Soccer complex might get bladed, synthetic turf

Covenant Park would be 1st such private site in Md.

Howard At Play

March 16, 2003|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

The new Covenant Park soccer complex will almost certainly include two synthetic turf fields, the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County's president announced last week.

"It's all but a done deal," said David Procida, adding that club leaders are talking with vendors and that only unexpected price difficulties could negate the plan. "We're seriously considering it."

The state's second-largest soccer club, which has about 6,000 youth players, wants to use bladed, synthetic grass on two of four lighted fields at its new 10-field complex off Centennial Lane, roughly opposite Centennial Park in Ellicott City.

Procida said the decision should be made within about two weeks to mesh with construction financing and building plans for Covenant Park. Construction on eight fields is scheduled to begin this spring, with two more delayed for later, pending review of traffic and other issues that concern a handful of neighbors.

If the club commits, the two fields will be the first in Maryland owned by a private club to install fake grass. A city-owned football/soccer field in Cumberland has had comparable turf for a couple of years.

The county's Department of Recreation and Parks had been escrowing money to put a similar covering on two heavily used fields at Rockburn Branch Park, but the money was absorbed into the county's general fund because of the budget crunch.

Procida did not talk about expected initial expenses, which he said would be higher than normal grass. But he said that over the expected seven-year life span of "turf," the savings in maintenance and added use constitute a good deal.

"The numbers we're looking at make sense," he said. "The costs to build and to maintain have really come down - dramatically. There's a lot of competition now in making this kind of surface."

Club officials decided to pursue synthetic turf after attending a U.S. Youth Soccer Association convention last month in Indianapolis, where multiple makers showed off their products. Some combination of bladed, plastic "grass" rooted in tiny pellets made from recycled tires and other recycled materials goes into the kind of turf the club wants.

"It's not like that stuff that most people around here are familiar with at UMBC Stadium. That's a great facility, but the playing surface is rubbish," said Bill Stara, SAC/HC's coaching director, boys soccer coach at River Hill High School and a longtime advocate of the club trying the "new" synthetic grass.

The UMBC field, spongy to the foot, is smooth. It alters and quickens the pace of a kicked soccer ball when compared with real grass. In addition, a ball that drops to that surface bounces higher than normal.

"With the bladed surface, you don't get the exorbitant bounces that you get, say, at UMBC; balls roll more like they do on normal grass; it's not as hard on the knees; and you can slide-tackle [a common defensive tactic in soccer] on it without tearing off your hide," Stara said.

He and Procida pointed out that having two 70-yard-wide fields at Covenant Park with synthetic turf would enable games to be played regardless of rain or drought.

"It will give us the chance to host tournaments and not tear up fields or have to cancel games," said Stara. "It'll be a good thing to have - given the climate we're in, with periods of drought like the ones we've had for three summers, and, like this winter, extremely wet conditions that make maintaining good grass very difficult."

Said Procida: "In my opinion, for clubs like ours that have both recreation and travel-level teams, this is going to be the wave of the future. You don't have to worry about bad weather, getting fungus, irrigation - any of that stuff."

Maintaining one full-size soccer field with grass costs about $15,000 annually, counting irrigation, mowing, fertilizer and reseeding, Procida said. That figure would drop to about $5,000 on a synthetic turf field.

Soccer purists have long hated synthetic surfaces, but FIFA, soccer's world governing body, has in recent years welcomed experimentation with the newer, bladed surfaces in this country and in Europe, where the sport is played in many countries during wet winters. At least two Major League Soccer stadiums, including Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will be using bladed, fake grass this year for the first time.

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