Synthetic Turf Fields Save the Day

It had been raining for three days. Not the gentle, soothing showers that bring May flowers, but the raucous, hard-pressing rains that cause creeks to overflow their banks and basements to fill. The ribbon-cutting grand opening ceremony for our newest synthetic turf fields at James S. Long Regional Park in Haymarket, Va., was scheduled for the upcoming weekend. It had been a long road of meetings, discussions, fundraising and a carefully drafted partnership agreement between the Virginia Soccer Association (VSA) and the Prince William County Park Authority.

The young VSA players, their parents and the VSA Board of Directors had been waiting a long time for synthetic turf fields to be installed at their park. Toll Brothers, the renowned luxury home builders, had developed a large track of single-family homes in the Haymarket area in western Prince William County. The company was also an integral partner in the development of the park and the new synthetic turf fields. All of the painstaking plans for this long-awaited facility were dangerously close to being literally washed down some drain.

Pressing On

The day before the grand opening, I placed a call to the VSA President, Dave Milne, and asked, “Well, what do you think?” The line went quiet and Dave came back in his usual optimistic way, “Well, I think it’s going to be all right.” With a bit of nail-biting, the park authority and VSA event team cautiously proceeded with the final details of the game schedule, VIP speakers’ list, guest list and securing the portable stage and sound system, known to us as “The Showmobile.”

Saturday morning arrived. The April sky was ominously heavy and dark, but somehow the rain stayed at bay. The players arrived with their gear-toting parents, the tents went up, the folding chairs were aligned, the Showmobile was powered up, and still the rain held back. As I listened to the executive director of the park authority introduce the keynote speaker–Prince William County Board of County Supervisor John Stirrup (R-Gainesville)–I couldn’t help but think, “If these were ordinary Bermuda grass fields, these kids would be ankle deep in muddy water and not be able to play.” After a solid week of hard rain, the players were battling their hearts out on the new turf fields, which were dry, clean and playable. I don’t think there could have been a better way to show off our new investment–and the kids were having a ball.

“Green” Goals

The Prince William County Park Authority has four synthetic turf fields in its inventory. The first turf field was installed in the eastern part of the county in May 2006 at Howison Homestead Soccer Complex, home to Prince William Soccer Inc. As part of a five-year plan, Nike (through its community affairs initiative, NikeGo) and the U.S. Soccer Foundation made a commitment to “provide 50 world-class soccer field grants to communities across the United States” to promote youth soccer as a viable core sport, and provide kids with places to play. Members of Prince William Soccer Inc. and the park authority created the first league partnership.

Through the NikeGo/U.S. Soccer Foundation’s grant and a remarkable grassroots fundraising effort, a synthetic-turf field package was purchased from FieldTurf, a strategic alliance partner of NikeGo. FieldTurf uses Nike Grind material (recycled sports footwear) in combination with other rubber material and sand, as fill between the open-weave, smooth-coated synthetic fibers of the turf itself. These eco-friendly fields use no pesticides, fertilizers or fungicides, and can help organizations earn LEED U.S. Green Building Council certifications. This was an important factor for the Prince William County Park Authority, whose vision statement reads, “[b]e a leader in enhancing the community’s quality of life by providing premier leisure and recreation services that reflect the changing needs and desires of the citizens while valuing environmental integrity.”

At the April ribbon-cutting ceremony, Park Authority Board Chairman, Brenda Gardziel, quoted Dr. Vance Havner (renowned theologian and lover of the great outdoors), who said, “The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps–we must step up the stairs.”

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