PA high school football field deemed unsafe

Canon-McMillan (PA) school officials knew the district’s football field wasn’t exactly NFL-quality. But when bumps and dips emerged in the artificial turf, it was no longer just an issue of preference or aesthetic appeal.

“It’s like a lunar surface. It’s real wavy,” board President Paul Scarmazzi said. “It’s beyond dispute that it’s a problem and it’s unsafe.”

Last week, an engineering firm evaluated the field and deemed it unsafe for play until further notice. A company will be bringing in a 10-ton vibrating roller to attempt to smooth the surface next Tuesday or Wednesday, and officials hope it will be enough to get athletes through the spring season.

The turf was installed about 10 or 11 years ago, according to school officials. Turf fields typically last about eight years, but it depends on how well they are maintained, according to the Synthetic Turf Council. Complaints have surfaced over the years regarding the quality of the field and running track, but the issue reared its head again this year.

In response to concerns from the athletic director, the administration sent HHSDR Architects-Engineers to inspect the field last week. The firm determined that depressions, undulations and subsurface elevation changes in the artificial turf made it unusable. The turf itself is still intact, though, and free from tears.

Engineers recommended the use of a vibrating roller as a first step, and the field will be re-evaluated afterward. Scarmazzi said an independent company surveyed the field last fall, and in October, it was deemed safe for play.

Yet something happened over the winter – possibly related to the cold temperatures and freeze-thaw cycle – that made the turf uneven.

Football, lacrosse and soccer teams all share the field. The head coach of the boys’ lacrosse team and a few parents said during Thursday’s school board meeting they are glad to see their concerns being addressed.

Craig Schleifstein, lacrosse coach, said the field hasn’t been maintained in a few years. He said he doesn’t believe it’s an issue from a “playability standard,” but said the uneven surface still needs to be fixed. A recent home game had to be relocated to another school’s field because of the turf issues.

Beth Balog, whose two sons play lacrosse, said the team is “of an exceptional caliber” and needs a better field to play on.

“They are very well-rated, they have played together for an extremely long time – all of that rolled together, this is the year that we should be winning major titles,” Balog said. “If you have to play all your games away, that’s going to have a negative impact on the season.”

She said she hopes the board will decide on a protocol to address maintenance issues when they come up in the future.

Kate Beck, whose daughter is on the track team, said the track surrounding the field also needs to be upgraded. She said her daughter runs cross-country, indoor and outdoor track, but the first week of outdoor track gives her shin splints due to the hard surface.

“We’ve passed on some opportunities to have invitationals here because of the condition of the track,” Beck said. “I hate to see our kids have to always play away. It would be nice to have home-field advantage sometimes.”

Superintendent Michael Daniels said officials know the track is “not in good shape,” and they plan to address it in the near future. In the meantime, officials say they are hopeful that the field will be OK for play this spring.