Feature Article - February 2009
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Field Goals

Maintaining Sports Fields & Grounds

By Emily Tipping

Infectious Myths

Many have raised concerns about the possibility that MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is spread more readily on synthetic turf fields. But most of the actual research done shows that these infections are much more likely to be caused by unsanitary locker room practices.

"Every once in a while, synthetic fields are blamed for staph infections," said David Anderson, grounds manager for the Hempfield School District in Landisville, Pa., which has three synthetic turf fields. "But I think most of the research, and there's some that's been done by Penn State, has found that most staph infections come from unsanitary practices in the locker room."

Just in case, some synthetic turf manufacturers go the extra yard, adding a high-tech antimicrobial product to fields, which is designed to provide protection against these infections. The product adds an invisible, odorless layer of protection that will not wear off or wash off of the field.

Midwood Field in Brooklyn, N.Y., features synthetic turf with the antimicrobial product applied.

Keep On the Grass

According to Keep America Playing, there are some key steps to take to keep your natural turf in playing condition. First, use fields as little as possible when they're wet. Second, rotate play areas. And third, allow the turf to recover in the spring before you start practice.

We'll add a fourth essential step here: keep on the grass. In other words, maintenance is the key to keeping your fields in playing condition.

The UCR Turf Web site states, "It is unwise to cut the school maintenance budget (irrigation, fertilization, pest and thatch control) for athletic fields planted to turf because developing athletes are put at significant risk." UCR Turf cites a study of football injuries at a dozen Pennsylvania high schools, which revealed that one-fifth of injuries were possibly field-related. When the turfgrass is properly cared for, the fields have better traction, better cushioning and better resiliency, and lower hardness, which reduces the probability of injury.

When you think about taking care of your natural turf fields, the first thing you need to remember is that you're caring for a living thing.

The Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) emphasizes that natural turfgrass fields are "living, breathing organisms that require mowing, watering, fertilizing, time off from play, and depending on disease and pests, the application of plant protectants." Additional maintenance includes aerification at various times of the year to ease compaction, and removing debris.