SYLVA – Smoky Mountain is joining the ranks of Western North Carolina high schools with an artificial turf field.
And it came about unanimously.
All five members of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of helping Jackson County Schools make up a $200,000 budgeting shortfall that stood in the way of a turf field for the 2016-17 school year. The vote was conducted during a Thursday meeting.
The $915,000 installation will begin “as soon as possible,” Jackson County athletic director Cindi Simmons said.
“It’s a great day in Jackson County,” Simmons said. “This vote speaks volumes about our commissioners’ commitment to the county and its young people.”
Jackson school officials began taking bids for a turf field on March 22 and had set a deadline for April 15 to raise the $200,000. About $60,000 has been collected in donations and pledges from the community.
The Carolina Panthers gave Jackson County Schools a $200,000 grant through the NFL Foundations Grassroots Program in October. Representatives from the Panthers are expected to attend a groundbreaking ceremony when a date can be hammered out.
Fifteen of the 31 football-playing high schools in WNC will have artificial turf after Smoky Mountain’s field is done. And there are plans to include turf in a renovation of McDowell’s stadium.
“I’m so proud of our school board and county commissioners for standing up and doing a great thing for our student-athletes,” said Smoky Mountain football coach Chris Brookshire, who was hired in January.
“This is just great all-around.”
The price to go from natural grass to turf has fluctuated over the years.
Buncombe County Schools was the first mountain school system to make the transition. BCS spent approximately $4 million in 2005 to turf all its high school fields. Reynolds was the first of the current 14 turf fields in WNC to be refurbished last summer at a cost of $400,000.
The cost of Smoky Mountain’s field is a little higher because an organic-turf field is being installed instead of one with rubber crumbs for padding. The crumbs come from recycled tires.
Lately, concerns have risen nationwide about the link between those types of fields and cancer, particularly with soccer goalkeepers. According to Synthetic Turf Council research, the United States has over 12,000 artificial turf field with the rubber crumbs.
The field at Smoky Mountain is used by not only its high school teams (mostly football and soccer), band and physical-education classes but local youth teams.
Former Smoky Mountain/Swain County football coach Boyce Deitz is one of the five Jackson County commissioners. Deitz retired from coaching in 2000 after three years with the Mustangs, finishing with a career record of 233-87-3.
Fittingly, the first-ever regular season football game on the turf will be an Aug. 26 nonconference matchup between Smoky Mountain and Swain County.