STEVE HANLON: Plastic grass ready to Oiler Up

2013-04-12T19:30:00Z 2013-05-06T21:58:11Z STEVE HANLON: Plastic grass ready to Oiler UpSteve Hanlon Prep Beat nwitimes.com
April 12, 2013 7:30 pm  • 

About 11 or 12 years ago, when I was writing for the Indianapolis Star, I got a call that got my blood boiling.

The caller told me Center Grove High School was planning to spend in the neighborhood of a half million dollars to put an artificial playing surface on the Trojans' football field.

Outrageous! Insane! Another example of the taxpayers' pennies being wasted. What's next, free cell phones to people who vote for you? What's wrong with God's green grass?

Was Center Grove green with envy looking at college and pro stadiums?

But like most people, I had no idea how much it costs to maintain a football field. A team of football players could pay for it by mowing lawns.

The estimated cost Whiting was looking at to re-crown and re-sod the Oilers' Ray P. Gallivan Field was going to be $230,000. That's not counting the dollars spent to paint, cut and maintain the field during the fall.

And if a rainy week is followed by a home game, all that money is like the playing surface itself, ruined.

That's why on Thursday the School City of Whiting held a groundbreaking ceremony for a project estimated to cost 1.5 million dollars to replace the old track and put Shaw Legions 41 combination slit film and monofilament artificial playing surface on the football field.

It is believed Whiting will be the only Class A football program in the state with the new artificial surface. Dave Land of the Indiana Football Coaches Association said his group does not have a list of high school in Indiana playing on "plastic grass."

He said be believes the number is 30 and growing. Jason Wille of the IHSAA said they do not have a list either, but Class 2A Knightstown is the smallest school that he knows of with an artificial surface.

"It's kind of cool for any size school," Whiting athletic director Paul Laub said.

Center Grove was the first. Region schools Portage, Crown Point, Chesterton, Valparaiso, Morton, Michigan City, Munster, E.C. Central, Hobart and Merrillville followed. Laub spoke with most ADs at these schools to find out the advantages and disadvantages.

"There aren't many disadvantages," Laub said.

This surface lasts at least 10 years. Both baseball and softball teams will be able to use it in the spring when mud is all other schools have outside.

On Aug. 24 there will be a ceremony before the Clark game. The 1993 Oilers football team will return, being the first team to play at Gallivan. And, quite assuredly, the Oilers' Tailgate Party will be the perfect backdrop to such an event.

Jeff Cain's "basketball on grass" offense will be even scarier on a safe, solid foundation. And all the players competing on it will be safer than those hitting on the sometimes chuck-hole filled fields of late autumn in "Da Region."

"To me it makes a lot of sense," Cain said. "One of the things we've always dealt with was trying to practice as much on our field without tearing it up. Now, we can go out and practice and not worry about it. When we're done it will look the same."

This is a great idea. More money up front, but less dough down the road. And it will make one of the area's top Friday night destinations that much more attractive.

Plus, I don't believe sea gulls eat plastic, so maybe they'll go to Clark's field now?

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

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