Friday, January 29, 2010

Turf Wars

Carol Pogash, writing at the New York Times has the story of California's "Turf Wars," the battle to have soccer fields for kids to play on. In Piedmont, California:
The number of soccer players has doubled in the past 15 years, and philanthropic soccer parents have promised $8 million to carve two athletic fields, complete with synthetic turf, out of an open hillside. A parking lot, bridge, elevator and a snack bar would also be built.

But opponents say plans are too grand and threaten the health of children and wildlife. They would rather share a field in neighboring Oakland.

Taken aback by the vehemence of the opposition, Eric Havian, president of the Piedmont Soccer Club, said: “We’re not proposing to put a coal mine here. We’re talking about a playing field for children.”
That's true, we aren't talking about a strip mine, we are talking about a soccer field, made of artificial turf.

I am of mixed opinion about turf fields. On the one hand, I absolutely hate them for professional (MLS) level teams. It does affect the game at the top levels and I would just as soon not see them. Plus, professional stadia have professional groundskeepers who can keep a field in decent condition.

But when it comes to youth fields or league soccer fields, I can see the attraction of a few fields being turf fields. The use that youth soccer fields go through is tremendous. A professionally maintained, professional venue might see fifty or sixty games a year on the field. A youth soccer field could see fifty or sixty games a month. For some fields, 8 games a day on Saturday and Sunday, plus possible training or mid-week games can easily translate to 20 games a week on the field. No field, no matter how well maintained is going to survive as a grass field with that kind of useage. Add weather to the mix, and a well used field, a month into a soccer season could be little more than a mud bog in front of the goals and at midfield with four patches of green in teh corners connected by a thin strip along the sides.

Modern turf fields, while expensive to install, last longer and are easier to maintain. They don't need watering in drought conditions, don't puddle up in monsoon weather, and don't turn in to mud bogs. They do have their drawbacks--they can be brutally hot in the full summer sun. Tey tend to get used for other sports as well, American football, lacrosse, etc. Also, by the end of a 45 minute half (or even a 30 minute half), I have lots of those little black rubber bits in my shoe, they are ruining my socks slowly but surely. But the advantages are many.

You can play dozens of games a day and not ruin the pitch. With the addition of lights, you can play early in the morning and well into the evening. The modern astroturf field is softer that the days of old, doesn't give you as bad a carpet burn when you slid and won't twist your angle while running. As a referee, at the end of the day, my knees don't hurt nearly as bad although I may have lost several pounds in water weight during the summer (believe me, I could use the loss).

But the most important thing is that artificial fields are used and well used. The purpose is to give kids a place to play and a place to play safely.

As for environmental concerns, what rubbish. These same environmental nutjobs complain about the lack of safe playground equipment, so they want natural substances as cushioning, but then whine about what to do with all those tires that need recycling. The artificial turf fields put those old tires to a good, safe use. Toxicity concerns don't amount to anything since I don't see many players sitting down to picnic on the surface--the odd faceplant notwithstanding. As for ruining a "natural habitat," more hogwash. A grass soccer field that is used for dozens of games a weekend is not used by any animal save for a few ants. And as for that beautiful green grass, after a month of games, well see the description above.

I would think that a few artificial feilds in heavily used areas will keep other areas of a park free for other uses, insread of constantly struggling to find more and more field space.

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