The $18 million solution: Install turf athletic fields

Riverside’s track and football field on a rainy day. Photo by: Marcus Prewitt

Durham Public Schools, as we all know by now, received a generous, $18 million grant from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. The gift is primarily intended to promote equal opportunities and achievement for American communities.

A portion of the grant should be allocated to athletic programs, and all DPS high schools should get turf fields.

The weather during the fall of 2020 rendered Riverside’s main athletic field unplayable. It was so bad that all of our home games were moved to Durham County Stadium. We practiced on a field full of mud, holes, ants, and puddles of water.

Last year, Riverside’s homecoming weekend began on a rainy Friday afternoon. The football team was supposed to play Northern that night, but conditions outside were nearly unplayable. No one knew if the game was actually going to happen.

Riverside athletic director Robert Duncan calls a turf field “a hope and a dream.” It’s Duncan’s job to take care of the school’s fields, and he decides when to cancel practices and games due to the weather.

Duncan and assistant athletic director Brian Strickland work tirelessly to make our grass fields playable. Riverside’s athletic staff spends three to four hours per week cutting grass, much of it on their own time. The school recently invested $10,000 in a digital machine that will paint the field on its own.

A single match on a poorly maintained field can ruin athletes’ play, increase the risk of injury, and decimate the field for the rest of the season. Artificial turf fields, on the other hand, are far more durable than natural grass fields and can be used all year, regardless of weather conditions. There’s no need to paint, because the lines are permanent, too.

Turf would also improve playability, cost less to maintain, and reduce injuries. And it would benefit many different athletic programs, as Riverside’s main field is home to the majority of the school’s athletic teams, including football, men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse, field hockey, and track and field.

While DPS schools sometimes play at Durham County Stadium, which has turf, none of the district’s schools have turf on campus. But many local schools do, including Durham Academy, Voyager, Green Hope, and Cedar Ridge.

Turf fields would encourage more families to enroll at DPS schools as well, as student-athletes prefer to play on nice fields, not mud. It could also generate revenue for the school, which could rent the facility to local recreational leagues and host youth sports and community events.

I believe there has never been a better time to upgrade the district’s athletic facilities. Riverside has demonstrated that with a decent grass field, we can compete with anyone. Consider what we could do with turf!

This op-ed was previously published by Indy Week

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