It wasn’t long ago that artificial turf was found only on football fields owned by professional teams and major colleges.
It was considered to be an extravagance, a high-cost carpet that only the wealthy could afford.
Much has changed in the past decade and an increasing number of high schools are switching from natural grass to artificial turf.
Add Appleton East, Appleton North and Appleton West to the growing list.
All three will play home football games on artificial turf this season for the first time in school history.
Artificial turf has replaced the natural grass surfaces at East’s Pickett Field and North’s Paul Engen Stadium, and both fields will be ready for home openers Friday. The Lightning hosts Oshkosh North, while Fond du Lac visits the Patriots.
Appleton West will continue to play home games at the Banta Bowl on the Lawrence University campus, and that field has also been upgraded with artificial turf. It will also be ready for the Terrors’ home opener Friday against Hortonville.
“We’ve been really looking forward to this since we first heard about it at the end of our sophomore year,” said Appleton North offensive tackle Tyler Huggins. “We’re seniors now and finally getting the turf. It kind of makes you feel closer to the big leagues. It’s going to be pretty special going out there for that first game against Oshkosh North.”
The installation of artificial turf at East and North was approved by the Appleton Area School District and highlights phase one of upgrades for field and stadium renovations at the Appleton schools. Appleton West is building an outdoor athletic stadium on its campus and has also been approved for artificial turf, which will be installed next summer, but completion of the stadium won’t be ready until at least 2016. The total cost of turf installation at all three fields plus additional upgrades is about $5.2 million.
The projects are being paid through private donors and corporate sponsorships. More than $2 million has already been raised.
“I feel it’s pretty special having turf my senior year,” said North free safety Hunter Rolain.
“We’re going to have a big unveiling of it Friday night, with new uniforms. It’s going to be a blast. Having turf is a big deal. A lot of money goes into it, so yeah, it’s special. You feel like you’re in the big leagues.”
In previous years, teams such as North and East were limited to turf games against Kimberly and the Oshkosh schools, which play home games at Titan Stadium on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh campus.
“Well, kids are interested when it comes to the excitement of something new,” said Appleton North coach Rob Salm. “Everyone sees that most colleges have turf fields, so it kind of makes you feel like you’ve made it to a bigger stage. I’m trying to get them to understand that a field is a field and is not an advantage if we don’t work hard and take care of the stuff we can control off the field.
“But you always want to make those Friday nights more exciting. This is very important for our town, our community and our football team.”
The installation of artificial turf at Pickett Field has also gone over big with the Patriots.
“We can’t wait to get out there and play on it,” said East senior quarterback Seth Berven. “We’ve been driving past the construction zone all summer and taking peeks at it.”
Jesus Vera, a junior running back for the Patriots, added: “It’s going to be great. We’ve been looking forward to it all summer. It definitely has us amped up and ready for Friday night. I’m really excited because it’s my first year playing varsity. Getting to open on turf makes it even better.”
Turf offers better traction than grass and is practically storm proof. It holds water and offers a huge advantage on a rainy night when conditions on a grass field can quickly deteriorate.
“This is very exciting for our school,” said East coach Pat Schwanke. “You’re putting turf on what used to be a swamp when it rained. She just didn’t hold water. When you were going toward the scoreboard, you never ran left because you were afraid you were going to lose someone in a pit. We always ran to the right, just for that reason.”
In the early days of artificial turf, the surface was often hard and athletes could feel the affects of playing on it, particularly in the knees. But turf fields have improved dramatically the past few decades and are now viewed as safe — if not safer — than grass. And unlike grass fields, there is very little maintenance cost.
“Grass fields can get real hard and wear down the legs a lot more,” said East senior wide receiver Simon Pflum. “Turf always stays nice and soft. You feel fresher on it. Plus, the traction is so much better.”
Playing on an artificial surface also seems to promote speed.
“Being a smaller, quicker guy, I really like playing on turf,” said Rolain. “It’s easier to move around. I just feel quicker and I’m for anything to make me faster.”
The West situation is a bit different in that the Terrors will play their four home games on a field that belongs to Lawrence University. But coach Brent Engen and his Terrors are still pumped up about playing home games on turf.
“As far as setting, the Banta Bowl is as good as I’ve ever seen and I’ve been to football stadiums around the country,” said Engen. “It needed its infrastructure upgraded and putting in turf really makes it better.
Kids really like playing on turf. Why? Because that’s what they see when they turn on the TV.
“But it’s safer and more economical. It’s a sound investment. It’s not like the old Astro Turf that I played on, which was like fuzzy cement. It equalizes everything and as a coach, I really like it. The only bad thing is those little black rubber pellets that collect in your shoes. You have to empty your shoes when you get home.”
West players will have to empty their shoes on a regular basis this season. With four contests scheduled for the Banta Bowl, the Terrors will play eight of their nine regular-season games on turf.
“We’ve been looking forward to playing on turf because in years past, it’s been kind of slippery at the Banta Bowl,” said West quarterback Ethan Herbst. “Everyone is excited. It makes the game faster and more fun.”
— Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @twfroberg
Banta Bowl renovation impacts game
Due to construction at the Banta Bowl, a few rules will be in effect for Friday’s game between Hortonville and Appleton West.
Fans are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance from the Appleton West business office. FVA passes, On the Road passes from Hortonville and Appleton West student activity passes will be accepted.
There will also be only one main gate open for entry, off Banta Court behind the visitor bleachers. The visitor bleachers will be closed, but the home grandstand will be open. The 1,600 seats will be split between both schools. Appleton West will be on the scoreboard side of the field.
There is parking for senior citizens/handicap in the lower lot. There are 25 spots available. Tailgating must be done in the Mead Pool lot.
Concessions and Porta Potties will be available.
Watch live as Kimberly takes on Oshkosh West
Kimberly and Oshkosh West clash in a nonconference season-opening football showdown. Join us Friday at 6:45 p.m. as Ricardo Arguello, Brett Christopherson and Jim Rosandick bring you the coverage from Papermaker Stadium in Kimberly. Watch the action live at postcrescent.
com and join our interactive, real-time conversation to follow that game and many others in the region through tweets, photos and football chatter. Use the hashtag #hsswi if you’re a Twitter user.