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High schools revamp football fields with artificial playing surface
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Forsyth County News
Forsyth County's football teams will stake out some new turf this fall — literally.

The outdoor stadiums at all four county high schools are being resurfaced over the summer, as the grass fields are replaced with synthetic turf. Lambert High, set to open in 2009, will have a turf field from the start.

West Forsyth football coach Frank Hepler says that conducting coaching camps on turf convinced him it's superior to grass — in no small part because his joints felt a lot better at the end of the day.

"It was good on the legs. At the end of the day, your legs felt better than [on grass]," Hepler said.

The coach said he's noted a lot fewer injuries while coaching on turf during his time in Florida, something he attributes to the smooth, rubberized surface. Players aren't susceptible to the "rug burn" effect found from sliding on grass, and running on turf is less punishing than on the real thing.

"The kids bounce on it a little bit more and it's not as hard on their shins or their calves or their knees," Hepler said.

So far, North Forsyth's field has been completely resurfaced, and the field at West was expected to be finished by this weekend. The surfaces at Forsyth Central and South Forsyth are still in the early stages of the process.

The $2.5 million project is scheduled to be finished before football season begins, according to Jennifer Caracciolo, public information director for Forsyth County Schools. She said the project takes about 90 days for each individual field.

The school system hasn't been able to water the fields since last fall, Caracciolo said, due to watering restrictions. The life of the turf is estimated at 8-10 years, and watering won't be an issue, of course.

Dennis Stromie, athletic director at West, said the county had to find a way to keep fields in playable condition, with the continuing drought keeping outdoor watering off the table and multiple sports like lacrosse, track and field and soccer contributing to wear and tear on the surfaces.

"What are you going to do? Play football on dirt [when the grass dies]? I don't think anybody sees the drought restrictions easing up at all," Stromie said.

With only a handful of schools in the county, it was an easier decision to provide funding for turf county-wide — instead of letting each school make the decision — than might be the case in larger surrounding counties, Stromie said.

Another big reason for the project is maintenance costs, Caracciolo explained.

"We currently spend $35,000 per field to maintain them — for eight years, this would cost us $1,117,600 per field. This option is long-term more fiscally responsible," she said.

The re-surfacing project was paid for with capital improvement funds from voter-approved referendums, Caracciolo said, which will free up more tax revenue which would have gone toward field maintenance.

Hepler also noted that booster clubs won't need to spend money continually painting field line markers and logos on the new surfaces.

A big in-game consideration, according to Hepler, is that the weather matters less on turf. His junior varsity played Etowah on turf in the rain last year and won. While holding onto the ball and tackling players is always tricky in the rain, there's no worry about the field becoming a muddy soup below your feet.

"You want the kids to go out and be able to play on an even playing field, so to speak ... and not have to worry about the mud and the things that could happen in the rain," he said.

Stromie said turf fields make his job as AD easier, too. Outside of lightning, there's no worry that a game might be canceled, and no uncertain communication with visiting teams to reach a decision on whether or not to play.

"It can rain real hard, and then you can turn right back around and get right on it and start playing," Stromie said. "Even if you've got a game scheduled that night and it's raining up to 3, 4, 5:00 in the evening and raining hard, you're still going to be able to play the game ... reasonably, with no impact from the weather."

As the former athletic director at Parkview, Stromie has walked onto the field at the Georgia Dome plenty of times for state playoff games, and he says that local athletes will be playing games on surfaces very similar to the Atlanta Falcons' this fall.

"It's very, very similar to that," Stromie said.

Sports editor Jared Putnam contributed to this article.