Barry: More high school teams turning to turf

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John Barry
Thursday, November 2, 2017

Playing on artificial turf used to be a rare occurrence for high school football players in Wisconsin.

About the only chance kids got to play on the fake stuff was if their team was good enough to play for a state title at Camp Randall.

Nowadays, it’s becoming more of the norm than the exception.

Many schools have gone to synthetic turf on their home fields, because in the long run it’s a cheaper, safer and more viable option.

I watched Franklin beat Lake Geneva Badger last Friday on the Sabers’ brand new turf field, installed before the start of this season.

Clinton, meanwhile, went so far as to pay for and bring in a helicopter before last Friday’s second-round playoff game. Heavy rains and five games on the middle school field in one week forced the booster club to exhaust all means to dry the field and make it somewhat playable.

“It was in such bad shape,” Clinton coach Jeff Spiwak said of the field. “It puts the kids at a disadvantage, and that’s not fair.”

In Janesville, Monterey Stadium has natural grass, as does the baseball diamond at Riverside Park. Talk has circulated around town for a couple years now about possibly putting synthetic turf at both facilities. Private funding would be needed to pay for the majority of the costs involved, because public funding would likely be shot down with a limited school budget and other more pressing needs taking precedent.

So how much exactly are we talking to install state-of-the-art turf?

The general cost for the initial installation is somewhere in the ballpark of $800,000. That includes the base work, a drainage system, painting and a few other start-up costs.

The turf is generally good for a span of 10-20 years, with the cost of new installation at roughly $300,000. Yearly maintenance on a turf field is estimated at about $5,000.

“What you can save in the long run money-wise by switching to turf can be substantial,” Walworth Big Foot athletic director Tim Collins said. “You’re saving on a yearly basis the cost of maintenance, painting, seeding and watering the field by switching.

“I think one of the biggest reasons to switch, and one that’s not talked about enough, is the safety aspect. The cushion you get, and the bounce you get, from the turf field is much softer. Kids are safer.”

One hangup with putting turf at Monterey Stadium is the fact that the facility only hosts nine regular-season games per year. Turf can be more effective and better utilized, obviously, if it’s installed on site of a school, as is the case at Middleton and Sun Prairie. That way the turf can potentially be used by the soccer, softball and baseball teams, and even the band could practice on it.

Riverside Park is a different story, because perhaps 100 games or so are played there during the baseball season.

Certainly, not every district in the state is even looking at installing turf. Many districts won’t have the corporate backing needed and don’t have the money in the school budget for adequate funding.

But for those that do, it seems like the logical choice.

As for the football playoffs, we’re down to one sole survivor in our coverage area, and that’s Clinton.

Here’s a look at the Cougar’s home game Friday night against unbeaten Lake Country Lutheran:

Lake Country Lutheran (11-0) at Clinton (11-0), Division 5 quarterfinal, 7 p.m., Friday, Clinton Middle School—This is one of four state quarterfinal games featuring two unbeaten teams. The Lightning are making a 10th straight postseason appearance (15-9 overall), while the Cougars qualified for the fifth time in the last six years.

Lake Country Lutheran won the Midwest Classic Conference title and is the seventh-highest scoring team in the state at 45.0 points per game.

Quarterback Ethan Wilkins has passed for 1,234 yards and 21 touchdowns, while tailback Dave Vance has rushed for 1,440 yards and 28 TDs.

“They’re undefeated for a reason,” Spiwak said. “They run a very diverse multiple offense. They may go power run on one play and have an empty backfield with a five-wide set the next play.

“It’s going to be a huge test for us, because they have some nice athletes. Our defense, which has been phenomenal all season, is going to have to play well.”

Clinton remains the state’s leader in rushing. The Cougars are averaging 388.8 yards per game. Senior tailback Zach Krause, who was limited last week due to a leg injury, is second in the state in rushing with 2,302 yards. Spiwak said Krause will play Friday.

“He’s got to be able to fight through it just like he did last week when he scored a couple of big touchdowns for us,” Spiwak said. “We’re monitoring him this week and doing everything we can to get him healthy.

“One advantage we will have is playing at home. It’s another chance for us to showcase our community, and for our team to provide these kinds of moments for the community.”

Best guess: Clinton 34, Lake Country Lutheran 20

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