Shaler Area School District announced on November 12 that it has approved the installation of a new turf field and track surface at Mt. Royal Stadium.
School Board Member Steve Romac explained that resurfacing the track is a must for the district, but by replacing the natural grass field with the artificial turf it will allow more athletic events to take place there.
“The track is in deplorable condition; the district needs to have the track resurfaced. With that being said, the stadium is only used for football and a select few other events like graduation. The thought of the stadium being used more often and for multiple activities started the conversation amongst board members,” Romac said.
Athletic Director Clint Rauscher agreed that by converting the grass to turf, the field becomes more versatile.
“Implementation of an artificial surface will provide a large range of uses that is not currently available at the site. Although it requires some upfront costs, the amount of use is going to be extensive so it really opens up the site to not only football, but gym classes, community sports, and middle school activities. That is not possible with the current make-up,” Rauscher said.
While it seems artificial turf makes sense, the grass field is unique since few schools play on natural grass. Senior football player Kenny Trush says he and the team like the idea of playing on a turf field; however, he enjoys playing on the natural grass too.
“I love the fact that we play on a grass field. It makes it seem like we are the only old school football team left. Although it’s easier to play on turf, playing on grass in my opinion is more fun because it’s such a rare occurrence to play on grass instead of turf,” Trush said.
Nostalgia may not be the only reason to keep a grass field. Last summer, Mt. Lebanon approved the installation of artificial turf for two of its athletic fields in Mt. Lebanon’s Main Park. The total cost of the project came in at 1.05 million. The field featured an infill of sand and rubber to help provide support for its users. However, health concern risks about the crumb rubber infill, which consists of shredded rubber tires, raised questions about possible health risks associated with crumb rubber.
Experts warned commissioners that by installing crumb rubber in its turf fields, there is an increased possibility in illnesses because of chemicals in the rubber. However, the township decided to move forth with the project, stating they did not find sufficient evidence that showed there were harmful chemicals in turf fields that contain crumb rubber.
Recently, ESPN produced a program titled “The Turf War”. This segment featured Julie Foudy, former US National Soccer Team midfielder, who investigated the use of crumb rubber on synthetic turf fields and its health effects. Her research surveyed 187 athletes that played on turf that got cancer. Of those people, 150 were soccer players and 95 were goal keepers.
She interviewed athletes and the parents of athletes who got cancer. In her interviews, it became very clear the athletes and the parents felt as though the crumb rubber was to blame.
Romac stated the district has looked into the possible health side effects of turf, and it decided to use an organic infill to keep athletes safe.
“We are looking at an organic infill, which does not contain carcinogens, which in turn makes it even safer for those who use it. The organic infill is a very key component. There are at least 7 to 8 different organic infills, from cork to coconut fiber, as opposed to the crumb rubber, where you’ll find those carcinogens,” Romac said.
However, the organic infill does come in more expensive than the typical crumb rubber infill, but Romac states the investment is forth it for player safety.
“There is going to be an up charge on any organic infill you put in, some more than others, but how do you way out the burden of someone getting sick over the money? I think it’s a wise investment,” Romac said.
Romac believes an updated stadium facility will be a “place of pride” for the district. Romac stated that it’s not only about improving and updating Shaler’s own facilities, but it’s also about keeping pace with other districts.
“We need to continuously update our schools and facilities if we want to attract others to move into our district. Status quo is not the solution. We must find ways to improve our district, our townships, and boroughs to attract young professionals. Look at our neighboring areas, it is working for them, now we need to focus and compete,” Romac said.
The project is set to start the day after graduation in 2016, and is set to be completed no later than September 16, 2016, which would allow the project to not interfere with the football home schedule.