Multi-purpose fields nationwide are providing stress relief and revived spirit for athletic directors tasked with overseeing multiple teams on various fields. Addressing multiple needs, multi-purpose (or multi-sport) fields are gaining popularity – notably in the Northeast – for schools looking to increase their ability to host games of multiple sports. For those using artificial turf fields, such as Pioneer Central (New York)
High School it can be a source of community pride along with improving team performance.
“When we put turf in, our previous field was beat up, dreary and old looking,” said Jim Graczyk, athletic director at Pioneer Central. “It’s really pumped in some new life around here and brings us into a modern age. It’s got kids excited and they want to go out there on it.”
Graczyk’s field hockey, football and soccer programs play on an artificial turf built by a company from Williamsville, New York, whose clients include the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and Wheaton (Illinois) College. Pioneer Central uses an artificial turf that Graczyk said proves beneficial living near Buffalo, where it helps melt snow faster than any grass field the school has had.
Prior to making the move to turf, the Pioneer’s natural grass field was limited to football activities. Graczyk said he routinely faced the issue of having to make sure by late October that the field was still usable. However, now he said activities of all groups – athletics, marching band, physical education classes – take place on turf.
“Consciously, as a coaching staff, before the turf was put in, we committed that every level – JV and varsity – would have at least one game on the turf,” Graczyk said. “In other words, it’s not just a varsity field. It’s a field for everyone. Not everyone around us has turf so it’s still advantageous to practice and get ready for games on grass. When you get to regional play, sectional play and divisional league finals, all of that will be on a turf field.”
If not already on turf, teams often gain the experience during state playoff action when larger schools play host for tournaments. Kevin Morgan, athletics director for Central Columbia (Pennsylvania) High School, said his school is recognized as one of the best facilities in the area. Before having synthetic turf, Central Columbia couldn’t host district and state tournaments like it currently does.
When the schedule allows, Newcastle, Maine’s Lincoln Academy has found that its turf field proves beneficial even for middle school and youth teams. Lincoln Academy athletics director KJ Anastasio said the field has transformed the campus and the school’s image.
“The field has become the center point of our school, and the improved pride our community has felt because of the turf is amazing,” Anastasio said. “The smiles on the kids’ faces, along with the “Thank yous” we receive from kids and parents alike is what I remember the most.”
Lincoln has adopted an artificial turf field with a 2.25-inch pile height with infill. The field is used for boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls soccer, as well as field hockey. Including JV teams, Anastasio said more than 10 teams utilize the same field throughout the year. Just as is the case in New York for Graczyk, Anastasio’s teams in Maine gain the advantage of earlier outdoor practices thanks to the turf facility.
“There is no frost on the ground on turf fields to worry about. There is no mud on a turf field to worry about. Literally, the day the snow melts is the first day we can have outside turf practices,” Anastasio said. “That is a huge advantage over a school that has grass. We even allow our baseball, softball and track teams to get practice time on the turf in the spring until their fields are ready.”
When the lights are off, those behind the scenes step into action to coordinate and prepare a multi-purpose field. On the other side of the country, JeffCo (Jefferson County, Nevada) Public Schools finds itself in the presence of an award-winning outdoor athletic facility and three acclaimed stadium managers.
Located in Arvada, Nevada, are four separate facilities used by JeffCo’s 18 district schools. Its North Area Athletic Complex’s (NAAC) football and soccer venues have respectively been named the Sports-Turf Managers Association’s (STMA) Schools and Parks Soccer Field of the Year (2014) and Schools and Parks Football Field of the Year (2015). The masterminds of the operation are stadium managers Sun Roesslein and Christi Clay, who have helped the NAAC vault into a class of its own since it opened in 2000.
“You’ve got to have passionate people with a lot of pride (to have a facility like the NAAC),” said Jim Thyfault, Jeffco executive director of athletics and activities. “You can go to any of our district stadiums and see the full-time workers we have. They exhibit a lot of pride in what they do. They come in at 7 a.m. and are turf managers for basically the first eight hours, and then at 3 p.m. they turn into event managers. It’s nothing during the fall or spring for them to put in a 15-hour day.”
This summer, Roesslein, in her 12th year at the NAAC, became one of eight females to pass the Certified Sports Field Manager (CSFM), and is just one of more than 200 in the United States.
Although all but one field is natural grass, the NAAC had a hybrid turf field installed two years ago at one of the two soccer venues. Its installation was the first in the United States and allowed JeffCo district schools the opportunity to have an alternate, cost-effective outlet to play on.
Thyfault said he has stadium managers at each facility who are juggling a combination of football, lacrosse, soccer, and track and field events.
“Our managers are very good at understanding the type of turf, in terms of how short the grass should be cut for certain sports,” Thyfault said. “They do a lot of mowing, a lot of fertilizing, and just a lot of field prep work. Then of course all the painting that goes along with that. They’re painting the fields close to once a week. It’s a tremendous amount of man hours that goes into that.”
In Maine, Anastasio said one of the biggest advantages to turf is that his staff does not have to mow, line or wait for grass to regrow. While Lincoln Academy follows a maintenance schedule, Anastasio added that chores such as dragging the field weekly to level infill and reapplying infill don’t compare to the time commitment needed to maintain a grass field.
In the eyes of an athletics director, one of the few difficulties that accompany a multi-purpose field may be how you make sure all teams receive equal time on it. For Anastasio, it’s done with his personal monthly practice schedule that, at times, will have teams practicing into the evening under the lights.
“The day before a team has a game on the turf, I ensure they practice on the turf facility. The same goes for a grass field practice the day prior to the team playing on a grass facility,” Anastasio said. “Our facility also has lights. Occasionally when we do not have a night game, we will have a practice block that ends around 8 p.m. under the lights. Athletes love the ability to have late practices; it is cooler, it allows time for homework to be finished before practice, and it is fun.”
Athletic Director Heather Podosek’s Paint Branch (Maryland) High School has four sports and five teams seeing action on its turf field, in addition to allowing community use and having a sharing program for nearby schools without turf.
“The schedule for using the stadium’s turf field is broken into three parts. School day use by physical education classes is determined by the resource teacher for physical education with assistance from me (as needed),” Podosek said. ”After-school athletics is managed by the athletic administration (includes practices and contests). The third part is community use scheduled by the Montgomery County Community Use of Public Facilities.”
When deciding to make the move to turf, Graczyk emphasized the influence it has on his community, referring to it as “an everything stadium.”
“It’s helped our program by bringing more people to games,” Graczyk said. “When we first opened it, there was a ton of people just to tour and see it. It’s made our facility one that can host and people want to come to.”
Podosek agreed, emphasizing the sense of pride gained by having a nice field and being able to allow others to enjoy it, too, is well worth it.
Cody Porter is a graphic arts/communications assistant in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department.