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All is quiet a day after Bush's visit

August 19, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

HEDGESVILLE, W.VA. - A small group of birds hopped up and down the steps of a set of bleachers at Hedgesville High School Wednesday evening, perhaps looking for crumbs of food left over from Tuesday's visit by President Bush.

They would have had only slightly better luck on the football field, where a few crushed pieces of popcorn dotted the green and brown ground.

As a slight breeze blew and the sun lazily made its way down behind the western end zone, few visible signs indicated that the president spoke on the field a day earlier.

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All but the smallest pieces of trash had been picked up. No tents or risers or stages were erected. The only sound was the distant humming of insects.

There was not a soul in sight on the main football field, though a jogger and two walkers were making their way around the gravel track on the nearby practice field.

Sprinklers there were shooting water onto the grass. The main field was a cause of some concern.

Hedgesville High Principal Don Dellinger said having thousands of people trample on the football field could affect the upcoming sports season.

"The field did take some damage. One of the things we're concerned about is compaction," he said.

In addition to damage caused by people walking on the field, minor rutting was caused by heavy equipment driven onto the grass.

"Those are things that can be taken care of. Trying to get grass to grow is another story," he said.

Dellinger said he hopes the field will be in better shape in time for the varsity football team's home opener on Sept. 10.

Freshman and junior varsity football games, along with soccer games, are set to be played before then, but Dellinger said he hopes they can be rescheduled.

When the school signed a contract to allow Bush to use the field for a re-election speech, part of the deal was that officials with the campaign would restore the site.

"I think they will take care of all of the costs," Dellinger said. He planned to seek bids for the work.

Earlier this summer, low spots on the field were filled, grass was planted and excavation was done to lower the field's crown, Dellinger said.

Even while acknowledging damage to the field, Dellinger said that, if given the chance, he would host the event all over again.

"We've only heard positive comments," he said.

Having students attend the event was important.

"It was a great civics lesson for the students," Dellinger said.

A white jersey signed by Bush will be on display at the school, Dellinger said, while the president took a dark blue jersey with him.

Aside from one heckler who was quickly quieted, Bush's visit went without a hitch.

Getting to the speech was another matter for some. Traffic was backed up into Martinsburg on W.Va. 9 and for two miles in both directions on Interstate 81, Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said.

Smith and Secret Service personnel coordinated security for the event.

Approximately 42 Berkeley County deputies and 12 reserve deputies, seven Jefferson County deputies and five reserve deputies, five Morgan County deputies, 40 West Virginia State Police troopers and 12 officers from the Martinsburg Police Department worked during the event.

Smith said he plans to add the associated costs, including required overtime pay, later.

One duty of the officers was to shut down W.Va. 9 before and after the president's speech.

"That had to be done. That was out of necessity for the safety of his motorcade," Smith said.

Drivers who did not make it to the event before W.Va. 9 was closed were turned away, Smith said.

Other than the bottlenecked traffic, everything went smoothly, Smith said.

"Everybody worked together on it. Nobody's trying to grab any glory," he said.

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