James Counce Jr. wants all of Henry County to understand that if an artificial playing surface were to be installed at Patriot Stadium, more than just the Patriot football team would reap its benefits.

“All the sports teams can use the stadium if there is an artificial playing surface. Both girls’ and boys’ soccer, baseball, softball and even the basketball teams could come down for workouts if they choose to do so. The band can practice on it and even PE classes could have time on the surface. Grass needs a great deal of recovery time after games are played on it, especially during bad weather or extreme heat. There is no recovery time for artificial turf,” said Counce, who is the head football coach at Henry County High School.

Mike Poteete is the HCHS athletic director and he, too, likes the idea of a turf surface for Patriot Stadium because of the ability for all athletes to be able to use it. He realizes times would have to be scheduled but says the stadium would be put to greater use instead of sitting idle for eight to nine months a year.

“Our school campus is basically landlocked now,” Poteete told me at the HCHS basketball games last Thursday. “Having a turf would allow us to use one facility to hold practice and workouts for all our teams. That is especially important during bad weather. We can’t add more practice areas to campus, so it would be a real benefit to have a multipurpose stadium like that.”

That is the main thing a facility gains with the installation of a turf field. It can basically be used any time and as much as you want to use it. Counce says that unless there is lightning in the air or the heat index reaches an unhealthy level, then there is nothing that will keep you from using an artificial turf field.

The school board elected last Thursday to set up a work session to further discuss replacing the turf on Bill Hudson Field at Patriot Stadium and talk about the financing plans that the football boosters have presented to them. So let’s take a look at the reasons we are having this discussion.

 

WHAT’S WRONG WITH FIELD NOW?

The field doesn’t drain properly. It no longer has a crown to force water toward the sidelines and it isn’t level. There are lots of low spots and places the grass doesn’t grow very well. There are open drainage grates along the sidelines.

The ground has become compacted and the grass roots are closer to the top of the surface so that they get kicked out of the ground when the field is used in rainy weather or on nights where it has been frozen and then begins to thaw.

There is a greater risk of injury when games are played in these field conditions.

It is also necessary to maintain a separate practice field for football to allow the grass at Patriot Stadium to heal after games are played on it. Soccer has a field it both practices and plays games on, while the band has been practicing in the outfield of the baseball field. Other events are kept off the field during the growing season to help the grass grow and strengthen so it will be able to withstand the possibility of the Patriots playing six to eight games each season on it. That isn’t counting any middle school or freshmen games which can add another 10 contests.

Counce says the football team has played 27 November games at Patriot Stadium since 2010. That’s a lot of usage when the grass is dormant and the field is often wet.

 

COULD NEW GRASS BE INSTALLED?

Counce says a new grass surface with proper drainage, new base, new irrigation and new sod would be fine. He would be proud of it and do his level best to take care of it.

But that isn’t as cheap as some think. I viewed several websites and I’m sure the figures I saw were top of the market dollars but most said the average installation costs for everything needed to install a new grass surface would be in the neighborhood of $250,000. Maintenance on the field is estimated at $10,000 to $30,000 a year.

That is doing proper maintenance that includes soil testing to find what nutrients that the grass needs to grow and remain healthy. The most popular fertilizers include nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. There are many other subnutrients that may be needed to complete the mixture to produce a healthy growing grass turf for the stadium.

Water usage has to be measured and the right amount determined for the field. Too much watering can be as damaging as too little moisture.

Aeration is important to keep the field from becoming compacted. You want the base to allow water to pass through to reach drainage pipes to take it away from the surface. You also want to keep it loose enough the grass roots can grow deeper.

Lines and logos have to be repainted every week that a game will be played.

Bottom line — there is a lot of maintenance to taking care of a grass field.

 

WHAT DOES ARTIFICIAL TURF COST?

The installation cost of the new surfaces such as Field Turf are estimated by most companies to be between $690,000 to $790,000. The Jackson Sun reported in 2017 that Huntingdon was committed to spending $790,000 to put in artificial turf and repave the track at Paul Ward Stadium behind Huntingdon High School. The funds for that project were raised from private donations and the Mustangs now play on a turf field.

Those projections can be affected by how much base work needs to be done, how much excavation has to happen, type of base material that is chosen and the amount of labor and materials that could be donated.

Counce was in charge of maintenance for the artificial turf at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville when he worked there as an assistant coach. He knows about the usage of sweepers and vacuums to keep the surface in shape. He estimates that if he does the work, then maintenance for an artificial turf at Patriot Stadium could be done for about $1,000 a year. Most of the maintenance is removing debris and smoothing out the rubber pellets that coat the field to make it softer to land on. Those have to be redistributed to keep an even coverage and sometimes some have to be added.

Newer turf fields are put down on a base of crushed rock although Counce says some people use a softer cork-like filler that costs more. He said schools like MBA and Brentwood Academy opted for the cork-like filler while Brentwood and Franklin high schools went with the crushed rock.

New data indicates that there are actually less injuries on turf fields than on natural grass.

 

WHO WOULD PAY FOR THE TURF?

Counce said there is a group of HCHS football fans who are willing to foot the bill for an artficial turf. They believe it is the best surface for football and other events for the school system. They believe so strongly in the benefits of artificial turf over grass that they will only commit their money for a project to install artificial turf at the stadium.

Some have brought up what happens when the turf needs to be replaced and Counce says a plan is in place to raise enough money to replace the turf as soon as the surface was installed.

The boosters willing to donate to the project realize that replacement costs might seem high for the county and want to provide for that, too. Plus, Counce points out that the replacement cost is just a little more than half as much as the original installation because the base would already be in place.

 

HOW LONG WOULD THE TURF LAST?

I looked at several industry websites and the consensus was about eight years of continued use. Counce believes that is a modest claim. He believes that a lot of schools are getting 12-15 years of service out of turf fields. He said MBA got about 12 years out of the one there. The University of Tennessee at Martin replaced its turf field last February after using the previous turf for 11 years, according to that university’s athletic website.

“If we get twelve to fifteen years of usage out of a turf field with the difference in maintenance costs, then the cost comparison between grass and an artificial turf becomes a lot closer,” said Counce.

 

BOTTOM LINE OF THOUGHT

Nobody should be misled by thinking an artificial turf surface will save money. A grass field will be cheaper to install. Maintenance on an artificial surface is much less, though.

The biggest advantage of an artificial surface is the availability of the stadium. Practice or games can be played almost anytime.

Counce admits obviously football will play its games there and practice there. But he invites soccer to hold its practices and games there if the girls’ and boys’ programs want to do that. He would invite baseball and softball to hold practices if their own fields were wet. A lot of hitting and throwing stations would fit on a football field.

It would provide a nice surface for graduation in the spring and other shows could be held there. Of course, installing the turf doesn’t guarantee more usage but it does present the opportunity.

It is a really big decision but one that can’t be put off. If the playing surface at Patriot Stadium continues to deteriorate, then some tough decisions like playing playoff games somewhere else might have to be made. Two years ago, neither the Patriots nor Beech could move the football through the mud and the muck. In last fall’s quarterfinal loss to Dyer County, the Patriots saw a big lead evaporate when the field conditions worsened. The Choctaws’ size advantage won out when the game turned into a push-and-shove match in the mud.

So we know the field needs work. The question: Is it better to have the county fund a cheaper grass field which will serve football just fine but will often leave the field unavailable to other sports and the band?

Or should boosters be allowed to fund an artificial turf that costs a great deal more but would allow all sports and the band greater flexibility to practice and perform?

Either answer is a good one. The only bad answer is to do nothing.

So, Go Big Red!

 

TOMMY PRIDDY is a Paris native who has been sports editor at The Post-Intelligencer since 1985. He can be reached by email at sports@parispi.net.

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