North Augusta hails artificial turf while Columbia County considers

As Columbia County schools are exploring the possibility of installing artificial turf at all five high schools for the next school year, a player and officials at a local school advocate the benefits of digging natural grass.

Chase Tillman, a senior at North Augusta High School, has played soccer for 12 years. He’s been playing on both natural and artificial turf since high school installed the surface in 2015.

“There is nothing else but the heat,” he said. “I liked it ten times better because you can actually move better.”

But the defense admits he doesn’t notice any difference in his performance when playing away games.

Tillman said the ability to play on artificial turf gives athletes an advantage if they choose to play in a college where artificial turf is widely used. Earlier this month, he announced his decision to play for Appalachian State University, which also uses artificial turf.

Tillman also saw the benefits of lawns for those who had to paint and maintain the natural lawn year-round.

“It’s worth it in the long term,” he says.

Tillman’s head coach, Jim Bob Bryant, who started at North Augusta last year, has trained on natural grass for 20 years and artificial grass for three years and is an advocate of artificial turf because of its low maintenance and cost-effectiveness. He said the field will pay for itself in seven years.

Headmaster John Murphy, who has been with the school since 2013, regularly saw the drawbacks of having a grass pitch for nine teams. In the fall, three high school soccer teams used the field for games and one training session per week. Further exercises were held in the adjacent exercise field. North Augusta and Paul Knox Middle Schools also each had a team that used the field for games.

When the football season kicked off in January, and without the weather-related grass growth, the field was pretty dirty for these four teams, Murphy said.

The cost of maintaining the field was also high. Murphy estimates the school spent between $ 15,000 and $ 20,000 each year re-sowing the field, mowing the grass, applying chemicals, and water during the summer. The field also had to be canceled before every game.

“We couldn’t keep it up,” he said. “It made a lot of sense for us to install a plastic panel just for aesthetic reasons – it’s always cut, it’s always painted, it’s always dark green, so it’s always beautiful.”

Since the installation of the artificial turf in 2015, the costs and effort of maintaining the field have decreased significantly. The cost to install the field was approximately $ 750,000, according to Murphy.

Now all four soccer teams as well as the soccer teams can train on the field. The North Augusta Department of Parks and Recreation also occasionally uses the field for games.

Murphy said he is now going to the field in person to blow off pine straw and cones and sweep the field in a Gator-like vehicle. He also checks that the field remains level as it is lined with two and a half inch rubber lining and sand under the artificial turf.

This liner also makes the field safer for athletes, Murphy said. Early versions of artificial turf in the 1970s sometimes resulted in more injuries due to concrete being installed under the carpet-like material.

Bryant said the number of injuries and their impact are similar on natural and artificial turf.

“In my opinion, children get injured on the lawn about the same rate as on the lawn,” he said.

The statistics on artificial grass compared to natural grass vary.

Science for Sport concludes that Major League Soccer injuries between 2013 and 2016 were comparable between the two.

In 2019, the University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute in Ohio collected data from 26 high school athletic coaches during the 2017-2018 athletic season and found that athletes were 58 percent more likely to get injured on artificial turf.

Another 2019 report from the National Library of Medicine examined NCAA soccer injuries and concluded that artificial turf posed a higher risk of certain knee ligament injuries, especially during competitions compared to training.

In Columbia County

At a June 8th Columbia County Education Committee meeting, Superintendent Dr. Steven Flynt called for artificial turf to be installed at all five high schools in the county.

North Augusta players will train on North Augusta High School's new artificial turf on Wednesday, September 23, 2015.

Murphy’s comments back up his suggestion – Flynt said the district would see financial savings in addition to the safety of soccer, football, lacrosse, girl’s flag football, and recreational league players.

The cost of replacing the existing natural turf at all five schools would be between $ 107,800 and $ 129,360 per field, and each would need to be replaced at least partially every two to three years. The cost of maintaining the grass in each field is anywhere from $ 9,000 to $ 10,000 per year.

For comparison, the cost of installing artificial turf at each school has been estimated at $ 857,990 to $ 983,820 per field, which is projected to take up to 10 years but can last longer, Flynt said.

The school district is researching estimates and other data on man-made fields with the idea that installation would not come until after the high school’s 2021 football season.

“It’s the best decision you can make,” Murphy said. “From a maintenance standpoint, it’s little to nothing. For safety reasons, which is what most people will worry about, I think it’s safer.”

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