Vandalism is generally defined as the deliberate, malicious or ignorant destruction of public or private property. To those targeted, it’s frustrating, disruptive, time-consuming and costly. Too often, the vandals are never identified, and so remain unpunished, while the victims deal with the consequences of the damage.


An aerial view of the vandalism on field eight of the Redoubt Soccer Association shows the extent of the damage.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE REDOUBT SOCCER ASSOCIATION.

“The hardest part is trying to explain to the little 3 to 5-year-olds that they can’t play because some joyrider decided it would be fun to spin circles all over their field,” says Greg Love, president of the Redoubt Soccer Association of Chattanooga, Tenn.

The eight-field soccer complex is a labor of love for Love, the other association board members and the many other volunteers that support the program. The property itself is owned by the county, earmarked for parks and recreation, but is operated by the Redoubt Soccer Association under the terms of a 10-year agreement. “All of the maintenance, from cleaning the restrooms, picking up trash and the building upkeep, as well as field maintenance, is our responsibility. While there is an area fence outside the perimeter of the complex, it is a public use site with green space and a walking track, so we can’t lock it all up secure when we leave.”

There was a coach on the field until 8:30 the night the vandalism occurred and he turned out the field lights when he left. The maintenance folks found the damage at 8 a.m. That’s less than a 12-hour window. Love says, “One of our board members is a law enforcement officer. He examined the tracks and determined it was someone on a four-wheeler or an ATV. They used a roundabout route to work their way to the field and then hit it hard. It wasn’t just one corner, they made deep ruts and cut huge divots across the entire field.”


This graffiti was spray painted on the playing surface by the vandals along with similar graffiti all over the announcer’s booth and concession stand.

The board explored options to protect the fields. Quality security cameras were too expensive to be practical, and the fencing quote was $10,000, and neither guaranteed protection. They did offer a $1,000 reward for anyone giving information leading to the arrest of the vandal. Love says, “That generated one response that went nowhere.”

With the season set to open in March, the association’s primary focus was repairing the damage quickly. They scheduled a workday and put out the call for volunteers. “We hoped for at least a half-dozen,” says Love. “Forty-five showed up. There were coaches and parents and some of the older players. They came ready to work, with their own shovels and rakes and even their own wheelbarrows. We filled sand into the ruts, leveled the surface, overseeded with fescue and rye and put down fertilizer. We were able to put it back into play for our annual Memorial Day weekend tournament. We had 72 teams and really needed that field space.”

Battling graffiti

When vandals hit the Miracle League of Michigan baseball field in Southfield, Mich., the graffiti appeared to be gang-related. Steve Peck, president and executive director, says, “It didn’t appear we were targeted for any specific reason; the ‘7-Mile’ mob was focused on making their mark. They took spray paint and wrote all over the announcer’s booth, the concession stand and on a section of the infield between first and second base.”

A public-private partnership, the field is on city property, but built and maintained by the Miracle League. The location should have been a deterrent. It’s within the complex that includes city hall, the library, city pool, ice arena and the police department.

Bob Murray, parks and operations supervisor, says, “Most of Southfield’s parks have poles and gates that separate them from the parking areas. We keep the gates locked when the parks aren’t in use to avoid vehicle damage on our playing fields and other turf areas. So far we’ve had little of that kind of vandalism, but graffiti is an issue.”


This shot of The Miracle League of Michigan field shows the consistent color they hope to retain after repair of the vandalism.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE MIRACLE LEAGUE OF MICHIGAN UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Park personnel and the police department patrol for graffiti on public property, with prompt removal a top priority. Murray says, “Removal is immediate if it’s gang-related to stop response from any rivals. We even have a sandblasting company on retainer to remove graffiti on concrete.”

Still, attacks continue. The Miracle League field is fenced and the gate normally locked, but with preparations for spring play underway, the lock was not in place. Murray says, “Had it been locked, they still could have jumped the fence along the baseline. Security cameras are mounted on the buildings, but with the current equipment we can’t zoom into a particular area from the recorded image. We’ve looked into a digital camera system encased in bulletproof containers that has those capabilities along with motion-activated lights and verbal warnings. But even that hasn’t eliminated vandalism in covered areas for other cities, and at this point the costs are prohibitive. We have made camera adjustments and posted signs on the field’s backstop noting the property is protected by video surveillance.”

The field was installed in 2004 by the DreamField division of Beynon Sports Surfaces, a FieldTurf Tarkett company. Peck says, “They specialize in permeable synthetic surfaces, similar to their synthetic tracks, using virgin rubber granules mixed with polyurethane and poured in place over a stable prepared surface like asphalt. It’s specifically designed for players using wheelchairs, crutches or walkers.”

That surface allows the Miracle League, a charitable organization, to provide children with mental and/or physical challenges an opportunity to play baseball as a team member in an organized league. Peck says, “Challenged children are paired with able-bodied volunteer ‘buddies’ who assist them in batting, catching, throwing and running. The child’s self esteem grows, they’re less isolated, they make friends and become just a regular kid; not a kid with a disability.”


The synthetic surface is designed for play by those using walkers as well as those on crutches or in wheelchairs.

Removing the graffiti from the buildings was frustrating and time consuming, but doable. The major issue was the paint on the playing surface. Peck consulted with Rick Ediger, vice president of Beynon Sports, on possible solutions. A spray application of paint over the graffiti wouldn’t provide enough coverage and ghosting would occur. Using a brush or roller would put down enough paint, but would seal up the pores, trapping moisture that could delaminate the surface or cause it to tear. The petroleum or solvent-based graffiti removers would create an adverse reaction with the rubber, causing it to melt or expand, thus forming an irregular surface. Or, it could break down the poly and damage the subbase, causing it to crumble.

Peck says, “The next option is removing the surface in the damaged area and putting down a patch, at a cost of approximately $7,000. But the surface has lost some gloss and sheen over time, changing the color. The patch with new rubber would be very visible, and there would be seams at the edges. The best option, removing the entire infield surface and replacing it with new material would give us consistent color, but cost around $60,000. The temporary fix, to cover the offensive language while we’re weighing those options, is a removable vinyl Detroit Tigers logo from Fathead. The low-tack adhesive, designed for interior walls, won’t damage the field surface.”

Punishment

Should the vandals be caught, any charges and punishment would be up to the court system. However, Love and Peck do have suggestions for some attitude adjustment if a youth was involved. Love says. “I’d recommend community service, doing the maintenance that volunteers are doing now, so they’d have some idea of how much work goes into these fields and the impact of the damage they did.”

Peck adds, “I would hope the vandals now realize what kind of field this is and how much it means to our kids and their families and have some remorse. I’d recommend they work at every game for the next two years, maybe even get partnered with our kids. I think they’d have a much different attitude and be more likely to contribute something positive to society after that.”

The author is a partner in Trusty & Associates, Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has been involved in the green industry for over 40 years.