By KEVIN HARRIS
NEW ALBANY —
On Friday nights in Southern Indiana, high school football fans have gotten used to several sights on the gridiron like players blocking and tackling, cheerleaders inspiring the home crowd and students rooting for their team.
Next football season, three area schools each will make a major change to their respective Friday Night environment.
Floyd Central, New Albany and Providence will be switching from a grass surface to synthetic turf fields.
Last January, New Albany High School football coach Charlie Fields and Floyd Central High School football coach Brian Glesing made their pitch to the New Albany-Floyd County school board to approve the installation of synthetic turf at each school’s football stadiums. A few weeks later, the board voted in favor of changing each field to synthetic turf.
“It’s more of a need than a want,” Fields said in a recent interview.
Late last month, Providence announced it was installing synthetic turf at Murphy Stadium. Providence athletic director Mickey Golembeski did the research on the artificial surface for the last four to five years and says there are several benefits having a turf field.
“It has several multiuse purposes and it is always available in all sorts of weather. We are putting in the latest and greatest turf there is. It is top of the line,” Golembeski said. “What made it happen at this point in time was the donation money coming in for it. It is something we want to get done.”
According to the IHSAA, at least 44 schools in Indiana have switched to synthetic turf football fields. Twenty-six of the 32 schools that play football in Class 6A — the state’s top division that includes New Albany and Jeffersonville — have synthetic turf.
New Albany athletic director Don Unruh said the move to synthetic turf is needed to keep up with the competition. The Bulldogs and the Red Devils are in Class 6A Sectional 8 with Center Grove and Columbus North. Both of those schools have synthetic turf.
“It puts our kids on an even playing field at that level,” Unruh said.
SAFETY A HUGE REASON FOR SWITCh
Fields, Glesing and Providence football coach Larry Denison are all in agreement on one reason for the switch to synthetic turf — safety.
In studies by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, synthetic turf causes 74 percent fewer muscle tears and 32 percent fewer ligament tears than grass surfaces. In addition, a synthetic surfaces cause 47 percent fewer cranial and/or cervical injuries and 12 percent fewer concussions than natural turf.
“I think injuries are going to be reduced,” Glesing said. “It’s not like the old Astroturf. That was like carpet. This is like grass.”
The synthetic turf will allow each of three football programs to primarily practice inside their own stadium. For the past several season, the Bulldogs, the Highlanders and the Pioneers prepare for upcoming games on a grass practice field located on their respective campuses.
Those practice fields are not in the best condition to play football on. Most practice fields are very bumpy and can cause players to sprain ankles or twist their knees.
“A practice field is not smooth. It’s not conducive to safety. You get a lot of ankle injuries because of them,” Glesing said.
Fields says he has seen players suffered head injuries because of grass fields.
“When I was an assistant coach under [former New Albany football coach] Kevin Roth, we lost a couple of players to concussions because they hit their heads on the ground,” Fields said.
Denison says Providence’s practice field, which is located in front of the school, also is used as a parking lot during the football season. He said sometimes before practice, his players must pick up any trash on the field so they will not trip over it while working on plays.
“Before practice, we have to look for broken bottles,” Denison said. “The synthetic turf should avoid injuries. Our kids are excited about it. They were shocked beyond belief that we were going to get it.”
FIELD MAINTENANCE REDUCED
During the course of a football season, a football field requires lots of time and care to keep it in good shape. In the meantime, the labor and material costs mount up with that maintenance.
Going to synthetic turf is expected to reduce that field maintenance significantly. The switch will eliminate mowing the field and painting yard lines and sidelines prior to each home game.
“The reduction of maintenance costs will allow us to save money. There will be less manpower needed,” Floyd Central athletic director Jeff Cerqueira said. “[The synthetic field] is a huge initial investment, but in the long run, it’s cost effective and it gets the community involved.”
Glesing sees the economical benefits in switching to synthetic turf.
“I think it’s cost neutral,” Glesing said. “It’s low maintenance. It saves on gas. You don’t have to paint it every week and you don’t have to water it.”
NOT JUST FOR VARSITY FOOTBALL
The varsity football teams at Floyd Central, New Albany and Providence will not be the only athletic squads or school organizations at their respective schools using the synthetic turf fields.
Providence plans on using the new surface many times.
Starting next fall, the Pioneers’ boys’ and girls’ soccer teams will move from adjacent Memorial Field, which has grass, to Murphy Stadium and play their home games on the synthetic turf. In addition, both teams will share practice time on the new turf with the football program.
The Pioneers’ junior varsity and junior high football teams will host games on the synthetic field, and Golembeski expects New Albany Deanery teams to play games on it as well.
With both soccer teams playing at Murphy Stadium, Golembeski says Memorial Field can be turned into a baseball-only park. Plans are being made to move the Memorial Field fence closer to home plate for the Pioneers’ baseball team next season.
The Floyd Central marching band will be using the new turf at Ron Weigleb Stadium to practice their halftime shows during the week. Also, youth football teams in Floyd County are expected to play games on the surface.
“The community can have Little League football there. The band can practice there,” Cerqueira said.
Cerqueira also mentioned the turf can be used for Highlander boys’ and girls’ soccer matches if necessary. The FCHS soccer fields, which are located behind Weigleb Stadium, have been flooded in the past because of heavy rain. If a situation like that happens, Cerqueira says the football field fits all the requirements for soccer.
New Albany’s junior varsity and freshman teams will have home games on the new surface at Buerk Field along with Hazelwood Middle School’s seventh- and eighth-grade football team. Those three teams also will share the new turf with the Bulldogs’ varsity squad for practice.
Unruh says the synthetic turf field at Buerk Field will provide more space than the current practice field, which is located just north of the football stadium on the NAHS campus. New Albany and Hazelwood also shares the current practice field.
“It gives us more space to practice. It will double the space that we do have,” Unruh said.
Unruh and Golembeski also pointed out that the synthetic turf will allow other teams like baseball to use the field for practice when weather is bad in the spring.
EAST COACH PRAISES SYNTHETIC TURF
If there is one school in Southern Indiana that has benefited from synthetic turf, it is Columbus East.
New Albany and Floyd Central’s Hoosier Hills Conference foe has had the surface at Stafford Field for eight years. Not only does the Olympians’ varsity football team, which won the Class 4A state championship last fall, plays on the surface, but East’s middle school, freshman and JV programs competes on the surface as well.
In addition, the Columbus East band practices on it once a week, East’s physical education classes use it often and several other Olympians’ athletic programs utilize it.
East athletic director and football coach Bob Gaddis has nothing but great things to say about synthetic turf.
“We practice on it daily. It is a much safer surface and provides a consistent area for practice,” Gaddis said. “Coaches can run drills in the same spot and it will not hurt the surface. The consistency for drill work and team time is a real benefit. There are no issues with bad weather. The cost for maintenance is much lower.”
Gaddis applauds the three area schools going to the synthetic turf.
“It is a great move,” Gaddis said. “We have had several schools visit our field and ask questions. Whether it is an addition or starting from scratch, it is the best use of athletic space.”
ANY OTHER TAKERS?
One area school that is considering a move to synthetic turf is Jeffersonville. Red Devil athletic director Todd Satterly is currently looking into a possible new surface for Blair Field.
“Jeffersonville High School is currently in the process of doing an athletic facility study through the architectural firm of Kovert Hawkins [in Jeffersonville],” Satterly said in a recent email. “The study has not been finalized, but turf fields are a consideration.”
Three athletic directors in the News and Tribune coverage area — Silver Creek’s Larry Richmer, Clarksville’s Khelli Leitch and Eastern’s Scott Newcomb — each say their respective schools are not considering a move to synthetic turf at this time. Charlestown athletic director Chad Gilbert did not respond to an email about the possibility of synthetic turf at Dutch Reis Field.
Richmer said in a recent email the grass turf at Silver Creek’s football field is in currently good condition to host several athletic events.
“We play varsity, JV and middle school football as well as boys’ and girls’ soccer on our field, so a synthetic surface might be beneficial,” Richmer said. “But the field we have held up very well last year and we realize that school corporations have limited dollars to spend on a multitude of projects.”