NEWS

Carey Stadium is getting turf

Saturday, Jan 30, 2016

Turf is coming to the Carey Stadium field.

The city expects to put the project out for bid within a month. This comes after studying the project for more than a year. The city decided to switch infills from crumb rubber, made from ground up and treated rubber from tires, to Nike Grind, an infill made from ground up sneakers.

Let’s remember that the concern over the safety of turf fields, the fear that the infill can cause cancer, came from a college assistant coach who visited her cancer-stricken goalie in the hospital and discovered that there were 11 others who had cancer and had been goalies. The number expanded slightly to a little over 30 after she got nationwide publicity of her story.

There was no study about the family history of these athletes, no study to scientifically determine how they might have contracted cancer. In fact, almost all serious studies have shown turf fields to be safe. Still, Mayor Gillian and his staff put the project on hold in 2014 to see if additional concerns would come forward. They didn’t, but the city still switched to the Nike infill as an additional precaution.

Dr. Dev K. Mishra, president of Sideline Sports Doc, has said pretty much the same thing. “My feeling is that there is no better playing surface for outdoor field sports than a perfectly prepared grass surface. But the reality is that there are few if any youth programs that can maintain a perfect grass surface, and definitely the worst surface is a pockmarked and worn grass and dirt field.”

Phil Smart is the director of athletics at Eastern High School. Eastern has four turf fields – one for football/field hockey, one for soccer/lacrosse, plus the infield of its baseball field and its entire softball field.

“It is recommended that grass football fields only be used 30-40 times a year,” Smart said. “That is not a workable situation for a high school field. Recently, while the Eagles played two straight games on the road, they replaced the surface at Lincoln Financial Field because it had become worn. And this was at a facility with a full-time maintenance crew.”

“It is recommended that grass football fields only be used 30-40 times a year,” Smart said. “That is not a workable situation for a high school field. Recently, while the Eagles played two straight games on the road, they replaced the surface at Lincoln Financial Field because it had become worn. And this was at a facility with a full-time maintenance crew.”

Of the 23 open stadiums in the NFL, 12 have grass, eight have turf and three have a mix of real grass and synthetic. Nobody has more money to spend on maintenance than NFL stadiums yet more than a third of them have turf fields. In college stadiums you find that some large schools have grass because they have the budget to maintain it and have separate practice facilities. But a large majority use turf. Notre Dame switched to turf. So did Rutgers about a decade ago. And Rutgers is home to the Center for Turfgrass Science, one of the largest schools that studies grass and turf. Among BCS colleges, 53 percent have grass fields. Among Non-BCS schools, 94 percent have turf.

Five schools in the Cape-Atlantic League – St. Augustine Prep, Pleasantville, Atlantic City, Bridgeton and Egg Harbor Township already have turf football fields. Dozens more have moved in that direction throughout South Jersey and many, many more all over New Jersey.

Very few need the surface more than Ocean City.

In addition to the advantages to the high school teams, a turf field at Carey Stadium will benefit the other activities throughout the year. Youth programs can use it. The Ocean City Nor’easters (and the newly established Nor’easters’ women’s team) can use it. Rowan University said it would consider playing a regular season game on it. Six Philadelphia high school teams come down every year to play on it.

Those are just the existing events, the ones we know about. A field that can take the use a turf field can take could open the door to more events – the return of the Drum & Bugle Corps competition, camps and clinics and all kinds of youth programs.

“Our fields are in use all the time,” Smart said. “During the week there are gym classes and then practices and games until 9-10 p.m. On the weekends there are people on the fields from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Turf has been great for our programs.”

Some have questioned the cost of maintenance.

“It takes about two hours a month for each field,” Smart said. “We sweep it and aerate.”

“There is a special machine,” said Dennis Foreman of St. Augustine Prep. “It just grooms the turf. It doesn’t take much time at all. Real grass takes far more time and there is only so much you can do with the staff and budget of a high school.”

The use of Carey Stadium for non-high school events could generate some direct income from rent and other charges. But, just as important, these events bring people into the resort who can experience the best downtown in South Jersey and the best beach and boardwalk in the state, according to recent contests.

One of the great bonuses of a turf field is that everybody can get practice time without hurting the surface.

There have been no reports of additional injuries, infections or allergies at their schools, according to Smart, Foreman and Egg Harbor Township’s Mike Pellegrino. “Our trainer did an analysis,” said Smart, “and we have had fewer injuries on turf.”

Pellegrino offered another asset. “Since our maintenance people hardly spend any time with the football field,” he said, “they can spend more time at other fields and courts.”

Incidentally, Haddonfield throws the javelin on its turf field. They used the rubber tip javelin and rub blue chalk on the tip to mark where it lands. Not being able to throw the javelin was frequently offered as a criticism of turf surfaces.

People have come forward and said that everybody and their brother is against a turf field at Carey Stadium. That only the administration wants it. Not true. Not sure about everybody’s brother but there are thousands of people who would like to see a versatile turf surface at Carey Stadium. And thousands and thousands more who would come from other communities to talk about the benefits. Ocean City High School teams are already playing away games on turf fields.

The resurfacing of the track was completed recently after a long delay, allowing the OCHS outdoor track teams to have home meets this spring. A turf field will be the next step in making Carey Stadium the quality facility that Ocean City deserves.

 

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