Feature Article - February 2009
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Field Goals

Maintaining Sports Fields & Grounds

By Emily Tipping

Synthetic surfaces are typically made from a combination of fibers, made from nylon, polypropylene or polyethylene connected to a backing material. The aim of most manufacturers is to make the fibers resemble natural grass as much as possible. In addition, there is a base material, or infill, typically made from granular materials such as crumb rubber, made from recycled tires, plastic pellets, sand, or a combination of sand and crumb rubber.

In New York City, where space is at a premium, synthetic turf is used in about 13 percent of the Parks Department's 952 playing fields. The department says it uses synthetic turf because it: provides even playing surfaces, has padding that prevents injuries, needs no watering or mowing, uses no fertilizers or pesticides, can be used all year and in most weather conditions, does not need to be closed to protect or re-sod, and lasts a long time with little maintenance.

Many of these benefits are showcased at the new 183,961-square-foot synthetic turf playing surface at St. Joseph Collegiate Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. The field is home turf to football, soccer, lacrosse and baseball.

"We wanted to go with a turf-type product because of the longevity," said Robert Scott, president and principal at St. Joseph's. "With the traditional type of fields, we found that by the time we were finished with football practice, the field was damaged for the entire year."

Before installing its new field, St. Joe's had to limit the use of the field to just football in the fall. "We could not use it for soccer because of overuse. We would have a mud ball out there," Scott explained. "We wanted a field that could be used 12 months out of the year and could be used for multiple activities. We saw the turf as an opportunity to allow our athletic teams, physical education and summer programs to have access to our field without worrying about damage."

At Midwood Field in Brooklyn, N.Y., an NFL-donated synthetic turf field is considered one of the best sports surfaces in the greater New York area, and the field sees a lot of use from both Midwood High School in Flatbush, as well as nearby Edward R. Murrow High School. The field also hosts city-wide playoffs, all-star games and many other events.

According to Midwood Athletic Director Mary Anne Elder, "everyone's banging on the door to use it." She added, "We have two football teams, two soccer teams and two lacrosse teams using the field, in addition to over 8,000 kids who get to enjoy the field for PE. It's fabulous, and we are extremely grateful to everyone involved that helped provide this to our community."

The 66,500-square-foot field was donated by the NFL as part of NFL Play 60, a youth health and fitness campaign that encourages kids to be active at least 60 minutes each day.

Other benefits that are often cited for synthetic turf fields include consistency and maintenance costs. Though consistency should not be a problem when natural turf fields are well cared for, the problem is that many are not. And when a natural turf field is not maintained well, problems can develop that may lead to injuries.