Montgomery Bell Academy broke the turf barrier in Tennessee high school football in spring 2006.
And while those perfectly painted, always-playable synthetic game surfaces have become more mainstream in recent years, the turf trend hasn’t gained traction in Middle Tennessee, at least not among public schools.
With a required initial investment of about $750,000 to $850,000, along with a roughly $350,000 replacement cost, it’s easy to understand why.
“We’ve put the numbers together on how much usage it would get, and it would be a good investment,” said Oakland football coach Kevin Creasy, who said the Patriots paid $16,000 just to re-sod their field between the hashes. “The problem is we don’t have the money to do it, and we don’t know where we would get it.”
Several Metro Nashville schools have inquired about artificial turf, but Metro Nashville athletics director Roosevelt Sanders it’s not possible at this time.
“For sustainability, durability and all of that, it pays for itself,” Sanders said. “It would be nice to have them, but at this point in time the funding for that is not available.”
The large up-front cost didn’t deter everyone, though.
In the 10 years after MBA first installed turf at Tommy Owen Stadium — long enough for the Big Red’s field to require resurfacing, which was completed this summer — a handful of area private schools, Father Ryan (2009), Pope John Paul II (2011), Franklin Road Academy (2012) and Brentwood Academy (2013) — went the turf route.
“In our league (Division II-AA), which is pretty premier when it comes to athletics, everyone that wants one has one,” said Brentwood Academy athletics director and football coach Cody White, who previously spent 17 years coaching in Texas, where turf fields are the norm. “Ensworth is the only one that doesn’t, and that’s because they want grass.”
However, this fall newly opened Nolensville High School became the first public school in Middle Tennessee to have an artificial turf field put in, a decision that was driven by a “lack of availability of practice fields,” Williamson County spokeswoman Carol Birdsong said.
The synthetic turf allows the team to practice in the stadium instead of on a dedicated practice field as most other schools do.
And while the addition of turf fields are listed among the multi-million dollar campus improvements slated for both Brentwood and Franklin, there is no plan to turf the entire county.
“There are plans over the next few years to look at all of our campuses just to assess, and really look at all the master plans and see what our needs are,” Birdsong said. “(The turf fields are) all necessitated by the lack of availability of practice fields.”
The Williamson County school board will vote on the proposed campus improvements at Brentwood and Franklin after public meetings in October.
“That is generally the way things work in the public school realm — whatever one has everybody gets,” Nolensville coach Will Hester said. “But I do think it is kind of a trial situation. As time goes, if they see this is a viable option that is saving them money at Nolensville High School, then it may be a viable option elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, the Knoxville-area has 16 public high schools playing on artificial fields this season — a number that was on the rise even before the Haslam Family Foundation and Pilot Flying J’s $10 million gift to Knox County Schools in December, which will allow for turf to be installed at each of the county’s 14 high schools by 2018.
Creasy isn’t counting on the trend reaching Rutherford County anytime soon, though.
“I know that it’s whole lot easier to get turf if your school and stadium are brand new,” Creasy said. “I think that’s obviously the easier way to go about getting one. It’s a whole lot harder if your school has been around for 40 or 50 years like ours.”
Turf timeline in Tennessee
2006: MBA, Memphis University School, Christian Brothers
2007: Morristown East, Morristown West*
2009: Baylor, Father Ryan, McCallie, Melrose
2011: Pope John Paul II
2012: Evangelical Christian School, Franklin Road Academy, Knoxville Catholic, Knoxville Grace, Maryville, Rhea County, Whitehaven
2013: Brentwood Academy, Chattanooga Christian, Dyersburg, Gatlinburg-Pittman, Lausanne
2014: Alcoa, Christian Academy of Knoxville, Northview Academy, Pigeon Forge, Sevier County, Seymour
2015: Houston, St. Benedict, Webb School of Knoxville
2016: Anderson County, Arlington, Bearden, Boyd-Buchanan, Farragut, Fulton, Knoxville Central, Nolensville, Powell
*The two Morristown schools share a turf game stadium.