Athletic field watering is being done for safety

Carroll Co. official says

Restrictions limit schedule at five high schools

neighbors still complain

August 19, 1999

The soccer, field hockey, cross country and football teams at county high schools began a rigorous preseason schedule Saturday, running and working out on brown, drought-hardened turf.

The schools are watering occasionally, even though some county residents have complained. Hard fields increase the risk of injury to athletes, officials said.

Watering, even sporadically, will preserve the grass and cut down on mishaps for the athletes. Maintenance crews are adhering to state-imposed restrictions that allow them to water the fields on a reduced schedule. They have halved the number of days and limited sprinkling to late evening or early morning. All five high schools are on public water systems.

Bruce Cowan, county athletic director, said he has received a few complaints from residents who are watching their lawns die, while athletic fields are kept as green as the dry weather allows.

"This is a safety situation," said Cowan. "We are keeping the fields in as good a condition as we can. If we let them go, we will get down to rock and dirt. Then there's the risk of concussions, broken bones and fractures."

The only fields that are watered are those at the high school stadiums, where all the games are played. Most of those fields were being watered four times a week. Now they are cut back to twice a week -- less if it rains.

"If we lose the fields, it will be that much more expensive to replant them and bring them back," said Cowan.

The state modified water restrictions "to protect the safety of the athletes," according to a news release issued last week. Practicing in soaring temperatures is difficult enough without the added risk of rock-hard fields.

Maintenance crews struggled through June and July to keep the fields green. At Westminster High, the county's largest school, fields were watered daily. But the sprinklers went into storage when the state's mandatory water restrictions were imposed this month.

"We enforced the governor's restrictions and had a three-week period of no watering," said Kathleen Sanner, director of school support services. "The turf was hardier and would have survived, but the issue is the resilient nature of the ground underneath. We had athletic directors complaining the ground was like concrete."

The day before teams returned for practice, the county won a reprieve from state restrictions. Sanner told high schools they could resume watering the grass, but on a reduced schedule and only between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Sanner asked the schools to use "good, old-fashioned common sense" when creating a flexible watering schedule.

"We based the reduction of water on a typical schedule," she said. "If we get rain, we don't sprinkle the next day."

The sprinklers operate in the early morning hours, on the advice of an agronomist, said Cowan.

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