Feature Article - February 2004
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Fielding Questions

Sports field designs and options for high-performance and high-use

By Stacy St. Clair

"There is no panacea. There is no perfect option. Everyone has to decide what [turf] best fits their needs."

Before selecting a turf type, recreation managers must consider—among other things—their programming needs, budget, climate and overall goals.

"Our recommendation is that you consider your resources and what its uses will be," Trusty says. "We don't recommend one or the other. Our members have a combination of both."

The recreation world has become more accepting of artificial grass since the industry introduced a new type of turf. The next generation, which has been installed at several NFL and college stadiums, has more give and seems more like natural grass than its predecessors.

The University of Michigan, for example, converted to natural grass this year. At the time, school officials cited difficulties maintaining the field late in the season, when grass was unable to grow on the weather- and player-beaten field. Any unsightly dead spots would remain until the sprig when the warm temperatures returned.

"Everybody has a much better field and a much truer field in early September than they do in November when the championships are played," Michael Stevenson, Michigan's executive associate athletics director, told The NCAA News in September.

Roughly 40 Division I-A schools use synthetic turf on their playing fields, according to the NCAA. The majority of colleges still play on natural grass, but the number of artificial fields is at its highest percentage levels since 1997, statistics show.

But it is the high-school arena that has really seen a boon in synthetic fields. Many educators view artificial turf as a solution to programming headaches.

When it had natural grass on its football fields, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 had limited uses for the gridirons. They would only host four or five football games in the fall and four or five soccer games in the spring.

Though the park district would have preferred to use these fields in the summer, the grass was cordoned off at the end of the school year each June for reseeding. The rejuvenation process left two of the town's best athletic facilities off-limits for three months.