’t be available Friday night, Matt Martinez said he began developing contingency plans early in the day. He spoke with Los Alamos High School athletic director Ann Stewart about playing at Sullivan Field because the Hilltoppers were opening their season in Española. Martinez also considered sending the Elks to Shiprock or pushing the game to Saturday, so he would have more time to find an available field in the area, he said.
Pojoaque Valley school board President Jon Paul Romero said he was relieved to find out the football field had been repaired, though he was disappointed by the incident. The district had completed a series of upgrades to the field, installing lights in 2012 and replacing natural grass with the artificial surface a few years later.
“This is a big investment for the Pojoaque Valley community and the school,” Romero said.
“We play football on it,” he added, “but they run track events on it and, after hours, our kids play on it while their parents walk around the track for exercise.”
In Friday night’s opener, the Elks, after staying head for much of the game, lost to the Chieftains, 30-27, after Shiprock kicked a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds of the game.