As AstroTurf ages, grass debate rages

By Chris Sigley

Is it real or is it AstroTurf?

It is AstroTurf, and it needs to be replaced. The artificial playing field laid in 1980 in Huskie Stadium has served its purpose, but it is wearing thin.

“We’re in the process of looking at costs to have the turf redone,” said John Harrod, Physical Plant director. “It would be a year or two before we figured out a budget and will be able to replace it.”

Chances are looking slim for all those football and soccer players hoping to play in a Wrigley Field atmosphere at their own NIU.

“We’ll put in artificial turf,” Harrod said. “We could put in grass, but it is too hard to maintain. Many of the pro teams are switching to grass, and that’s fine if you can maintain the field.”

One of those pro teams includes the stadium of the Chicago Bears, Soldier Field, whose turf will be replaced with grass sometime next year.

However, unlike Soldier Field, Huskie Stadium is not just used by a football team but by soccer and field hockey teams as well.

If the coaches of those three sports had a choice of which type of surface to use, there would be some conflict depending on the sport.

“The turf accelerates the game,” said head football coach Jerry Pettibone, whose wishbone offense relies heavily on speed. “Sometimes we practice on the grass, but when it gets cooler the ground is harder for falls.”

On the other hand, soccer coach Willie Roy prefers nature’s choice of fields.

“If God wanted us to play on AstroTurf, he would have grown it on the fields,” Roy said. “If it were a grass field, it would be difficult to keep up after three football games or so, but I feel that all athletic fields should be natural turf.”

A debatable topic involved in choosing turf over grass is the player injury factor.

“In-depth studies done in the past ten years show that you get the same amount of injuries from both surfaces,” Pettibone said. “They’re just different kinds of injuries.”

Field hockey coach Laurie Bell feels the turf is safer for her sport.

“Grass brings it’s own hazards,” Bell said. “The ball bounces up and hits the kids in the face. We haven’t had any injuries on the turf, plus you get a truer roll of the ball, and it’s a more high-level game.”

Roy disagrees with grass being a hazard and finds turf to cause more problems for the soccer players.

“People twist their ankles too easy on the turf,” Roy said. “The grass gives more when they fall which causes fewer injuries.”