New field is artificial, but injuries all too real

On High Schools

High Schools

May 12, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Broadneck girls lacrosse coach Karen Tengwall has a solid chance to win her third state championship, and the first in three years, but, lately, she's been pondering the footwear of her team and its opponents.

Tengwall's concerns aren't sartorial in nature, but related to safety, as three of her Bruins have suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments this season.

Two of those knee injuries took place on the $700,000 artificial turf field that the team inaugurated April 28. In addition, Tengwall said, a South River junior varsity player dislocated her kneecap on the field.

With Broadneck holding the top seed in the 4A/3A East region, the Bruins could play as many as three games on the field before the state semifinals. The Broadneck boys team drew the No. 3 seed in the 4A/3A East region and will host the winner of the Great Mills-Annapolis first-round match, which means there will be at least one more boys game on the field as well.

"Having not really experienced this, a girl goes down and we are terrified that it's going to be the same injury," said Tengwall, who said she had never had a player tear her ACL before this season, her ninth at Broadneck.

"Even at practice, a girl slips and we think right away there's going to be a knee injury. I would say that there is some hesitation. I don't really talk to the girls about it much, like, `Are you nervous to play?' or anything like that. I don't sense it from them much either, but I'm sure if I were to ask them, they might say they hesitated a smidge, just because we've seen three injuries on that field."

The Broadneck field - the first public school turf field in the Baltimore area - is made of FieldTurf, a popular brand of artificial turf that company officials maintain is as close to real turf as you can get.

FieldTurf was used at Ford Field in Detroit three months ago for the Super Bowl, and is the surface of choice for a number of NFL teams, including the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals and both New York teams.

In major league baseball, the Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Toronto Blue Jays all play on FieldTurf, while a number of colleges, including Maryland and Navy locally, have installed FieldTurf surfaces.

Most significantly, FieldTurf officials say, their fields are safe, certainly safer than AstroTurf, and even safer than natural grass. Company officials hang their hats on a five-year independent study conducted among eight Texas high schools and published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

"There isn't another product out there that can match Field Turf's safety record," said John Gilman, FieldTurf's chief executive officer. "We've proven it, with 1,800 fields put in around the world. Nobody else is anywhere close to that. Nobody has crossed the 300-field barrier. We knew right from Day One and it's been proven and tested."

It was precisely that kind of research that swayed Ken Kazmarek, Broadneck's athletic director. Kazmarek spearheaded the three-year effort to bring in the field from funds that came from both the Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks department and private donations.

Kazmarek said the field, which is devoid of pockmarks and divots and drains 20 inches of water per hour, was rigorously inspected by county officials, who certainly wouldn't allow kids to play on it if there was a scintilla of doubt about its safety.

"To go down with an injury that could affect the rest of their season is gut-wrenching, but the bottom line is those injuries occur all the time, every year," said Kazmarek. "Somewhere along the line, we lose athletes to injuries. That's just part of the nature of playing athletics. This field, in no way, made those athletes any more susceptible to these injuries than they would have been in any other situation. I'm confident in that."

And yet, there are Kelsey Heisterman and Rachel Sandifer, two junior attackers on Karen Tengwall's front line who each tore an ACLs on that new field within three days of each other. They join Megan Hollerbach, another junior attacker who suffered an ACL tear at Broadneck's temporary home, a grass field at Anne Arundel Community College, in March.

It bears noting that the trio of Broadneck players are among the latest to join an appalling epidemic of female athletes, from basketball to soccer to lacrosse to virtually any sport where quick cuts and stops are required, to suffer ACL tears.

Studies are being conducted, to be sure, but no one has an answer. Whatever answer that comes along will be too late to do much good for Heisterman, Sandifer and Hollerbach, who are expected to play next season, but will miss the summer tournaments this year, when college recruiters are likely to be watching.

For now, Tengwall said, the lacrosse coaches have barred the players from wearing running shoes or football cleats, which Sandifer and Heisterman were wearing when they got hurt, in favor of turf shoes or short spiked cleats.

"I don't know what the next step would be," Tengwall said. "The field was just put in. If everyone's kind of thinking, `Is it the field?' then someone needs to step in and say, or re-evaluate it or something, if that's how they feel. I've taken all the precautions that I can take."

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