Turfs Up…or Down?

After much consideration, the College has decided to construct a turf field on Upper Cole Field, commonly referred to as Poker Flats; it will be located directly next to the field house. I applaud the administration on this decision. Construction of a turf field will put the College on par with our athletic rivals.

Ringhold high school in Monogahela, PA, which constructed a Fieldturf field in 1997, claims that they save over $40,000 in maintenance each year. Although turf surface might cause more injuries (think turf toe) than grass (I think I still have a turf-burn scar from a high school soccer game about five years ago) I bear no grudges against the artificial wonder. The turf field will provide a playable surface in times when a grass field cannot; if you have ever seen the Poker fields at the beginning of a wet spring, then you know why. Rain is no stranger to Williamstown and the Poker fields can quickly morph into the Poker swamps. That said, I offer a few caveats to the administration before they begin constructing the field.

At Williams, we revere the purple mountains that surround us. There are few things more gorgeous than standing on the Poker fields and admiring the view on a sunny fall day. The administration should be sure not to spoil this natural pleasure. If the turf field is to be surrounded by lights, they should be situated in a manner such that this magnificent view is not greatly obstructed.

Although an increase in injuries is inherent in the switch to a turf surface, this increase can be minimized if the right type of turf is chosen. The college has done well by choosing Fieldturf over the better-known Astroturf. Fieldturf consists of a blade-like material that is placed over a sand-and-rubber base. The Seattle Seahawks home field is composed of Fieldturf and NFL players have ranked it as the third best playing surface (behind to two grass fields) in the league. Seahawks linebacker Chad Brown told USA Today, “This is unbelievable turf, probably the best in the league. I’m not as physically exhausted and sore like you would be from a typical game on other hard surfaces.” Other athletes favor the surface because it yields fewer stash infections, injuries and turf burns than Astroturf. In addition, both turf shoes and cleats offer effective traction on Fieldturf; our athletes won’t have to buy a second pair of shoes. Lastly, players agree that Fieldturf is much less slippery than Astroturf, leading to a higher level of play. I have had the pleasure of playing soccer on Fieldturf, so I can vouch for the validity of all these claims. Hey, if it’s good enough for the NFL, then it’s good enough for us.

This brings us to the question of who will be using the new field; the field will be reserved for varsity athletes during the 4-6P.M. time slot. Although I am a club and IM athlete, I do realize that varsity athletes should receive higher priority than club and IM sports. That said, as a club and IM athlete, I am especially sensitive to the needs of these groups. The turf field will consume of large chunk of what was formerly used for club ultimate frisbee, IM soccer and IM frisbee.

This dilemma can be easily resolved: First, the college should allocate off-peak times to club and IM sports. In this manner, non-varsity athletes can enjoy the same benefits of extended season lengths. Second, when the grass fields are in use, there should be some space freed-up by teams that will be using the turf field; the college would be wise to allow club and IM sports the use of these fields.

After talking with several students about the turf field, many raised concerns about the lack of dialogue between administration and students. One of my friends argued that the administration approved the plan for the field’s construction without soliciting student input.

Obviously, students who will be using the field should be consulted. Both the decision to construct the field and the location of the field are important issues to students. It seems to be another instance of the College readily accepting a large donation before fully discussing the implications with the student body. Nor is this an isolated incident; a similar scenario unfolded with the decision to construct the theater and dance complex several years ago.

Lastly, not only do I play sports at Poker, but I live there too. Nobody is a fan of construction noise, and my co-op group is no exception. More importantly, while construction of the field is in progress, WUFO and IM sports are going to be hurting for field space. Thus, the college should, as much as it is feasible, specify that construction be done during the summer months. Although I probably won’t be around to see the new turf field as a student, I look forward to seeing it done, and done right, as an alum.