Published August 31, 2013
The artificial turf 2.0 movement began in earnest about the turn of the century, after almost everybody had torn out their AstroTurf fields, and about the time Nebraska put in FieldTurf at Memorial Stadium.
The new product had all the advantages of AstroTurf while looking, feeling and playing much more like natural grass. So within about six years you couldn't swing a dead cat in the United States without it landing on FieldTurf (or something exactly like it). It's an especially popular product at the high school level -- where multiple sports will probably be played on the same field -- because it stands up to heavy use so much better than grass. After a robust up-front investment, schools have a durable, safe and close-to-maintenance-free playing surface. It's almost a perfect product.
But in East Huntington Township in southwestern Pennsylvania, we may be seeing the first ripple.
East Huntington got a strong flood Friday. Two inches came down at once, and when the rain hit the ground, it burrowed under Southmoreland High School's ProGrass playing surface. The surface then buckled up, ripped apart and washed away.
"We're still in assessment mode," superintendent John Molnar told Triblive.com.
The long and short of it is that nobody knows what to do.
Insurance people and reps from ProGrass have been out to look around, but the process of getting that field -- named after Southmoreland grad and Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Russ Grimm -- fixed and paid for is a long one, and football season starts Friday.
Ironically, the Scotties are still able to practice, because there's a grass practice field right next to the other one. Coach Mark Adams would still like to get some reps in on an artificial surface before gametime, but Southmoreland's field, which was installed in 2006, isn't just unsuitable for a game, it's unsafe.
"There is water damage under the carpet," Molnar said. "We don't want anybody twisting an ankle. The main thing is keeping all players safe. We're keeping them off the field, even the part that was not lifted."
Southmoreland is in the process of moving its games to other locations, mostly by just playing them at the opponent's place, a rotten blow for the players on both the football team and the girls soccer team. Homecoming might not even be at home.
"They are trying to give us a temporary fix so we can at least have two or three home games," Adams said.
What happened in East Huntington appears to be pretty fluky, but if you're ideologically opposed to artificial grass, you've finally got something to work with.