Other schools tout advantage of home turf
STERLING – As Sterling High School anticipates receiving a $1 million donation from the Sterling Athletic Booster Club for a synthetic turf at Roscoe Eades Stadium, regional athletic directors who already have the artificial field describe it as “awesome,” “wonderful,” “the only way to go” and “one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
But the one thing they all want to talk about is drainage.
The schools say they make more use of the synthetic fields because they drain more quickly. Teams even can practice or play on the turf in the rain, so games and practices don’t have to be canceled.
Even snow melts pretty quickly on a synthetic field, DeKalb High School Athletic Director Dan Jones said.
“If we had a snowfall and it gets sunny in the 40s, it’ll be melted by the afternoon,” he said.
And the fields aren’t just for football players, some superintendents have said.
Marching bands practice on them, and gym classes use them. Soccer teams get more use from synthetic fields. Softball and baseball teams can start practice outside as early as late February because they have a dry field, even if it’s been a rainy season – or morning.
“A field of synthetic turf can be beneficial for every student at the school,” Mendota Superintendent Jeff Prusator said.
Players have fewer injuries with the softer, more consistent synthetic turf, most of the regional athletic directors said. Cleats don’t tear up synthetic fields as they do wet grass, so players don’t get stuck in holes, and they get injured less often, Rock Island High School Athletic Director Bob Swanson said.
“Our trainer has indicated to me virtually every year we have less knees twisted, less ankles turned, even sore backs because of not so much twisting or stepping in a bad spot,” he said.
On grass, torn ligaments and other injuries used to make eight to 10 football players and five or six soccer players a year sit out the season. Those injuries hardly ever happen now, Swanson said.
The synthetic fields are easier and cheaper to maintain, as well. Schools don’t have to fertilize, seed, or water the fields. Weekly mowing and painting of lines are not needed. Weeds don’t have to be pulled.
The fields must be raked for litter and leaves about every month or two, the athletic directors said, but the raking takes only about 3 hours.
Rock Island had a whole other problem with its grass field that it no longer worries about: Grubs infested the grass and attracted their predators, moles, who tore up the field. The grass got so many holes that the school had to cancel or move 2 or 3 weeks of home games for fear of player injury.
The regional schools all paid for their synthetic fields differently, but they all say they were worth the money.
DeKalb High School’s synthetic turf was installed when the new school was built. The $80 million school opened last fall. A referendum was passed in the spring of 2008 to raise property taxes for the new school, and the field was part of that project. The installation of the turf cost between $800,000 and $1 million, Superintendent Jim Briscoe said.
Mendota High School built Mendota Athletic Stadium about a year ago. The turf and installation alone cost $392,418, Prusator said.
Mendota’s new stadium was a goal of the school board’s for 10 years, since the high school moved into its current building, Prusator said. The stadium and field cost a combined $3.2 million. The money came from community members and from the sale of bonds, Prusator said.
Freeport and Rock Island high schools installed turf in pre-existing stadiums, as Sterling hopes to do. Freeport’s turf cost about $700,000. The district paid $250,000, and the rest is being funded by donations.
Rock Island paid $650,000 to put synthetic turf in Almquist Field about 4 years ago. The natural turf was going to have to be replaced at a cost of $200,000 to $300,000, Swanson said. The board was persuaded to spring for the synthetic turf when a very rainy fall season forced anther school district to replace its natural turf 2 years in a row, he said.
Converting a grass field to turf, as Sterling intends, can be more costly than building a field from scratch, Prusator said. The grass fields’ “crowns,” or high points, must be removed at a cost. Grass fields are lower in the sidelines to allow drainage. In Sterling’s case, the track is higher than the field, so dirt will be trucked in to raise the field’s level to make it even with the track, Sterling Athletic Booster Club trustee Jeff Gee said.
If Sterling gets a synthetic field, the fiber will likely have to be replaced in 12 to 15 years, Gee said. The replacement is expected to cost 40-45 percent of initial installation because drainage work won’t be needed, he said.
The new fields can pay not only for themselves with less maintenance, but they can generate money for districts, Briscoe said. Districts can charge fees for hosting youth leagues during weekends, he said. Freeport hosts the Rockford Riveters, a women’s tackle football team that play in a semi-professional league.
Rock Island is considering installation of a big screen so it can host movie nights in its stadium to raise funds, Swanson said.
“We’d never dreamed of doing that [with grass],” he said.
And another way the synthetic fields are superior to grass, Freeport Athletic Director Jeff Fitzpatrick said: They’re not bad looking.
“Any team that comes here – their mouths drop,” he said. “It’s beautiful,.”
Jones has one regret about DeKalb’s turf: that the school didn’t have it a decade ago.
“It makes life a lot easier for coaches and players,” he said. “It’s been a great, great thing so far for us.”
Drawbacks to synthetic turf? Not many
Most regional athletic directors are at a loss to come up with a drawback for synthetic turf.
Rock Island Athletic Director Bob Swanson knows of one minor problem that hasn't affected the school:
"We were told in extremely high temperature, the synthetic surface will retain heat and be warmer to play on than natural turf," he said.
But in the heat waves of summer, no teams need to use the field anyway, he noted.
Also vandalism could mean a huge loss, but the same vandalism could occur on grass, he said. It's just that with synthetic turf, "You're a little more worried about it because you're so proud of it."
The Sterling Athletic Booster Club is trying to raise money to install synthetic turf on the high school's athletic field.
The club must know by the last week of April whether its raised enough money to have the turf installed this year, club trustee Jeff Gee said.
The project would be done by FieldTurf.
The club is trying to raise $500,000 to qualify for a matching donation from an undisclosed donor.
To donate, go to www.sterlingschoolsfoundation.org and click on "New Turf at Roscoe Eades Stadium?"
Tax-deductible donations also can be sent to:
Sterling Athletic Booster Club
P.O. Box 1046
Sterling, IL 61081