Dan HarrisCal Hi Sports
Over the past five years, I've had the privilege of covering over a hundred high school sporting events a year. That means trips to hundreds of high schools and all sorts of different facilities -- gyms large and small, baseball diamonds with no outfield fences or foul poles and football fields of varying grass growth and length.
But over those years, we've seen a dramatic increase in schools installing field turf. No, it doesn't have the mucky gripping mud that Butch Cattalico and the Los Gatos Wildcats will always enjoy. No, it doesn't puddle up, bringing sliding soccer players into the back of their own net. No, the extra strength detergent for a multi-colored dirt-stained lacrosse jersey isn't needed.
For high school sports, though, field turf can be a stress saver. Most schools don't have dedicated facility departments with teams of people preparing each field for each separate event. When weather hits, grass fields turn to muck causing cancellation of games, tricky playing conditions, and pools for the always fortunate videographer/reporter. In fact, most maintenance crews have to deal with other parts of the school during extreme weather.
A huge advantage of field turf is its better drainage system which results fewer injuries. As our team rolled into the Richmond soccer stadium this past Tuesday after a series of storms hit the area, we were delighted to see the field was mostly dry. Even though we had to stand in a puddle in the bleachers, the players weren't sliding and slipping around while playing on dry turf. Most importantly, mid-fielders and forwards weren't sticking in muddy trenches turning ankles and popping ACLs. While the always thrilling Mud Bowl is fun for players and spectators, there is definitely a greater chance for injury.
Just like anything else, there are drawbacks – the turf gets hot during the summer, and anyone wearing tennis shoes is likely to get a single scoop of black rubber nuggets. But the games are played and injuries are avoided.
Richmond High School is one of many Bay Area schools to install field turf in the last few years, and it's good to see that schools are looking at safer and more cost-efficient sports venues. Hopefully, as economics allow, all schools can install turf. That's what I call leveling the playing field.