By THEO LEBRYK
Over the past 10 years, fields across Fairfax County replaced their natural grass with synthetic turf. All the while Stuart was left out, until this past July when the Fairfax County School Board decided to allocate a surplus in revenue towards partially funding the construction of turf fields in the remaining Fairfax County high schools without turf. However, even with the new financial support, Stuart’s path towards obtaining turf is still somewhat in limbo.
Stuart’s lack of turf has long been a manifestation of the inequality in the county. Among the eight schools without turf are Stuart, Annandale, Mount Vernon, Hayfield and Edison, all schools with over 25 percent of their students on free and reduced lunch. The Synthetic Field Task Force writes, “The purpose of this strategy is to resolve the equity issues that now exist in schools.”
Beginning in 2004, the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) launched an initiative to fund turf fields through private-public partnerships. Schools with wealthy booster clubs and support from community sports organizations ended up getting turf fields, while schools that couldn’t raise the money got snubbed.
Up until now, all public money had come from FCPA money. Due to the issues the remaining eight high schools face raising money, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has stepped in as well. “I think it’s a good thing we’re taking measures to finally get there,” said junior Hannah Herron.
Even with the addition of the FCPS grants, proffer funding and potential bonds, Stuart still faces multiple obstacles in getting turf. According to FCPS, turf fields cost between $600,000 and $900,000. Stuart must raise $50,000 just to see if the field is compatible with turf. This number could rise due to a number of different factors. Stuart is the only high school in the county not to have a practice field, and as such is looking to acquire a turf baseball field. However, Stuart’s baseball diamond doesn’t technically qualify for eligibility towards becoming a diamond turf field because it doesn’t fit the requirements which could hamper efforts to fundraise from community sports organizations.
The school We are a tier 3 school requiring 6.25 percent donation, which amounts to $50,000 per field with the baseball field still in the process of how to fund it, if we would need to reconfigure lights, is there any way to build retaining walls to make the field bigger – who knows. “We’re at the very early stage of figuring this out because ‘Stuart is Unique,'” wrote Peggy Morrison via email.
According to activities director Brian Garvey, Stuart may be the last high school in the county to receive turf. “We’ve already been told nothing can happen this summer because West Potomac, Mount Vernon and Edison are already getting it,” said Garvey. FCPS will only fund a certain number of schools each year, meaning at best Stuart can get it summer of 2015. In a worst case scenario, it could take until 2016 to get turfed.
Although costs of installation are high, a turf field yields multiple benefits. To preserve the grass field, P.E. classes, the schools teams and clubs, and community sports organizations aren’t allowed to use the field during the day. Teams are often forced to share the baseball field during the fall, which cuts into the baseball team’s ability to run offseason workouts. “[Getting turf] allows the football team to practice on the football field so they won’t ruin our baseball field. They turned it into a mud pit,” said sophomore baseball player Lars Erceg-Warner.
Other teams must travel, by bus or by foot, out to community fields to practice. Turfstuart.org explains “Stuart’s turf fields will mean less travel for team practices – this is a safety issue and a time management issue – both positively addressed by turf.”
Indoor sports teams lose practice time as well when inclement weather forces teams to share limited gym space. Even home games have had to be moved to other stadiums, resulting in a loss in revenue.
“This year we had a game rained out here; it was a home game… That equates to thousands of dollars lost,” said Mike Brady, a Stuart alumni and head of a fundraiser selling bricks to raise money for the field, referencing a home football game which had to be moved to Marshall High School’s field due to rain.
Artificial turf also provides a more even playing surface which especially helps to increase the quality of play in sports like soccer, field hockey and baseball. Erceg-Warner says that a turf baseball diamond is superior to a grass one. “It gets lumpy and moist and muddy,” said of Erceg-Warner of Stuart’s current baseball diamond. While turf may run faster especially in rain, it avoids the issue of mud and clumps which lead to bad hops.
Despite these positives, some aren’t sold on turf fields. Recent findings have indicated that turf fields have multiple negative health concerns. Artificial turf has long had a reputation for being a harder surface than grass. Studies have found risk for ACL tears among football players goes up significantly on synthetic turf. Artificial turf also absorbs heat, which poises the risk of heat stroke in the summer. Turf fields can reach temperatures up to 190 degrees and can become hot enough to melt cleats. Various studies concerning the chemicals inside the crumb rubber have popped up as well, but for the most part have been disproven to be anything too harmful.
However, it seems the county as well as the majority of student-athletes are sold on turf. “It [getting a turf field] brings out school spirit and gives us a better surface to play on,” said senior soccer player Karim Rahayem.
Junior lacrosse player Sara Semmami agrees that turf provides a better playing surface. “On grass there are patches and holes. We roll our ankles a lot,” said Semmami.
For any chance of getting turf in the near future, it will require rigorous “spirit” by the entire community. Stuart’s Parent Teacher Student Association and Booster Club are reaching out to alumni, local realtors, and public officials to garner support. However, it comes down to the level of support from inside the Stuart community, not just the higher-ups.
“Our ultimate goal is summer of 2015, but that would mean we’d have to come up with the money. The way our fundraising is going right now, they’ll be people that will jump ahead of us,” said Garvey.
“We need to start talking this up.” writes Morrison. “Every student needs to understand how important this is and that isn’t not just about our sports teams. It’s about our community use, daily PE use, safety, and so many things.” Should activism lose out to apathy, Stuart could be the last high school in the county to get turf adding another example to the long list of inequities in the county.