When asked about artificial turf in 1970, former Major League Baseball player Dick Allen said, "If a horse can’t eat it, then I don’t want to play on it."
Times have changed since then, and from Florida to California to here in Georgia, high schools are starting to move away from natural grass fields and replacing them with field turf.
North Hall High hopes to add its name to the growing list of schools around the country making this move.
On Monday, the Hall County Board of Education will vote on whether or not to approve North Hall’s request to replace the existing natural turf at The Brickyard with field turf, a synthetic turf comprised of rubber granulates, grass fibers and a unique blend of specially treated Polyethylene fibers.
The Trojans first got a taste of what it’s like to play on the synthetic field when preparing for their Class AAA semifinal game last year at Roswell High. Trojans fans noticed how nice the field was at the Fulton County school and decided that a synthetic playing surface was something they wanted.
"Playing on that type of field kind of got us thinking," North Hall football coach Bob Christmas said. "It was just like playing on a perfectly manufactured natural grass field."
But unlike its natural grass counterpart, the synthetic field provides benefits to schools that would otherwise not exist. For North Hall, the biggest benefit is the ability to create more space and to provide a facility that can be used more than a natural field.
"If we go the turf route, it gives us an extra field (to play and practice on)," North Hall Touchdown Club president Jim Wilhoite said. "By utilizing what space we have, and not having to build a new stadium in the future, we are being a good steward to the land."
Creating space, and a field that can be used year round without worries about overuse damaging the field is also a benefit according to Lassiter High athletic director George Lindsay, who, in 2007 coached at Hoover (Ala.) High where field turf has become the norm.
"From an athletic department standpoint it makes sense," Lindsay said. "So many teams use the facility and it saves us a ton on upkeep and maintenance. The field is always in good shape and it’s safe."
With soccer, football and in some cases lacrosse games being played on high school fields, the natural grass turf takes a beating and requires between $35,000-$40,000 a year to maintain the facility. According to Perris (Calif.) High athletic director Marci Martinez, who oversaw the construction of a synthetic field at her high school in 2007, those yearly maintenance costs are drastically reduced with an artificial turf field.
"It costs money to mow, water, line and everything else that comes with a grass field," Martinez said. "Although the field turf costs a pretty penny initially, over the long haul its worth it."
Especially since every student at the school, and programs outside of the school can use the field.
"The biggest advantage is more use," Hall County Board of Education Vice Chairman Nath Morris said. "Physical Education classes can use it, the band can use it, and obviously the football and soccer teams can use it, all without the fear of wearing down the field."
According to Christmas, the turf at North Hall will cost an estimated $500,000-$600,000, all of which will be paid for privately by the school’s touchdown club. Despite the large cost for initial construction, the Trojans coach believes that the lack of yearly maintenance costs will help the school pay for the cost of replacing the field after the warranty expires in 8-13 years. The cost for replacing the field is roughly half of the initial cost.
The fact that the new field at North Hall is privately funded, and the replacement of the field in the future will be able to be paid for privately, provides an opportunity to test whether or not installing field turf will be a benefit to all of the Hall County high schools.
"We have an opportunity to test a product that we know is safer, requires less maintenance and it’s paid for by a private funds," Morris said. "If its safer, cost effective and you can pay for it and the replacement privately then future boards should consider approving it for all schools."
North Hall can do that, and according to the team’s touchdown club president, having the ability to finance a project of this magnitude should not be looked upon negatively.
"Seven years ago no one thought North Hall could do anything in regards to improving the facilities," Wilhoite said. "If you go and ask people and have a good cause, people will step up.
"Just because every school in the county can’t do this shouldn’t limit what one school can do," he added. "I don’t think it’s fair to hold back one community just because other communities can’t get things done."
Whether or not North Hall will be able to get this project done is now up to the Board of Education. If approved, Wilhoite said that construction of the new field will begin in May after the completion of soccer season and will take between 75-90 days to complete.
If the project is denied, Christmas said the school would just move on.
"Whatever the board decides is fine," Christmas said. " I’d be disappointed, but will it be the end of the world? No."