I would like if everyone in Henry County could voice their opinion on the newly proposed synthetic football field at HCHS.

I have received numerous texts and calls asking me to be a voice for Henry County, or to at least voice my opinion about the new field proposal.

I cannot say that I am the right person for this, due to my profession, without sounding biased, but yes, I am going to push for a natural grass field at Henry County High School.

We at Tri-Turf Sod grow some of the most popular turf cultivars in the Mid-South, they are used and played on by kids in elementary, middle school, high school and college, all the way up to minor league and professional teams.

One of my main concerns is the safety of the surface. There are numerous variables to take into account when considering a synthetic field.

But one of the main concerns to me, and parents alike, is the increased possibility of sports injuries, i.e. knee injuries, ankle injuries and concussions, to name a few.

I agree the HCHS football field is in need of a re-build. It’s 29 years old, the soil is very compacted, and it has a thick thatch layer (layer of organic matter), which is causing most of the water sitting on the field. The drains and culverts are in bad need of attention; they are about 45 years old, so they are for sure going to need to be replaced.

Another concern is the temperature of a synthetic field when compared to a natural grass field. I’ve witnessed a synthetic field with temperatures 60 degrees higher than that of a paved parking lot on a 90-degree day. I’ve seen one synthetic field that was 183 degrees; it was melting the bottom of the player’s cleats.

Wear and tear or general usage is another variable to look at when considering a synthetic playing surface.

I am aware that the new synthetic field has been promoted as being a multi-purpose field, meaning other groups will be able to use these facilities as well.

One group in particular would be the HCHS Marching Band. Again, while there is no denying that the HCHS band needs a safe place to play and practice, and a synthetic field would hold up better for the band, they are the hardest on any type of playing surface.

The main reason is the foot traffic and the patterns. They practice a routine that is usually mapped out following the same line and patterns multiple times a day, even on synthetic, and it will create compaction spots that will need more attention and maintenance in the future.

Since pavement is actually colder then synthetic turf, if we could come up with possibly painting the parking lot behind the stadium a light green to drop temperatures similar to tennis courts, and paint the lines reasonable to the football field, that would give a useful area with no wear and tear on any fields and also less worries of heat exhaustion to our kids or teachers.

Synthetic turf has been a controversial topic for some time, with dissension from both sides, which in turn has led to multiple research studies on the subject.

One such study was performed here in the great State of Tennessee at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. The study at UT was spurred by curiosity, but a donation of Astro turf and $1.5 million didn’t hurt.

Tri-Turf Sod, along with other sod farms, donated the sod needed to perform the tests and to find out if there were any additional dangers associated with synthetic turf.

The purpose of the study was to compare synthetic turf fields and natural grass fields, one grown on native soil and another on a sand-based soil. The focus of the study had many facets, but among them were tests for joint injuries, concussions and heat stress.

From the beginning of the study, the negatives outweighed the positives when comparing synthetic to natural grass.

The study was led by Dr. John Sorochan, associate professor and turfgrass specialist with the Department of Plant sciences, and Dr. Jim Brosnan, assistant professor and turfgrass specialist.

According to Sorochan, who does testing for the NFL, 93% of athletes and players prefer to play on natural grass, stating that the natural turf will allow them to play longer and prevent long-term chronic pain in the future.

If it’s a question of maintenance, synthetic fields are not immune to this issue. Synthetic field coaches and maintenance personnel have told me personally that if done properly, which is very important to the quality and longevity of the product, it could easily cost up $30,000 per year depending on usage.

With the thought of more entities using the field, the maintenance may cost even more and, without proper care, the quality and safety of the field is greatly diminished.

At a fraction of the cost, a natural grass field would overall be safer and cooler for our athletes, and with the money saved, I see the money better spent on turf and maintenance professionals to overlook all of our fields (they could even help local parks in the city), not just the football field.

Our maintenance workers at HCHS do a wonderful job maintaining the field, but they have their hands full, and with so many projects, the responsibility of field maintenance flows back and forth between the maintenance workers and the coaches.

Regardless of the surface, synthetic or natural, you will need to have a dedicated professional group that focuses on just the field maintenance.

Union City Athletics in Union City is an athletic field model we should strive to emulate. Union City Athletics has one of the best professional groups in the United States, winning numerous national awards.

It can be done; we just need a consistent maintenance schedule that is strictly followed and monitored. In my eyes, there is no reason we shouldn’t have the best natural field in the state, if it’s done correctly.

We have donors who are willing to pay so much for the synthetic turf. If they would put that money up for our county to have a couple of professionals, they could help all sports in the whole county, not just HCHS football.

If you are conflicted, or just not sure about the subject, please look at these websites for data and info: UT Knoxville, Penn State, Sports Turf Managers Association and Turfgrass Producers Association.

Or just look up the pros and cons of synthetic turf; the literature is out there.

Henry County, please do your research and speak up! Once it starts, it is already too late to go back. They may not listen to me, but hopefully they will listen to the county’s citizens.

We love football and we love HCHS. But above all, we love all our athletes and care deeply about them and their safety. Some of our athletes move on to more advanced athletics.

Still, for some, high school athletics is the pinnacle of their athletic career. I’m sure we can agree, there is a lot of life left after high school athletics. Thus, lets make sure it’s a healthy one.

Go, Big Red!

 

JASON POOLER owns Tri-Turf Sod Farms (www.triturfsod.com) near Paris with his wife, Tina.

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