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Irene-Hammered Schools Maintaining Wary Watch on Sandy

South Royalton — Jeff Moreno, the assistant principal and athletic director at South Royalton High, said yesterday he didn’t anticipate the effects of approaching Hurricane Sandy to be as bad as what was caused last year by Tropical Storm Irene. That didn’t mean he was resting easy, however.

“I doubt I’ll get any sleep tonight, and I haven’t gotten much since my fields guy came in a week ago and said he was concerned about a storm,” said Moreno, whose school suffered significant damage to its basement and athletic playing surfaces when Irene caused the nearby White River to overflow its banks. “We’re not as worried about flooding this time as we are about the power being out for several days and whether or not we can have school.” Irene’s flooding cost the town of Royalton more than $3 million in damages, and approximately $30,000 of uninsured damage happened at Moreno’s school, which lost sports equipment sheds, the baseball and softball dugouts, the baseball batting cage and various strips of fencing. South Royalton is scheduled to host the Vermont Division IV boys and girls soccer title games Saturday on a site that was buried by feet of silt in Irene’s aftermath.

“That field actually drains very well, so we’ll be OK if the river doesn’t rise too high and we have at least a half-day of dry weather,” Moreno said.

Woodstock, Windsor and Whitcomb were other local high schools battered by Irene’s waters. The athletic directors at each school said their preparations were complete by noon yesterday. Benches were stowed away or chained to heavier objects. The Windsor batting cage was anchored to the ground. Trash cans and equipment storage bins had been whisked away to safety, and all that was left to do was wait and see what happened.

“It’s been a pretty dry year, so I think our football field will be able to handle the rain,” said Woodstock athletic director Jeff Thomas, whose gridiron squad is scheduled to host Mount Abraham on Saturday afternoon in a Vermont Division III semifinal and whose girls cross country team is headed to the New England championships next weekend. “It sounds like we’re going to get only an inch or two of rain and that the wind is going to be a bigger issue.” Whitcomb athletic director Willy Walker, whose school suffered similar field damage to that at South Royalton, said the culvert system built on and around those surfaces after Irene has worked well during rainstorms since.

“I just hope we don’t get more than two inches of rain,” he said.

At Windsor, the field hockey team is slated to tackle Harwood at Middlebury College today in a Division II semifinal on artificial turf.

However, Hingston said if that game isn’t played because of the weather or its effects, it will have to be moved to Thursday because Middlebury has an event scheduled for its field tomorrow.

As for practice, the Yellowjackets could be pushed off their home ground at MacLeay-Royce Field and have to work out at the county fairgrounds on Route 44.

Another team enduring fluid plans is the Hartford girls soccer squad, which is tentatively scheduled to compete at Springfield tomorrow in a Division II semifinal. The Cosmos’ home pitch isn’t the best, however, and heavy rain could render it unplayable.

“Their field is already soft and showing a lot of wear, so I suspect we’ll play at the (Springfield) middle school on Wednesday,” said Hurricanes coach Jeff Acker, whose team lost in the division finals last year. “We’ll practice in the gym or outside if the weather permits, but we’re just sort of in limbo.

“It’s easy to get focused on when or where we’re going to play or practice, but there are potentially some real-life things we have to get through first. When the sun comes back out, we’ll go from there.” Like everyone else, South Royalton’s Moreno can only wait and see, but he’s being proactive. Valley Turf Services proprietor Todd Holmes, who had much to do with rebuilding the Royals’ fields after Irene, is on standby to swoop in with tractors and backhoes, set to build a berm here and there or to drag equipment sheds and soccer goals to higher ground.

“We’re keeping an eye on the river, because if there’s another large event, no equipment can help us,” Moreno said. “We’re all on pins and needles, and it’s an uncomfortable emotional place to be.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.