Artificial turf fields now in the majority for high school football fields
It was just 18 years ago that every single high school football field across Section II was natural grass.
When the time finally came that a school opted to put in an artificial turf surface, Amsterdam was the guinea pig.
“We were excited about it,” said Bob Noto, Amsterdam’s athletic director and an assistant football coach at the time. “They weren’t taking as great care of the field as they had in the past. Putting the turf in was going to be a big advantage for our program.”
Getting to that point wasn’t easy. Installation delays meant that on the night the Rugged Rams were set to play their first game on the surface, it still hadn’t been completely filled with rubber pellets.
“They were still putting the pellets out two hours before the game,” Noto said. “They only got like three-quarters of it done. We played on a field that wasn’t even done yet.”
At the time of the move, Amsterdam football was in the midst of one of the great runs of dominance in Section II history, winning six area titles in a seven-year stretch under head coach Pat Liverio, culminating in a Class A state championship in 2005, the year after the turf was installed.
Since Amsterdam opened its turf field at Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy in September 2004 — the surface was since updated in 2021 — turf surfaces have started to take up more and more of the Section II football season.
“Once we got the turf, people saw the advantage and how it cuts down your maintenance costs,” Noto said. “I think it was only a matter of time before everybody started getting turf.”
Friday night, Guilderland High School will open its turf field after multiple delays, making the Dutchmen the 26th out of 53 Section II football programs to have a turf home field. That will put the section above 50% turf fields for the first time in its history.
Niskayuna — playing home games this season at Schenectady High School’s Larry Mulvaney Field and Union College’s Frank Bailey Field, both turf facilities — is set to unveil its renovated stadium with turf next year. And on Tuesday, South Colonie School District residents will vote on whether to approve a $112.5 million capital project that includes putting artificial turf on Ambrosio Stadium’s field.
What once was seen as a luxury is now seen by most as a necessity, especially given artificial turf’s lack of maintenance and the weather in the Northeast.
Guilderland’s capital project that included artificial turf passed comfortably last fall.
“We had a lot of community support,” Guilderland football coach Dan Penna said. “I have to give props to the field hockey and lacrosse programs. They put in the time to initiate the change to turf, and we in the football program got behind it and advocated. We were happy to show the benefits of it.”
On the right turf field, not only can multiple sports play on it, but physical education classes can also use it.
“As we saw with COVID, everyone is trying to get outdoors more,” Penna said. “And with drainage, now you’ve got an area where even if it rains for an hour before, the field will feel dry in 15 minutes.”
What helps artificial turf fields feel dry — and what gives it noticeably more cushion than the previous generation’s AstroTurf — is the cushioning system made from rubber compounds or polyester foam. That has come under a fair amount of scrutiny by people and groups that feel it isn’t safe, and many studies can back that up, but only to a point. Most analysis reveals the studies are limited in scope, and recommends further research be done.
Guilderland has had to be patient in this fall, as bad weather and other delays bumped his home debut into late October. Early last week, Guilderland athletic director David Austin said that, ideally, the turf’s debut will be on Tuesday, when the field hockey team is scheduled to host a Section II Class A quarterfinal. That team has used Afrim’s Sports Park in Colonie as its home field, and when the official Class A bracket was released Saturday that was listed as the site of Guilderland’s game against Columbia.
The football team has had “home” games this season twice at Mohonasen and once at Scotia-Glenville while awaiting its new turf field.
The number of large schools without artificial turf is rapidly dwindling, and Saratoga Springs is one of them — with an asterisk. The high school actually has an artificial turf field, but it is not the main field inside its stadium, which is still grass.
Football coach Terry Jones explained that a large capital project that included putting artificial turf on the football field failed shortly after Amsterdam had gotten its turf. When the proposal was brought back for a May 2018 vote, it shifted the turf over to a side field because the dimensions of the main field and track were such that to put turf on it would have required moving the track and home bleachers back toward the school.
“So the idea quickly transitioned into that side field, and so now it’s regulation soccer, regulation lacrosse and field hockey and still has room for teams on the sidelines,” Jones said.
That said, Jones can see the value of artificial turf, but said he’s a grass guy.
“With the progression of the new artificial turf — the old AstroTurf was like playing on concrete — it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of schools are using it,” Jones said. “For schools, it makes a lot of sense. With so many schools having more sports than they once did, and a lot of them are landlocked, they have to do something to get more usage.
“As a coach, and even most of our players, I think we prefer to play on grass,” Jones continued. “There are times when the turf is available, and the kids don’t want to use it. I see our field as a good field. The grass is good, it has a nice sand base to it so it drains very well.”
Penna said grass “can be fun at times,” but he would prefer artificial turf now that there’s more give in it than in the past.
“Especially given our weather changes,” Penna said, “with our grass practice field, we already have to use certain portions of our field so we don’t chew others up.”
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Categories: High School Sports, Sports, Sports