A comparison between Robinson's bermuda grass and synthetic turf
By Robby Panos
"All games for today have been cancelled due to the weather," reads the white board outside the Athletic Office. A serious injury ends an athlete's season. Money is poured into maintaining the game field that will be torn apart after only a few hours of play. Some Fairfax County Schools, including West Springfield and Fairfax High School, no longer have to worry about these problems because they have made the switch to synthetic turf fields.
Recent technology in synthetic turf fields has made them an ideal alternative to natural grass fields. From weather to safety to cost, the advantages of synthetic turf fields are increasing, providing a durable playing surface that both players and coaches alike can appreciate. Others feel, however, that these synthetic fields take away from the game. Another issue is the initial capital outlay required to install artificial turf and finding ways to fund such a huge project.
Synthetic turf fields are completely artificial and usually consist of many layers that mimic qualities of natural grass. The layers of such a field consist of an underground piping system, a geo-textile fabric, a base stone, and finally the synthetic turf layer. The piping system provides drainage to pull water from the playing surface and effectively draw it away from the field while the other layers provide stability yet give cushion to the field. Most fields also have small rubber pellets for added give that help protect athletes.
Weather can be an enemy for many outdoor athletic teams and an immense nuisance to practice and game scheduling. At the start of this year's spring season, most teams spent almost two weeks splitting gym time or making use of the confined blacktop space because of rain. Senior lacrosse and football player Camren Cooke, said, "It would be great to have turf fields so teams can play in any weather and not have to worry about bad field conditions." Even on days when it was not raining, fields remained flooded and continued the halt on practices and games. Where a natural grass field may be unusable when muddy or frozen, a synthetic turf field can be used, safely and without damage, in almost any weather because of the advanced draining systems.
Synthetic fields are also extremely durable and can withstand the wear and tear by athletes. A game played on a natural field during or following rain, however, can tear up a field to the point where it cannot recover for quite some time. In such instances, repairs must be made to the field to make it ready for play. Synthetic fields, on the other hand, do not need to be rested to recover from heavy use and are immediately available for the next activity.
The greatest disadvantage of synthetic turf fields is that they are still very costly to install, upwards of half a million dollars. Athletic director, Mike McGurk, said that cost is the major issue and that "we just don't have that kind of money. McGurk added that if cost were not an issue installing a turf field would be "no question. It would help everybody and there are a lot of upsides to it." Supporters of synthetic turf fields argue that this initial cost is made up for in the long run because the synthetic fields require much less labor and maintenance. Natural grass fields, like the Bermuda grass at Robinson, must be mowed every other day, frequently have lines painted, and treated with special chemicals.
Ways for a school to cover the initial installation costs include making an agreement with a local youth organization, looking to Fairfax County for help, turning to private investment through advertising, or persuading the boosters to take on the project. While joining with a local youth organization, such as BRYC, seems to be the most achievable option, the problem is that the youth teams then have rights to the field, only causing more scheduling issues.
In November 2006 Fairfax County voters approved a $25 million bond referendum to increase the number of parks in the county. Part of the improvement and addition of new parks through the referendum includes converting 12 grass fields to synthetic turf. The fields will be located within Patriot Park, a 97-acre area along Braddock Road near Mott Community Center. The groundbreaking ceremony for the park was held in early March and was open to the public.
Both advantages and disadvantages come with synthetic turf fields. Because so many factors exist, the decision ultimately comes down to the situation of that particular school.
By Stephanie Axelrod |
May 18, 2007; 9:00 AM ET
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