BY JEFF FALK
Lebanon Valley College has been playing football on grass for over a hundred years. The next hundred will be spent playing on artificial turf.
Its flexibility and durability make artificial turf the playing surface of choice, for just about any athletic pursuit.
In early spring of 2012, Lebanon Valley will have artificial turf installed on the surface of Arnold Field. While the Flying Dutchmen currently just play football at the facility, the turf will also allow for field hockey and lacrosse competitions, as well as any other outdoor sports practice.
“If you put yourself in the 16, 17, 18 age group, there’s not many who have played on grass,” said Lebanon Valley College athletic director Rick Beard. “Look at what the high schools are doing. They’re doing it (installing artificial turf) because it makes sense. We have to look at the future. We can’t look at the past. We all certainly respect the tradition, but we also have to be forward thinking.”
Beard said the installation is expected to be completed by August, in time for the 2012 football and field hockey seasons.
When finished Arnold Field will become the fourth artificial turf football field in Lebanon County. Currently, Cedar Crest High School has a turf field and In The Net sports complex in Palmyra sports two.
“We’ve been talking about it,” said Beard, a Lebanon High product who’s headed the LVC athletic department for the past four years. “It was something on my agenda when I became the athletic director. Men’s and women’s lacrosse need to get outdoors in January and we wanted to enhance the field hockey venue. And baseball and softball can go out there and hit ground balls. We’re trying to find a surface that will host a lot of different sports.
“Even soccer wants to play games there,” Beard continued. “They play 60 to 70 percent of their games on turf, so it’ll give them a chance to train. This will give us a good practice alternative.”
Beard said that the highly successful Flying Dutchmen field hockey program was one of only about ten – out of 155 NCAA Division Three programs in the country – still playing games on grass. Often, Lebanon Valley College would practice at In The Net in Palmyra to simulate game conditions.
“You want to keep your kids on campus,” said Beard. “It’s about having a high quality facility. It’s a showcase piece. Everybody who walks across that bridge (from campus to the sports complex), that’s the first thing you’ll see. Plus, we have a demand for space.”
Beard estimated the project to cost between $1 and $1.5 million. There is the possiblity that the project could also include lights and the resurfacing of the track around Arnold Field.
“If you look at what it costs per usage for a natural grass field, it’s a good bang for your buck,” said Beard. “If it rains all day, you can still have a great practice. And it’s safe.
“When you’re in the recruiting business we’re in, there’s some expectations,” Beard continued. “The ability to flip lights on and have a lacrosse practice in the fall is a great alternative. We talked from A to Z about a lot of possiblities. But it’s about usage.”
Presently, Lebanon Valley College is one of three in the 16-team Middle Atlantic Conference that doesn’t have a turf field on campus.
“To say we’re behind, we’re ahead in other ways,” said Beard. “It’s all relative. It’s going to benefit our student-athletes. That’s what it’s all about
“We have great natural grass fields, but the more you use them, the worse they get,” added Beard. “We’re at the point with our programs that we have to give our student-athletes the best facilites we can. The good thing is our teams are still going to have grass fields to practice on. It’ll all work out.”
Beyond its flexibility and durability, artificial turf is beleived to be easier on athletes. That is, athletes are believed to sustain less injuries on turf than on its predecessor.
“When you go back to the late 80s, the turf technology right now is so much more advanced than it was then,” said Beard. “The data out there shows that there’s a low frequency of injury on turf. If you don’t have weather issues, I don’t think anyone would say they wouldn’t prefer playing on a perfect grass field. But turf makes sense because you can provide a quality surface in any conditions.
“The downside is that everybody’s going to want on it,” Beard added. “It doesn’t make my job any easier. But from November to spring break, everybody wants court space (in Arnold Sports Center). We’ll manage it. If there’s a downside, scheduling is going to be an issue. But someone’s going to have to be on it from four to six (p.m.) and someone else is going to have to be on it from six to eight (p.m.).”
And if student-athletes are happy, then so are coaches.
“I would call them (coaches) primary users,” said Beard. “They’re very happy about this. It will have a big recruiting impact for us.”
Money well spent.