Flag on the Play: Federico Field
Broken Promises: From Dedication to Demolition
By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today
From a field of dreams to a stadium of broken promises. That was the scene at Lake County High School’s Federico Field in Leadville on December 20, 2021. But this time it wasn’t about the game on this gridiron but rather a demolition decision voted on unanimously by the Lake County School District Board of Education (BOE) On September 14, 2021. In fact, the very same governing entity that voted unanimously back in May 2009 to honor LCHS’s most legendary football coach by rededicating the sports arena in his name, instead let the facility fall into disrepair and become dangerous.
- “So much for Federico Field,” Janet Federico Garrett posted when the first demolition photos were shared on Leadville Today’s Facebook Page.
- “They named the field and didn’t even put a sign on the concession/score building. They promised to do that.” Debbie Hampel McCall a retired, career LCSD educator and coach replied.
“It was deteriorating,” reported the school district’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Vagher during the regular BOE meeting on September 14, 2021. As per the district’s website, Vagher’s responsibilities include: “oversees athletics, transportation, custodial and maintenance departments.”
But what hasn’t deteriorated is the legacy of a Coach by the name of Cosmo “Coke” Federico. For readers who may not know, Coach Federico’s 27-year service to the Lake County School District started in 1963 as a science teacher at the junior high (now the mining museum). He coached junior high basketball and eventually made his way onto the high school gridiron taking the 1991-92 LCHS football team to an Intermountain League Championship. Many of those games played out in Panther Stadium with the concrete bleachers packed with roaring crowds of students and huge community support.
According to the Leadville/Lake County Sports Hall of Fame website, Coach Federico led the first and only team in school history to go undefeated in the regular season. The Panthers compiled a 9-0 regular season record while defeating opponents with a combined score of 231-34. It was a year to remember, and one for the books! The team was inducted into the hall of fame in 2012, three years after the BOE re-dedicated the sports field to their coach.
- “I am disappointed at the lack of following up from the school on the field. Mr. FED was the best coach ever and to just name it, then do nothing more, is not right!” wrote Peleg Mark Wadsworth. “Saturday games on this field always made more sense than Friday night games they went to at the community field. Simple to me….in the sun on Saturday, on natural grass, is always better than the 10 degree Friday night games. Shame we can’t even field a football team anymore, however.”
While these might be somebody else’s Glory Days, the tarnished trophies and promises made by former BOEs deserve, if nothing else, a more transparent process. To that end, after the initial photos from that cold December day created a loud online conversation, Leadville Today began its discovery process to find out what was happening at Federico Field.
LT’s initial media inquiry was directed to Bunny Taylor, who is in charge of communications for the LCSD. Taylor was helpful and responsive, considering the Dec. 21 communication coincided with the district’s winter break. Leadville Today secured a copy of the 2:38:28 length video from the Sept. 14, 2021, regular BOE meeting.
The video can be seen below and LT has marked the point of discussion surrounding Federico Field. It is worth noting from a policies and procedures perspective, neither the packet nor the formal agenda were included in the video presentation, so there are many points of reference to documents that the viewer does not have access to. LT was able to capture those documents from another web page on the district’s site and presents everything HERE in one place for the reader’s information and assessment.
- September 14 BOE Agenda
- September 14 BOE 152-page Packet (see pages 19-44)
- September 14, 2021 BOE Meeting Video Recording
After reviewing the recording, it was immediately apparent that it was not the high-winds of weather, but change that took down the announcer’s stand nearly 30 years to the day that the 1991-92 Lake County High School Football Team made sports history. In fact, that very sports arena that bears the name of the coach that guided that team of student-athletes to victory, albeit without the promised sign, was taking a direct, intentional hit. There was a flag on the play at Federico Field.
- “There was a community committee to do all the necessary things to get it named. The school board approved it and we had a wonderful dedication ceremony. Then NOTHING, ZIP, NADA!” It was a fact stated by McCall that LT was able to confirm through the newspaper archives, finding both the BOE Meeting report that ALSO had a unanimous BOE vote to rededicate the sports field in Coach Federico’s honor, as well as a blurb about the dedication ceremony in September 2009.
So how in that ten years’ time had the facility fallen to “deteriorated” and “not structurally safe” as described by the very COO charged to oversee its maintenance and operations safety? And if it was unsafe, why in August 2021 – the very month that the RFP was issued because it was unsafe – was Federico Field used by racers when other groups were adhering to local public health restrictions and guidelines? To date,Vagher has not responded to LT’s media inquiry for clarification on several questions and points of fact.
In part, concerns are growing about transparency. For example, the decision to move forward with an RFP for the “demolition Federico Bleachers/LCIS Stairs,” is listed as “Facilities Update” on BOE (9/14/21) agenda item. Did the demolition of the announcer’s stand and bleachers decision not raise a red flag for one LCSD Board Member or staff? It’s another example of the way in which the school district has redefined itself, its facilities, and policies and procedures, initiated about a decade ago.
- “Wow….what’s next? Take down all the state championship and runner-ups off the gym walls? Maybe the trophies? Change the name??? They’ve tried the name change already but failed. Just not right! Maybe there are too many of these 2-3 year faculty…” posted Peleg Mark Wadsworth, LCHS alumna and local resident.
For readers who may not be familiar with the last point, the comment refers to growing frustrations concerning the number of new residents presently making policy decisions and what, if any, historical references they have. It’s a term that long-timers refer to as the “come-and-goers” of Leadville Today. Essentially the phrase refers to “very well-intended” newcomers who move into an area, take up positions on local boards, or as volunteers in established events. But instead of integrating their talents into successful organizational models, they up-end the apple cart of policies, procedures and past promises. Within 2 – 3 years they move on leaving behind longtime locals, scratching their heads and wondering, “What just happened here?”
But that’s not the case when it comes to Federico Field. In fact, the current BOE not only has some long-timers representing the electorate’s interest – like Director John Baker – but another BOE member is the daughter of the legendary football coach. BOE Director Felicia Federico is also an employee of the Lake County Recreation Department. Both of these school board members asked any specific questions regarding the RFP.
Director Baker’s concern was over the $48, 995 budget for the project, where was money coming from? The facilities budget?
“Yes, from the ’emergent’ fund,” replied Vagher, although there was no identifiable line-item in the LCSD budget that used this terminology. It was another reason LT reached out to Vagher for clarification. Should the COO reply to LT’s media inquiry regarding additional details, they will be added to this report.
Director Federico’s question about the grandstand demolition was two-fold:
- When they dispose of all of the concrete is it at the landfill in Lake County or do they take it somewhere else?
- After the grandstand is taken out, what will the area be replaced with to prevent any erosion or mudslides onto the sports field?
Vagher replied that disposal of the concrete and rebar from the stadium was something he would be discussing with Cory, referring to Cory Mowry the Project Manager with Vintage Environmental, the front range remediation company that secured the bid (pages 19 – 44 in the 152-page packet), being the only company that submitted for the proposal. It’s worth noting that at the time of this posting, the company’s website (www.VintageEnvironmental.com) was not available.
As for any landscaping for the grandstand-free area after the remediation work is complete, Vagher said that would be left up to the school district to remedy, although no formal plan was in the works at this time. “Some flowers would be nice,” Vagher concluded.
Of course, now that the snow has come in, the Federico Field grandstand/LCIS stairs demolition project will be put on ice until the spring thaw. But if the Lake County School District continues to run its plays behind closed locker room doors, out of sight from the electorate, they might encounter some old leathernecks that have one more good game in them when it comes to that old gridiron. The people who live in Leadville Today deserve better, not just another BEST grant and more promises. And an agenda item described as “Facilities Update” does not come close to being transparent with taxpayers.
But unfortunately, Federico Field is not the only place the school board and administration’s decisions have resulted in a loss of community trust, something they may desperately need for the second half of that BEST game. Stay tuned for LT’s upcoming story, “Into The Deep End: The Pool.” Until then, share your opinions and solutions concerning this project with the school board. Here is their contact information. And as always readers may contact Leadville Today directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Leadville Today 2022. Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a digital media company that publishes Leadville Today and Saguache Today. She may be reached at email@example.com.