As Columbia County schools explore the possibility of installing artificial turf in its five high schools next year, a player and officials from a local school are championing the benefits of moving away from natural turf.
North Augusta High School senior Chase Tillman has been playing football for 12 years. He has been playing on natural grass as well as artificial turf since high school installed the surface in 2015.
“Outside of the heat, there is nothing different,” he said. “I liked it 10 times better because you can actually move better.”
But the defensive end admits he doesn’t notice any difference in his performance in away games.
Tillman said the ability to play on artificial turf gives athletes an advantage if they choose to play at college where artificial turf is often used. Earlier this month, he announced his decision to play for Appalachian State University, which also uses synthetic turf.
Tillman also saw the benefits of turf for those who had to paint and maintain natural turf throughout the year.
“It’s worth it in the long run,” he said.
Tillman’s head coach Jim Bob Bryant, who started at North Augusta last year, has spent 20 years coaching on natural turf and three on artificial and is a supporter of the artificial due to its low maintenance. and its profitability. He said the field pays for itself in seven years.
Principal John Murphy, who has served at the school since 2013, has regularly seen the downsides of having a grass field for nine teams. In the fall, three high school football teams used the field for games and one practice per week. Further training took place at the adjacent training ground. North Augusta and Paul Knox High Schools also each had a team that used the field for games.
By the time the football season started in January, and with no grass growth due to the weather conditions, the pitch was practically dirt for these four teams, Murphy said.
The cost of maintaining the land was also high. Murphy estimates that the school spent between $ 15,000 and $ 20,000 each year to renovate the grounds during the summer, keep the grass cut, apply chemicals and water. The pitch also had to be painted before each match.
“We couldn’t support him,” he said. “It made a lot of sense for us to install synthetic pitch just aesthetically – it’s always cut, it’s always painted, it’s always dark green so it’s still beautiful.”
Since the installation of synthetic turf in 2015, the cost and the maintenance of the grounds have decreased considerably. The cost of installing the field was around $ 750,000, according to Murphy.
Now the four football teams can train on the pitch as well as the football teams. The North Augusta Parks and Recreation Department also occasionally uses the land for games.
Murphy said he is personally going to the field now to blow straw and pine cones and sweep the field with a Gator-type vehicle. He also checks that the field remains level as it is lined with a two-and-a-quarter inch rubber liner and sand under the artificial turf.
This liner also makes the field safer for athletes, Murphy said. Early versions of artificial turf in the 1970s sometimes resulted in more injury from the concrete installed under the carpet style material.
Bryant said the number of injuries and their impact are similar on natural and artificial turf.
“Children hurt themselves about the same number of times on grass or turf in my opinion,” he said.
Statistics on artificial turf versus natural turf vary.
Sports Science concludes that injuries in Major League Soccer were comparable between the two from 2013 to 2016.
In 2019, the University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute in Ohio collected data from 26 high school athletic coaches during the 2017-18 athletic seasons and determined athletes were 58 percent more likely to sustain an injury during sports activities on synthetic turf.
Another 2019 report from National Library of Medicine studied NCAA football injuries and concluded that artificial turf poses a higher risk of specific knee ligament injuries, especially during competitions compared to training.
In Columbia County
At a meeting of the Columbia County Board of Education on June 8, Superintendent Dr. Steven Flynt lobbied for artificial turf to be installed in all five high schools in the district.
Murphy’s comments bolster his proposition – Flynt said that in addition to protecting female football, soccer, lacrosse, flag football and recreational league players, the district would also save money.
The cost of replacing existing natural grass in the five schools would range between $ 107,800 and $ 129,360 per lot and each would need to be replaced at least partially every two to three years. The cost of maintaining the sod in each field is between $ 9,000 and $ 10,000 per year.
By comparison, the cost of installing artificial turf at each school has been estimated to be between $ 857,990 and $ 983,820 per field, which is expected to last up to 10 years but may last longer, Flynt said.
The school district is exploring estimates and other data on artificial pitches with the idea that the installation would not take place until after the 2021 high school football season.
“It’s the best decision they can make,” Murphy said. “From a maintenance point of view, it’s little or nothing. From a safety point of view, which will concern most people, I think it’s safer.”