LBWA–Let Sport Lights Shine Bright

Photo Courtesy of Hubbell Lighting

Photo Courtesy of Hubbell Lighting

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.   

Sports-field lighting, from design and purchase to installation, operation, and maintenance, is arguably one of the largest consumers in parks and rec department budgets. 

Increased demand for use of limited sports-field space has led to more night practices and games for adult and youth leagues, and even after-dark special events. Thus, sport lights are burning longer and, unless carefully monitored, participants aren’t always the most conscientious when it comes to prudent use. 

Glaring Issues

Additionally, more parks and rec departments are facing “encroachment.” Encroachment is the emerging urbanization around a sports facility that was originally built in the middle of a cow pasture. So high-intensity sports lighting on 80-foot poles now draws complaints. 

“It seems some of the more exclusive neighborhoods are built on the outskirts of town, where sports facilities have already been in use for years,” notes Heather Johnson, chairperson of the Sports Lighting Committee of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES) ( 

“Those homeowners want to be able to see the night sky; they don’t want light coming into their bedroom windows, and they are more apt to speak up if it does,” she observes after working with sport and other lighting applications for more than 30 years. 

Light pollution can also be a safety issue if a facility is visible to traffic lanes.  Terms such as “light spill” and “glare” must now become standard in the parks and rec lexicon. “You will never totally eliminate light spill and glare,” Johnson emphasizes. “These are very subjective terms.  What is glare to one person may be OK with another.” 

“Parks and schools by their very nature are usually located in the midst of residential communities, where the outdoor lighting, if inadequately designed, can have a serious impact on the surrounding residents,” outlines a July 2010 report by the Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia. ( The report notes that the county follows IES recommendations.

The report is an excellent resource, a quick read that defines sport lighting terminology and issues, including glare and associated “source intensity.” 

“There are many ways to reduce source intensity as viewed by local residents and still meet the required on-field lighting requirements,” the report notes, adding that shielding, reflectors, wattages, beam types, mounting height, and aiming angles all impact the source intensity and are key considerations in reducing glare. 

In 2001, IES produced a detailed publication about all aspects of lighting various types of facilities, from churches to sports fields. The RP-6 (Recommended Practice) is currently in revision to account for new light-emitting diode (LED) technology, which hasn’t become a factor in sports lighting yet, but undoubtedly will someday. The current volume is available for a cost on the IES website. 

Replace Sufficient With Efficient

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