Carcinogenic Courts on Campus


Tennis courts at Wilcox are shut down. Courtesy of Michelle Nguyen.

For the past few years, the tennis teams of Wilcox have been practicing at middle schools around the area, from Peterson to Buchser. While this has been agreed to be a hassle amongst athletes and coaches, especially when considering the availability of buses and the time wasted during transportation, it has also been recognized as the best option for everyone’s health.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines carcinogen as “any substance that causes cancer.” Well known examples include tobacco, alcohol, UV rays, and radiation. Currently, the tennis courts on campus contain carcinogen, specifically a substance called asbestos. Asbestos was known for being used in popcorn ceilings starting from 1945. In 1977, however, as Mesothelioma Hope states, “the U.S. Government banned the use of asbestos in ceilings finishes” because it was discovered that asbestos is carcinogenic. If inhaled for long periods of time, the fibers of asbestos get trapped in the human body. This will cause damage to cells and DNA, which will consequently cause diseases.

Although most tennis courts in the schools of the Santa Clara District have asbestos contained underneath, it is not harmful if it remains beneath the surface. The substance is not threatening until there are cracks and the asbestos starts rising up, which is the case for the tennis courts on the Wilcox campus. Due to the carcinogenic substance’s presence, the tennis teams have relocated their practices to other schools within the district, namely Peterson and Buchser. The boys’ tennis teams practice at Buchser while the girls’ tennis teams practice at Peterson. According to boys’ varsity tennis coach Jeff Muralt, “Players get reduced practice time due to the time it takes for transportation to get them across town to Buchser combined with the limited daylight early in the boys’ and late in the girls’ season.” Thankfully, players have agreed that this does not affect their performance. Varsity boys’ tennis player Harry Clarke adds on, “Even though it doesn’t affect our performance, it’s irritating having to move around, especially since there usually isn’t a bus back to Wilcox.” This can be a hassle for parents who have to pick up their child from a place further away than usual. Coach Muralt continues, “Administrators and transportation have to deal with scheduling an extra daily bus while having a limited number of drivers.” In addition, coaches do not have as much access to facilities and equipment compared to if the practice took place at Wilcox. 

Fortunately, the school board has been planning to replace the courts. However, asbestos removal can be quite costly, as well as complicated. Coach Muralt states, “[asbestos] may only be removed using proper hazmat methods and procedures.”  The hazmat procedure is a specially trained method to respond to and remove hazardous materials requiring eight steps. This causes the process to be time consuming, usually taking a couple of months to complete. The procedure is also pricey, costing a few thousand dollars total. 

In addition, the tennis courts are not the only places on campus where asbestos exists. The substance is also present around the visitor stands and snack bar at the football field. However, since there are no cracks and therefore no asbestos rising up, those areas have not been shut down. Nevertheless, the district plans to replace the pavement of those areas in addition to the tennis courts, according to Coach Muralt.

Regardless of the school board’s plans, there have been some complaints amongst the players. Some claim that the district has been aware of this issue for a while, yet not much progress has been made. In spite of that, Clarke comments, “I am thankful for the school and the coach for taking our health into account.” 

Despite the inconveniences for players, coaches, and the administration, all sides agree that health is the priority. Thankfully, there have been plans made regarding the replacement of the pavements on the tennis courts and areas at the football field where asbestos exists. However, taking into consideration the amount of time and money needed to get the replacement done, the tennis court will most likely still be shut down for at least another season. With that in mind, make sure to cheer on the Wilcox tennis teams for their hard work and dedication!