LEESBURG — When a practice or a game is rained out because of poor field conditions, it’s a negative impact to the teams on several levels. Valuable practice time is missed. Games have to be rescheduled or are cancelled, causing a scheduling nightmare and disappointment for players and coaches.
However, a relatively new type of artificial field surface used by several high schools and colleges has made a positive difference, keeping rainouts for soccer games, track & field events and ROTC practices and even some voluntary football workouts to a minimum.
“There are countless benefits for it,” Lee County football coach Dean Fabrizio said. “Obviously the main thing is the aesthetics of the field. You’ve always got a perfect looking field. The other thing is it’s basically like playing on a perfectly manicured grass surface every day. So if we get a heavy rain, no matter how hard it rains, as soon as that rain stops, you’re able to get out on the field and practice on it and there’s no issue.”
Since the artificial turf was installed at Lee County’s Trojan Field last summer, it has proven to be a huge benefit to the Lee County athletics department.
“Football wise, we’ve missed less practices than we ever missed before,” Fabrizio said. “We’re able to get out on the field on numerous days where, in the past, we would not have been able to get out and practice and that was a big, big help to us this year.”
Fabrizio also commented that the amount of injuries were reduced because there are no divots and ruts on the artificial turf like there are on natural grass fields.
The natural surface has also proven to be durable.
“We have two middle school teams that play games on it,” Fabrizio said. “We have our ninth grade team that plays games on it. Our JV team plays games on it, and our Pop Warner teams play games on it on Saturdays. You get a heavy rain, the middle school gets out there and plays on it one night, the freshman or JV plays on it the next, varsity plays on it the next night, but you still have a perfect field.”
The artificial turf has not only benefited the Lee County football program, but the other sports teams and the ROTC have benefited as well.
“The turf has been a big help to us,” track & field coach Condre Payne said. “In the past, we’ve always practiced on grass a lot to save our kids legs because grass doesn’t take as much out of them as the track surface. This year, being able to get out there and run on the turf has helped our kid’s legs. With the amount of rain we’ve gotten, we don’t miss any practice time either. It’s been something that has really helped our track program.”
Lee County boys soccer coach Kevin Pych has also seen the benefits of artificial turf for his squad.
“It’s been a huge advantage for our team,” Pych said. “At Lee County, we have eight programs that have been playing soccer on that turf. By this time last year, before the turf was installed, the field was eaten up. There were a lot of bad spots last year with our grass. This year with our turf, it’s been a huge advantage.
“We haven’t had to cancel any practices. The field has been immaculate. It’s perfect. It can rain for two weeks straight and the field is just perfect.”
Pych said that in his region, more than half the teams have field turf, making it a huge advantage.
Girls soccer coach Dave Baltenburger’s team has also been able to enjoy the facility.
“It’s been great because we can practice no matter the weather is like,” he said. “We play in the rain. The only thing that stops us is the lightning.”
But the success and benefits of field turf have not been limited to just sports. The Lee County ROTC has also experienced its benefits.
“The biggest benefit was just last week,” ROTC Commandant Al Schuette said. “We had our big Pass and Review. We had the XO of the marine corps base out here. We had a lot less worry about the weather. Kids can get out there and march on it without getting their shoes muddy or anything like that. It was a big help last week taking some things off our mind.”
One of the members of the Lee County ROTC, senior cadet Nick Clay, experienced first hand.
“Basically on a new field turf, when you have a pass and review, it’s nice to have turf instead of the old grass for cadets that shine their shoes and take days and hours and hours of work,” Clay said. “They don’t have to worry about getting muddy or messed up as they march onto the field to present to the area manager how well they’ve done this year and look their best. They don’t have to worry about mud and all the other guts and stuff getting their shoes messed up.”
Schuette also pointed out that part of the testing for those cadets who want to go to the Naval Academy or West Point is that they have to throw a basketball.
“It makes it a lot easier with the painted lines on the field to get an accurate measurement on how far they can throw it,” Schuette said. “It’s been real good so far.”
Lewis Hatcher, a a member of the Lee County School Board, said he knew the school’s facilities needed improvement.
“One of the big items, both in money and usage-wise was the field turf,” Hatcher said. “There was great support for putting in the turf from the community. The only people that opposed it were those that really didn’t have much contact with our children in the way of not being involved in coaching or athletics.
“We were very much aware that the turf was needed. I can understand those who thought it was an unnecessary expense, but as far as many teams and the numbers of children that play, it was unreasonable to ask our athletic teams to practice and play on a bad surface.”