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As high school football season approaches, the local school football fields are more ready to take a pounding than ever. In the last few weeks, both Jeff Keel Stadium in Moapa Valley and Evan Wilson Stadium in Mesquite have been busy places. Contractor crews have been putting finishing touches on a conversion from grass to turf football fields in both locations.
The work has taken the better part of a year. On July 15, 2020, Clark County School District made the announcement that 29 high school football fields throughout the district would be making this change.
This conversion was intended to save money on water and maintenance and the provide greater safety for high school athletes.
The announcement was met with some opposition, including from coaches and athletes themselves.
“As a coach, I was extremely hesitant at the beginning,” said Dave Belcher who serves as both MVHS Groundskeeper and the school’s Flag Football Coach. “I assumed it was different than it really is and I wasn’t for it.”
But after working with the contractor, Hellas Construction through the installation, Belcher was impressed with the research and testing that stands behind these safer and better football fields.
“This turf is the result of science,” Belcher said. “It is safer to play on, acts like real grass, and is more forgiving. Stuff within the turf stays loose, is softer, less likely to cause injuries and concussions. Exact science is a good thing!”
Hellas Construction, a Texas company, is best known for building some of the NFL football fields including AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas: home to the Dallas Cowboys. Also, the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Rams use the same turf for their fields.
“The exact same turf as those NFL Teams play on is what we have now,” said Belcher. “The school district went all out on these fields.”
Belcher explained the process of engineering and installing the new surfaces.
The first thing done is a drainage system. This system consists of a liner and 6-8 inches of free-draining stone. There is also a concrete edging which serves as an attachment point for the turf. The soil underneath all of this was tested and packed to make sure the foundation was stable.
“The second layer consists of a cloth similar to landscape cloth but more substantial,” said Belcher. “On top of that goes a chat foundation which includes a three-fourths porous rubber.”
The “landscape cloth” aids with drainage. There is piping on top of the cloth. The Eco-friendly rubber is made in Italy and is known as a Cushdrain Pad. The Cushdrain Pad helps with shock absorption.
The Matrix turf carpet is the next layer, which has very fine ground gravel on it. This includes the Geo Plus infill which is an infill alternative of organic matters and is 100% environmentally friendly. It consists of coconut fibers and cork.
Geo-Plus comes equipped with a watering system using 7 water cannons on a 5-minute cycles each.
This has caused a lot of curiosity from passersby at the high school during watering. Belcher said many people approached him curiously about this.
“They all wanted to know why I was watering a turf field,” he said. “The answer is simple, the field holds moisture which helps with the temperature and cooling of the field as well as the elasticity and softness.”
“It is amazing how much cooler the turf is than before,” said Belcher. “I put it to the test and in the middle of this hot summer, I went and laid down on the turf and it was cool and very comfortable.”
Even with the watering scheduled, water consumption has dropped drastically for the field. Experts estimate that within 5 years the field will pay for itself out of water cost savings.
But even though the field uses far less water, Belcher said that the maintenance time involved has actually increased. It includes more than 10 hours a week of watering and grooming. That time is essential to the longevity and endurance of the field as well as the reduction of probabilities of injuries and concussions, Belcher said.
“It is amazing the technology and science behind this, but they are continually looking for ways to improve it even more,” said Belcher.
Virgin Valley High School Assistant Principal Jaydel Wilson also many other benefits to the new field that had more to do with scheduling.
“The biggest benefit I see is the fact that multiple sports can now use the field,” Wilson said in an interview with The Progress. “It can endure more abuse from the play occurring on the field. Football, flag football, and soccer can all use it now.”
The Evan Wilson stadium field at VVHS is constructed in much the same way as the one at Jeff Keel. There is also equipment that can be used to pick up trash and redistribute the material every 2-3 days used.
Wilson stated that the school staff will be making sure the maintenance is done properly on the field as they want it to last for many years to come.
“We have been extremely blessed by the community and the City in helping provide excellent locations to hold sports competitions such as soccer over the years,” Wilson said. “However, it will be exciting now to have more of the high school sports compete on campus. It is almost a feeling of being home.”
VVHS Principal Riley Frei expressed great enthusiasm about the improvements at Evan Wilson Stadium. “It not only looks amazing, but it will allow us to host soccer matches and increase practices for other sports on campus,” Frei said. “After a long break due to the pandemic, we cannot wait to break in this new field in front of a packed house!”