Artificial Turf Fields in High School Athletics

We reside in a small, rural southern New Jersey town that is, in all honestly, fairly to very affluent. The township’s local public high school has produced a record number of state championship contenders and winners; within the past five years alone, Moorestown High School has fielded (pardon the pun!) at least twenty-five State Championship teams in field hockey, soccer, cross country, tennis, football, and most of all, in lacrosse. (The MHS girls’ varsity lacrosse team has won four consecutive state championships and ranks anywhere from first to fifth in the nation according to the polls. The boys’ lacrosse program has also, like the girls’ program, sent numerous students on their way to some pretty prestigious colleges with full athletic scholarships.)

And yet, these teams have practiced, practiced, practiced in all kinds of weather on township fields that can be classified as ‘pretty beaten up’ at pretty much any season of the year. Moorestown township fields, as well as all of the Moorestown public school district fields, are all grass fields. They fall prey to constant overuse, to the whims of Mother Nature, to too many sports at both the middle school, high school, Recreation Department, club and travel fields vieying for game and practice space on far too many grass fields. A high school whose athletic program consistently ranks at the top of the state deserve better. Not only are the grass fields throughout the township in disgraceful condition, they also provide a very dangerous playing field for these young athletes as well. Over the past eight years, I’ve watched my daughters’ field hockey and lacrosse teams play; I’ve seen our players and players from the other fields trip, fall and injure themselves on the rutted, uneven field surfaces. Most of the players sustained minor injuries, while an unfortunate few ended up with broken legs and ankles.

What our township is planning to do might very well be the game plan for your school district or town as well.

Our current fields are all grass; the average maintenance for one field is in the range of $5,000 to $8,000 per field annually. This includes cutting, lining, and watering the fields; there is very little that can be done to prevent the rutted conditions themselves, although they are ‘smoothed out’ every other season. In a town that has five or ten playing fields, basic maintenance alone can cost upwards of $80,000 per year. Even with this basic maintenance, the fields are often barely usable as one sport’s season ends and the next begins. Most often, there isn’t even the time to ‘smooth out’ a field, as many sports overlap each other timewise.

The cost of the average artificial turf field ranges in price from $450,000 to $800,000 tops. The field should be installed over an existing grass field that is under the lights; the ideal site and size would be to install the field under a lighted football stadium. Installation should take place in the spring, and installation takes about four to six months to complete if installed under ‘ideal’ weather conditions. Basically, pellets fill in the grass field, and the artificial turf is installed over the pellets, with adequate drainage an essential part of the installation process. There is a fast-growing number of companies who now install artificial turf fields; as competition increases, the price of installation of an artificial turf field decreases. Also, if you’re considering installing one turf field, you might want to check out the substantial savings you’ll incur if two or more fields are installed by the same company at the same time. Average savings for installing two or more artificial turf fields is presently in the 15% to 20% overall cost range. What some towns have experienced with having only one turf field installed is the logistical nightmare of having so many teams fighting for its use at the same times.

What are the benefits of installing an artificial turf field? They are really numerous! Having an artificial turf field enables a team to play a game under any weather conditions; no more ‘called’ games because of freestanding water in front of the goal or ‘dangerous’ playing conditions on a muddy, sloppy rain-soaked field. The field can sometimes start to even pay for itself if you are able to rent it out to other groups wishing to hold tournament or championship games on an exact date, and want the assurance that the field will be playable under any weather conditions. Since the artificial turf does not rut, you are reducing the chance of players’ injuries by at least 60%. (Most colleges and universities have gone the way of the turf field years ago; they often have the funding or the backing of an alumni – who may or may not wish to have the field named in their honor – to fund it.) You also now have a field that can withstand the constant wear and tear of games and practices played over and over and over the same field. Artificial turf is extremely durable and requires very little, if any, annual maintenance. The turf fields are guaranteed for a minumum of an eight year life span currently; most of them last eight to ten years, more often ten years.

Funding options? Again, consider a big name/big bucks donor who would love the chance to have a field named in his or her honor. Other options include fundraising, both at the local town level and the school sector. Here in Moorestown, a proposal has been made that the various private sports clubs and team raise a one-time amount of between $20,000 to $25,000 each to offset the cost of installation. If you have five or more organizations in your town, that’s a hefty $100,000 in funding right there. You could solicit matching funds from large corporation or employers in your area to meet the funds raised by the clubs. A school bond and/or township bond can be floated to cover either part or all of the cost of the turf field. (The marketing tool here is to reach out to all residents and make them aware that having at least one turf field in town is a boon to all residents.

It increases the value of every home by having such a field available in your town, and benefits a fairly high percentage – sometimes as much as 50% of the population – whose children or grandchildren will benefit by having the year-round turf field available.) Another option to consider is having large corporations or employers consent to permanent advertising on the fields; a large, affixed sign could bring in as much as $10,000 to $20,000 per company/employer. The signs could be permanent or on a rotated basis. Another funding option to consider is a grant application. A good grant writer can seek out what funding, based on any numer of variables (size of town, number of athletes per general population, town improvement, etc.)

Having at least one artificial turf field, which looks remarkably like a well-manicured lawn after installation, can be a huge benefit not only as a township and school district asset, but can also significantly reduce the number of player injuries in all of the sports named above. How can you put a price tag on childrens’ safety??.

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