Time For Turf

Darien has built lots of them. New Canaan too. And many other Westport-type towns.

They’re not McMansions. They’re not Starbucks. In fact, they’re not even buildings at all.

They are turf athletic fields.

(“Turf fields” are actually artificial — not grass. With new technology, they’ve come a long way from “Astroturf.” They’re even more advanced than just a few years ago.)

Westport lags behind our neighbors in turf fields. We’ve got just 4: Staples football, Jinny Parker (Staples field hockey), Wakeman B at Bedford Middle School (soccer and field hockey) and PJ Romano at Saugatuck Elementary (football and lacrosse).

They’re 10 years old, and will be resurfaced soon.

But a group of Westporters is working to turf 2 fields that — ever since Staples High School was built in 1958 — have been grass: the baseball diamond, and Albie Loeffler soccer field.

It’s a momentous change. But its time has come.

The Staples baseball diamond last April. Bad weather forced the Wreckers indoors for most of pre-season. They started their schedule after only 4 outdoor practices.

(Full disclosure: As Staples’ boys soccer coach, I’ve been a grass purist all my life. But I’ve changed my tune. Now I’m helping plan the project.)

The two fields — set between the turf football and field hockey fields, behind the school — have a lot going for them. Spectators enjoy great views, from seats on a steep hill. The backdrop of trees behind the fields is beautiful in spring, spectacular in fall. For 6 decades, fans have enjoyed fantastic games played at both sites.

(Including, of course, this great season that the girls soccer team has had. They won again last night — and play Ridgefield on Saturday for the state championship. Go Wreckers!)

But the fields are nearly 60 years old. They don’t drain as well as they should. They are closed far too long after the snow melts, or it rains. Constant use has worn them down.

Loeffler Field, mid-season this year. Despite constant maintenance by the Parks & Recreation Department, the grass is showing its age. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Turfing the baseball and soccer fields would allow them to be used longer, and more often — and by more groups than access them now. The baseball field could accommodate Little League, and more travel teams. Loeffler Field would be opened up to Westport Soccer Association players who now struggle to find space.

The fields would be showcases for the town. Young athletes would play right at the high school — and begin dreaming of days when they’d wear the Staples “S.”

It’s a great plan. But the cost is $2.2 million. And there is no money for it in either the Board of Education or Parks & Recreation budget.

The project would be privately funded. This won’t be paid for by bake sales. We’d need a capital campaign, and the help of some big-time donors.

A preliminary plan for turf on the Staples baseball diamond and soccer field.

Right now, Board of Education policy prohibits naming the fields after a corporation or living individual. We’re exploring ways to change that.

But the most immediate needs are to raise $10,000 for a survey and soil tests before snow falls, and $100,000 for engineering and other plans by March 1. Those funds would also cover the permitting process. If all goes well, construction could start in June. The fields would be ready by fall.

Why now? With the football and field hockey turf fields slated for replacement this summer, we’d have economies of scale. Just as importantly, there would be easier access to the hard-to-reach site than for a stand-alone project in 2019.

A great group of baseball and soccer folks is working on this project. But we’re not professional fundraisers. Anyone interested in helping secure the initial $10,000, the next $100,000 — or who has expertise running a capital campaign to raise $2.2 million — is invited to email baseballsoccerturf@gmail.com.

We need your help. Let’s talk.

And next year, we’ll invite you to throw out the first pitch, or kick the first ball.

39 responses to “Time For Turf

  1. What about all the health risks associated with turf? Study after study finds multiple dangers associated with all the chemicals in turf. Dibenzopyrenes are known carcinogens. The synthetic fibers in turf also contain metals, including cadmium and lead, which is neurotoxic. There is also increased MRSA risk – turf fields are a bacterial breeding ground as Staph and other bacteria can survive on polyethylene plastic for months. Please please please consider all the health risks for our children before continuing with this project.

    • Well said Cindy. Artificial turf fields are indeed a bacterial breeding ground. Every soccer player has left blood, spit, snot and sweat on the field.We don’t need the need for chemical disinfectants. Let it get washed into the soil by the rain.Then again we may have to worry about ticks on natural grass but we can deal with that by careful inspection…Plus; according to the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service, one acre of grass, (about the size of a soccer field) produces enough oxygen to meet the everyday needs of 64 people.a day and can offset the carbon produced by a car driving 3,000 miles. And – according to me,a natural grass soccer field does not contribute to greenhouse gasses or so called global warming..I’m a natural grass soccer playing man .I have been for more than seventy years.I’ve loved playing on grass, in mud, on ice, in rain and snow, on bombed sites, on reclaimed garbage dumps and skin fields. Different conditions hone your skills and is the magic of the beautiful game and I think that Americans need to play it that way to be able to compete successfully at international level. I’m not at that level but I’ve played on smooth, flat unhealthy, rotten, stinking artificial turf fields, outdoors and indoors, and although I deeply appreciate and admire everything that Dan has done for Westport soccer and recognize the need for more playing time for our beautiful kids.., dump it!

  2. Turf fields are toxic and nasty. My children are 10 and 12 and play soccer, sometimes on turf fields. The turf fumes make their eyes bloodshot red in the summer heat. It makes their throats itch. After playing on turf, little black, stinky pellets litter our car, their shoes, and our mudroom. Just because other towns are spending money to poison their children doesn’t mean we have to. Let’s stay old school and pay to maintain beautiful, classic, grass fields which change with the seasons and yes, sometimes get soggy because it rains and snows, because after all, these are outside sports. We’ll spend less money, create less pollution, and take a stand for our children’s health. I can see where turf fields have their value for professional sports, but let’s leave it there. Remember: Just because something appears to be better doesn’t mean that it is.

  3. Dan – as an FYI and I take no position here just reporting – There have been discussions in the RTM to ban turf fields in Westport. Whether it is the surface itself or the infill material I am not sure which or both, but I have sat in meetings where it has been discussed.

  4. Anthony Sivinski

    Dan as a parent of a senior on the girls team, I could not disagree more with replacing Loeffler grass with turf. Playing on grass gives us a distinct advantage over the other towns. Quoting from an article from Sept 27 this year on the Ruden Report “Playing on our field really means something,” Staples coach Dan Woog said. “It can be intimidating to the other team.” I completely agree with this statement. The field is in great shape and just might need some TLC. Lets fix the turf on Wakeman and if the baseball folks want a turf diamond, then do it on the Wakeman field. Lets keep our advantage and leave the grass on Loeffler alone.

  5. I loved having our baseball practices in the Field House in the 80’s…in fact we got snowed out one year on Easter…it was okay we survived…PAL played on the dirt fields of Double Day and in rain…awesome…Junior High all the fields were basically dirt, rocks, all of us survived and enjoyed the competition, be it soccer, football, field hockey, it was great…I’m a traditionalist but…..
    Today we have more kids playing…their is youth soccer, Lacrosse, field hockey, football, soccer, baseball (fall to keep these premiere psycho leagues pounding $$ and wearing out our kids and parents ..another story)…we more demand today then ever for fields and field time…
    My big issue is the injury factor associated with turf fields…Are there studies on ACL injuries etc vs grass fields? Concussions ? Turf creates a faster paced game as I saw last night at the Staples Soccer game against Darien last night. I also witnessed a lot of injuries.
    I’m sure the presentations will come of Turf v Grass. We should all listen, ask questions, and make a decision as a community on what is best for our kids. Safety should be our most important concern. Dirt and mud never hurt any of us if it’s found Turf is not as safe as grass.

  6. Whether you are for or against this project, I hope everyone will take a close look at the Board of Ed policy prohibiting the naming of fields and I believe any portion of school property for a living person.

    Almost 20 years ago, a group of soccer alumni worked on having a policy put in place whose goal was the exact opposite–so that we could have the field named in Albie Loeffler’s honor while he was still alive. That celebration ceremony was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life as a large group of former players came together to pay homage and allow Mr. Loeffler’s family to share the moment with him while he was around to enjoy it. A similar joyous situation happened several years later when the field hockey field was named for Ginny Parker while she was alive and well.

    Why did this policy change?

    Furthermore, in this era of strained budgets, reversing the policy back to what was instituted in 1998 would open the door for potential funding of major capital improvements. Suppose the Staples auditorium needed a significant renovation and a prominent Staples Player alum wanted to donate a large sum of money–but, like David Geffen, wanted to have the hall named in his honor; or suppose the alum wanted the hall named in honor of his or her living parents. Why would we look to prevent such a possible source of major funding?

  7. Kristin Schneeman

    While the jury still seems to be out on the connection between turf fields (including the most recent generation) and health risks like the ones cited above, I think we need to wrestle with the issue as a town and decide where we come down before we build new turf fields and perhaps even refurbish the existing ones. I found this recent article a fairly balanced summary of what’s known and not known: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/does-playing-on-artificial-turf-pose-a-health-risk-for-your-child/2017/03/17/0c61b7b4-0380-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html?utm_term=.f1ca5af5add3

  8. Can’t the baseball and soccer fields remain natural grass and just improve the underlying drainage systems? I know that there are stadiums (CitiField for example) that have systems that keep their natural grass fields much drier and resilient as a result of this technology. Has that been looked at? I would think that this may be able to be done for $2.2 million, no?

  9. “In 2009, University of Washington assistant soccer coach Amy Griffin noticed abnormally high rates of cancer in athletes who played on synthetic turf. As of April 2016, she had counted 220 athletes with cancer. Of the 166 soccer players with cancer, 102 of them, or 61%, were goalkeepers. The only athletes in this informal count were those who knew to call Amy Griffin. There is still no government agency tracking cancers among athletes who have played on synthetic turf.” http://www.ehhi.org/turf.php

    For what it’s worth, the entire synthetic turf industry was built around the EPA’s inability to deal with the problem of disposing of old tires.

  10. There are so many studies with clear outcomes – artificial crumb rubber turf is hazardous in numerous ways – that bans have been put into effect in many states, cities, countries (including,near to home, Hartford). Cancers abound. Burns from crumb rubber turf that superheats in ordinary sunshine). MRSA. Concussions. Pro athletes have refused to play on it. Lawsuits proliferate. Crumb rubber turf cannot be disposed of in ordinary waste sites as it is classified as hazardous. Disposal of tons of drumbsis not only problematic but extremely costly. See EHHI.org for their latest study. NBC, ESPN, and others have aired specials pointing out the hazards of this kind of turf, and are available to be streamed. If you are looking at crumb rubber turf, the project is misguided (possibly ignorant) and dangerous.
    All that said, there are now organic turf products that seem to be OK. If that is what you are considering, that would be a different story. But if not – I’d say you have to be kidding – but it’s not at all laughable.

  11. Wilton also just re-turfed or turfed a field last year with 96% coconut husk. Not sure if that would solve the injury factor, but supposedly much better than the toxic black rubber pellets. Also, it may not be as durable, and if last as long, but as Dan says, technology has changed. I coach a lot of youth sports, and it is always a shame to get that email that fields are closed because of soggy fields. Adding another turf field for youth leagues (not just the high school) should also be considered. Between PAL, WSA, WBS and any other league, there must be a way to fund another turf field in Westport. Of course, another issue that has come up is that any time there is snow on the turf, no one is allowed to shovel or plow due to warranty concerns, which is frustrating.

  12. Recommendations for individuals from the new EHHI Report, Synthetic Turf: Industry’s Claims Versus the Science (http://www.ehhi.org/artificial-turf.php) –

    Individuals should work with their school PTAs and school boards to educate schools about the dangers of synthetic turf fields with crumb rubber. Parents should do more to support and recommend the installation
    of natural grass fields.

    If a school, nursery school, or town has a playground with rubber tire mulch as its surfacing material, keep your young child off that playground.

    Encourage the school to remove the rubber mulch and replace it with
    sand or wood chips.

    Do not use a synthetic turf field in the heat because it gets too hot to be safe to use. In addition, the heat causes the toxins in the fields to outgas at a greater rate, which increases chemical exposures.

    If your school already has a synthetic turf field with crumb rubber installed, you should insist that the school place recommendations for using the field where they can be easily seen by those who play on the fields. The following recom mendations should be posted:

    Shower after using the field. If you cannot shower, wash your hands, face, and any open skin areas.

    Wash your clothes, making sure there are no crumb rubber particles in your socks, pants, or other articles of clothing.

    Be careful not to bring crumb rubber particles into the school building.
    n Always wear shoes on artificial turf.

    Clean any cuts or abrasions immediately.

    Brush your hair thoroughly after play.

  13. Please consider, if more turf fielded are approved and installed, that they are lined for girls lacrosse and field hockey.

    Fields are in desperate need for those sports and WESTPORT is having great success with the field hockey and lacrosse programs. The Staples field hockey team is ONCE AGAIN in the state finals-2 YEARS IN A ROW.

    We are in need of lacrosse and field hockey lined turf fields. Please make it happen!!!!

    Thank you

  14. I have no dog in the fight between grass/turf. But given this is an unfunded initiative and we’d be “passing the hat” to raise $2+ million for it is insane to me. Given all the charitable organizations in our midst doing important work that is chronically underfunded. How about raising a couple million to eradicate CT food insecurity, homelessness, drug addiction, access to enrichment programs and the arts for underfunded local schools etc?

    I know I would have a very hard time keeping a straight face while asking a donor to help one of the nation’s most affluent towns build a debatably/marginally better sports field when cities surrounding us have significantly more pressing needs.

  15. Christine Meiers Schatz

    Dan, I’m not educated right now on the environmental, medical, or injury-related implications of turf. As a water polo coach/player and swimmer, I know about pools. But, assuming that the new turf technology is ok on all of these fronts, do we need field lights there too? We might need new or more field lights if school start times are changed, so I was planning on working with a local expert to see how the lights might be creatively financed if need be for Westport and for other towns in the FCIAC. Field-light technology has come a long way too and there are now lights that are extremely energy efficient with zero light bleed. Maybe there is some overlap?

    • Right now, due to an agreement with neighbors when the football field got lights, lights are not permitted anywhere else on the Staples athletic fields.

      • Christine Meiers Schatz

        OK, thanks. I’ll keep that in mind and look into it. Maybe the agreement can be modified given the zero light bleed of these new lights.

  16. Had someone asked me a week ago to predict which high school in Connecticut would be the least likely to convert their soccer field to synthetic turf, I would not have hesitated to say Staples. Putting aside all arguments related to financing, general health, sports injuries, naming rights, lighting, disposal, and snow removal (each worthy of discussion), I would have thought that the school with the richest tradition of soccer excellence in Connecticut if not all of New England (e.g. 12 State and 27 FCIAC boy’s championships), and the nicest high school pitch I have ever seen, would never even entertain the thought. Growing up in Rowayton and playing soccer for Brien McMahon (the only rival to Staples for twenty-five years), I watched my first soccer game at Staples in the fall of 1972, and participated in some epic Staples/McMahon battles there in the late ’70’s. It was a class program then and it is a class program now; and the field was a big part of the entire aura surrounding the team.

    Around the world, soccer is played on grass at the highest levels, not turf. In my opinion, the only possible acceptable reason for any high school program to move to turf would be a financial one. In the case of the soccer field, this decision does not seem to be driven by that.

  17. I like the mud, how the elements can become a game changer.

  18. Thanks to Wendy Batteau, the P&Z incorporated language into the POCD that will make sure that any “turf” or artificial surfaces be thoroughly vetted . If an artificial surface is proposed on any field, it is considered a change to a municipal property and must come before P&Z. There are safe guards in place. So let the dialogue continue, and explore all options but rest assured, if there is any doubt in the minds of the P&Z as to appropriateness of material chosen, it will not happen. We take the health of your children seriously.

  19. Dan, I’m a swimmer but even I know it’s Ginny not Jinny.

    • Incorrect! It’s Jinny. It’s ALWAYS been spelled “Ginny.” But after she retired, I got a letter from Ms. Parker. It was signed “Jinny.” I asked her why she had misspelled her own name. “It’s always been Jinny with a J,” she said. “Everyone has always spelled it wrong. It was too much of a bother to correct them.” Absolutely true story!

  20. The main problem is the infill and the fact that is getting hot in the summer. But there is organic infill for that. What do you think? We are professional installers and we did some soccer fields in Europe. Over there the turf for soccer is more advanced than in US.

  21. Stacy Jagerson Fowle

    Dan, TURF is the WRONG WAY TO GO.
    1)If you’re playing sports on one of Westport’s turf fields on a warm sunny day you will see waves of heat radiating off the fake grass and smell the chemical fumes coming from the heated rubber pellets. You’ll also notice that as soon as you step on to the field, the temperature immediately rises many degrees hotter than than the temperature just a few feet off the turf. Is this the environment we want our athletes (young and old) to be running, breathing, falling down in? There are many studies to look at, but you just have to actually run around on one of the turf fields on a hot day and it is immediately and immensely clear that it is not a healthy place to play. Is that how we care for our citizens?
    2) If we are a town that is trying to be environmentally conscious, and looking to reduce our role in global warming, do we really want to be turning our grass fields (natural cooling areas) into heat radiators? At this crucial time, that seems like a huge step in the wrong direction.
    TURF is the WRONG WAY TO GO.
    3) The US Women’s team knows that turf is a poor substitute for grass fields and they’ve fought and sued to be able to play on grass like the men’s team. An article in the NYTimes in Sept. reiterated the women’s position that they “view artificial turf as inferior to natural grass, both for playing quality and safety”. If that is what the players at the peak of the game are saying, why are we heading the other way?
    TURF is the WRONG WAY TO GO
    4) We should be proud of our beautiful grass field! I played varsity soccer on Loeffler field in the 80’s, as did my brother Ty. My daughter played varsity soccer on Loeffler in ’10s. I live in town and still love sitting on the hill and watching and cheering for the boys and girls teams (Go Wreckers!). Soccer players play in mud, they play in rain, and when they are lucky they play on a pitch like ours.
    Instead of spending $2,000,000 to pave paradise, why don’t we look into some drainage solutions?
    Dan, I am not sure who is persuading you that this is the right move but I really can not disagree more.

  22. Our State Champion baseball team seemed capable of playing on real grass and dirt. A fake surface also requires a ramp, not a mound for pitchers and the effect on their mechanism is materially adverse. Good luck producing competitive teams.

    With the permanent lines of the soccer pitch encroaching on second base the outfield looks more like a sport court. We may never have the look of Ridgefield but there is no reason to make it embarrassing.

    Fake grass needs to be replaced every 10 years or so, witness the pending change at the football field. It won’t be $2.2m every time, but it’s not one and done. I’m with the idea that a little better drainage would be a smarter plan.

  23. Ellen Lautenberg

    I agree with those that suggest either better drainage or only using an organic/safer form of turf. Green’s Farms Academy has done it successfully as have other towns in Fairfield County. The RTM Environment Committee will be involved in this discussion along with other Westporters so please feel free to email me if you would like to join the conversation.

  24. Hope they get the funding for the new turf fields!
    GO WRECKERS!!!!

  25. Heidi Cornish McGee

    Thanks for the shout out for GSOCC! All of 06880 is invited to come cheer the Wreckers on at 1:00 Saturday, at West Haven High School.

  26. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    The grass is always greener on the other side of the turf.

  27. Addison Armstrong

    If I remember correctly, UCONN has one of the premier turf management programs in the country. Why not partner with them to work on the drainage and maintenance aspects of retaining the grass fields? There are probably even local Westport students in that program who would be thrilled to give back to the community by working on solutions. My kids are grown, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. But given the cost and health concerns, we should be looking at ways to improve on what we have, which -as others have pointed out- are fields with a rich history of producing champions!

  28. We had a similar debate recently here on Martha’s Vineyard. Many of the same pro-synthetic myths were touted, but at the end of the day, the line: “But the fields are nearly 60 years old. They don’t drain as well as they should. They are closed far too long after the snow melts, or it rains. Constant use has worn them down,” says it all. Unfortunately most fields — plastic and real grass — do get neglected. Investing in some good aeration equipment, frequent mowing, good seed, turf grass maintenance education will go a long way to making your fields playable, healthy, safe, and sustainable. At a fraction of the cost. From environmental, health, toxicity, and fiscal perspectives, your town and athletes will thank you for making a far better choice. Happy to share our research if that would be helpful.

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