According to Dr. Frank Rossi’s blog, shortCUTT, many spring scholastic and university spring sports seasons are coming to a close as campuses ready for graduation events. A small but important window for specific forms of turf cultivation that alleviate soil compaction while soils are still cool and plant rooting still active. However, the question is often which type of cultivation will help now? The Cornell Safe Sports Field Website has an entire section devoted to the right cultivation method to solve or alleviate soil physical problems.
See Cornell’s info here
The job listing on Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation website said the position required the ability to lift heavy weights – and the willingness to walk, for miles, through every park in the city, day in and day out, for six months. To Conor Michaud and Gint Stirbys, that sounded just about perfect. So for the last 2 weeks, the two—Michaud, a gym instructor, and Stirbys, a mover—have taken turns hoisting a 50-pound backpack equipped with 15 cameras onto their backs and setting out to digitally document the city’s parks.
It’s part of a project to photograph the hills and woods and streams and manicured lawns for Google Street View – and Philadelphia is the first city to do it.- by Aubrey Whelan, Staff Writer
Read it all here
After years of sharply raising the compensation for some of their best-known employees, college sports programs across the nation face the prospect of having to make substantial pay increases for many of their less prominent workers.
Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Labor revealed changes in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that, beginning this fall, will basically double the amount of money workers must make to be exempt from federal overtime-pay requirements.
Absent an exception for colleges or some other intervention, this update to rules and salary thresholds unchanged since 2004 could require athletics departments to give hundreds of thousands of dollars more a year in pay and benefits to an array of staffers from assistant coaches, to trainers, to ticket-office personnel.
Unless they receive sufficient salary increases, these types of employees will have to become hourly wage earners who are either limited to 40-hour workweeks or paid at overtime rates when they exceed 40 hours.
The changes are “a concerning issue in a lot of industries,” University of Oregon Deputy Athletics Director Eric Roedl said. “But in ours, there is so much travel, so much work on nights and weekends that it’s difficult to manage.”
At present, workers who exceed 40 hours on the job in a week do not have to be paid at overtime rates if they are employed on a salaried basis, their jobs are primarily professional, administrative or executive and they make at least $23,660 per year. Under the FLSA rules, scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, they will have to make at least $47,476 a year to be exempt from overtime.
An issue for NCAA Division I athletics departments is that this new expense is coming on the heels of a series of changes in NCAA rules designed to increase benefits for athletes.
In April 2014, the membership voted to allow schools to provide athletes with unlimited food service. Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, schools have been permitted to award scholarships based on the full cost of attending school, not just the traditional tuition, room, board, books and fees.
At schools in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision and Divisions II and III, “I think they’re going to have to curtail opportunities (for athletes) because of this,” said Mike Aitken, the vice president for governmental affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management.-USA TODAY
Steve Berkowitz, @ByBerkowitz, USA TODAY Sports
Leon Keer is a world-leading artist in the anamorphic street art. His 3d street paintings are temporary but his images are shared via social media all over the world. He says: ‘Every street art piece is unique and belongs to the street and its residents, the temporary fact about this art form strengthens its existence’. Although the illusion he has created on a turfgrass field is interesting, the artistic genius of Keer is most evident when you see his 3d street art. To see more of Keer’s work go to: www.streetpainting3d.com
Thanks to Jim Novak from Turfgrass Producers International, we saw this item in his May-June e-newsletter.
Mother Nature has reminded us this spring that the seasonal “average” weather isn’t always what she decides to provide us. For most of the spring, especially through the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, the up and down temperatures have stressed even cool season turfgrass. After a warmer winter period and above normal temperatures in March that encouraged spring green… prolonged periods of overcast, cold and damp followed. Cool season is stressed, but bermudagrass is REALLY confused. Bermuda in many situations is acting like it just “out of gas” to be able to regenerate or transition out from ryegrass overseeding.
Read all of Jerad Minnick’s Growing Green Grass blog here
Ever wonder why we need to fertilize our turf? The most obvious answer is to increase turfgrass color, performance, and growth. Turfgrass is extremely responsive to nitrogen fertilizer. Even a small increase can have a big impact on turfgrass color and growth. This is because turfgrass is chronically nitrogen deficient. Even a highly maintained turfgrass area typically receives less than one-third the amount of nitrogen required to maximize clipping production. Research shows that Kentucky bluegrass and creeping bentgrass will increase clipping yield up to 15-20 lbs of N per annually. Obviously, turfgrass managers aren’t fertilizing to maximize growth. I certainly wouldn’t want to mow my lawn daily to abide to the 1/3 rule of mowing. Instead, turfgrass is fertilized to maintain acceptable color and uniform performance while supporting enough growth to recover from stresses like traffic or pest damage. So the exact amount of N required will depend on user expectations, soil fertility, and environmental conditions.
The real reason we fertilize turfgrass is to replace nutrients as they become unavailable to the plant. We focus on nitrogen, not because other nutrients are not important, but because N is typically the most limiting nutrient. It is also the most dynamic in the soil system. Other nutrients like potassium and phosphorus can be measured with a simple soil test. A quick soil test interpretation NebGuide can be found here. Soil testing for nitrogen is not as useful because the amount of plant available nitrogen changes very frequently. For example, plant available nitrogen becomes unavailable when it is taken
up by microbes or other plants (immobilization). It can be become plant available during the process of mineralization, which is greatest during the middle of the summer. A significant amount of nitrogen can also become available during the winter, especially during numerous freeze-thaw cycles in fertile soils. Many lawns are benefiting from this mineralized nitrogen right now and it’s tough to keep up with mowing. Bagging clippings is another significant source of N loss from the turf ecosystem. Other processes including denitrification, leaching, or volatilization of fertilizer can also be a source of nitrogen loss. Nitrogen fertilizer is required to replace nitrogen that is lost and ultimately unavailable to the turfgrass.
The dynamic nature of the nitrogen cycle make scheduling the amount and timing of nitrogen applications difficult. Managers can use the responsiveness of turfgrass to nitrogen to their advantage. Discolored or chlorotic turf with limited growth is lacking plant available nitrogen. Application of nitrogen will improve this condition. For Nebraska lawns, this typically occurs in late spring and early fall. The question of how much to apply is also difficult because losses may be great some years and small relative to mineralization other years. As a rule, returning clippings can take the place of at least one fertilizer application. Also, well-established turf (older than 15 years old) will require significantly less nitrogen than a new lawn; possibly 50% less or greater. This is because a new lawn will accumulate or immobilize nitrogen while an older lawn will mineralize nitrogen from organic matter.
Scheduling nitrogen fertilizer is difficult. Monitor color and growth to estimate plant available nitrogen and adjust your fertilizer programs accordingly.
Bill Kreuser, Extension Turfgrass Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org
For the first time in more than a decade, the Baltimore Ravens will play on real grass instead of artificial turf. The last time the Ravens had real turf at M&T Bank Stadium was for the 2001-02 season.
Thanks to player requests, the Ravens grounds crew began the huge task of ripping up the artificial turf in February. The turf had been there for more than 14 years.
Head groundskeeper Don Follett is overseeing the installation of 80,000 square feet of sod. Read & see it here
Sports Turf Canada is pleased to announce that Greg Lampman is the 2016 Sports Turf Manager of the Year.
The Sports Turf Manager of the Year award is a prestigious honour which recognizes an individual’s professional ability and contribution to the Canadian sports turf industry and shows appreciation for his or her proactive and progressive efforts within the profession.
Mr. Lampman is a Sports Field Operator with the Town of Oakville overseeing 13 Class A fields and seven Class B fields. Two of the Class A fields are all-weather turf. He leads a crew of four summer staff and is responsible for the safe and efficient operation of his team.
“Greg personifies professionalism in the sports turf industry through dedication, continuous improvement, research and enthusiasm,” said Jane Arnett, the Town’s Senior Manager of Operations, Parks and Open Space.
Greg facilitated the open communications and dialogue that was required to manage a challenging situation affecting user groups with the closure of a premier field. As a result of the second consecutive hard winter for turf, Greg deemed the conditions of the field unplayable. Furthermore, unpermitted use jeopardized the field’s renovation. Through Greg’s efforts an agreement was reached with all stakeholders resulting in the realization of better, safer sports turf. “Greg is committed and takes the quality of his turf very personally,” added Ms. Arnett.
Association president Tab Buckner explained, “Greg’s unwavering commitment to effective communications is one of the key pillars to his success. It is because of his understanding and the sharing of his knowledge and expertise with all stakeholders that Sports Turf Canada recognizes him with this honour.”
By sponsoring this award, the Guelph Turfgrass Institute (GTI) assists in the recognition of sports turf managers who exemplify vision and leadership in the sports turf industry. “The GTI is pleased to partner with Sports Turf Canada in presenting this award which helps to recognize Mr. Lampman’s excellence in sports turf management,” said Stephen Fleischauer, Acting Director of the Guelph Turfgrass Institute. “The GTI will continue to support sports turf achievements through the presentation of awards such as this.”
The nomination deadline for the 2017 Sports Turf Manager of the Year is January 15. Visit sportsturfcanada.com for eligibility, criteria and the nomination form.
About Sports Turf Canada
Sports Turf Canada was established in 1987 when after a brain storming session at the University of Guelph a broad segment of the turf industry endorsed its need. Of particular concern at that meeting was the need to minimize and avoid injury to participants using athletic fields where they relate to sports turf. Almost thirty years later Sports Turf Canada continues to promote better, safer sports turf through innovation, education and professional programs.
About the Guelph Turfgrass Institute
Home to Sports Turf Canada, the Guelph Turfgrass Institute was established in 1987 to conduct research and extension and provide information on turfgrass production and management to members of the Canadian turfgrass industry. The institute is supported by the university, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the turfgrass industry. As one of very few turfgrass research facilities in Canada, the institute is recognized as a world-class leader for research, education and professional development for the study of turf. Building on the University of Guelph’s long-standing expertise in turfgrass science, the research activities of the institute continue to focus in areas such as the environmental aspects of pesticide use (fate and persistence), evaluation of grass species, varieties and seeding methods, sports field construction, fertility and management programs, pesticide use and the biological and cultural control of diseases and weeds. Visit us at www.guelphturfgrass.ca, Like us on Facebook www.Facebook.com/GuelphTurf, and follow us on Twitter www.Twitter.com/GuelphTurf.
Managing baseball and softball infields is challenging. STMA’s Information Outreach Committee has produced a bulletin that addresses components of an infield mix, selection of an infield mix, testing procedures, moisture management, rainout prevention, infield conditioners, dragging, and lip management. Click here to learn how you can improve management and safety of skinned infields.
Recent article from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on the examination and comparison of sport-related concussion outcomes in youth, high school and college football.
See JAMA abstract here
Days after heavy rains, the standing water on the fields at McClatchy High School remains downright splashable.
There are potholes. Uneven terrain. And a student athlete narrowly escaped injury after a sinkhole last month swallowed her foot, according to one booster club leader.
“It’s a jewel of an asset within the community, and it’s in deplorable condition,” said Brian Nelson, Restore the Roar treasurer.
Despite voter approval of more than $400 million in bonds less than four years ago, McClatchy booster club leaders are worried that no help is in sight for the school founded in 1937. They have sought support from community leaders and neighborhood associations, and have appeared repeatedly before the district board.
Trouble is, McClatchy is not the only district school facing deteriorating conditions, according to a recent district overview. And Sacramento City Unified School District officials say all bond funds from a 2012 ballot measure are already committed.
Measure R authorized $68 million for long list of “health and safety” improvements for playgrounds, athletic fields, physical education buildings, irrigation systems, asbestos and lead removal, and upgraded kitchen facilities. The items appeared in that order on the 2012 ballot, with no particular emphasis given to any one of them.
So far, the district has committed about $28 million for projects at 19 schools, including a $6.2 million stadium at Kennedy High School; $3 million gym renovation and HVAC system at Hiram Johnson High School; and $2.2 million at McClatchy for a gymnasium renovation, HVAC system, bleachers and remodeled locker rooms, among other projects.
That leaves about $40 million in Measure R funds. But the district intends to use that money for a central district kitchen that can prepare food for all campuses.
Nelson this week questioned whether it was clear from the bond language that the central kitchen would command the bulk of its funds.
“I know they want to spend that money for this purpose,” he said. “There are a lot of needs. We get all that. It’s not my role to direct where the funds come from or go. Our point is the athletics facilities are not safe for the kids to be playing on.”
A separate 2012 bond, Measure Q, authorized $346 million for academic facilities and technology. But that money cannot be used on athletic fields.
Discussion about the central kitchen capped a January board meeting about the status of bond projects. Cathy Allen, the district’s chief operating officer, said the cost of the kitchen could be reduced significantly if the district uses property it already owns instead buying land. And, she said, board members could push the project off if it “doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in three to four years.”
That drew a protest from trustee Jessie Ryan, who represents a large swath of south Sacramento.
“I’m certainly hearing from people … who voted for the measure because of the promise of a central kitchen and what that would mean for low-income students,” said Ryan.
“Just because we have $40 million on the table and have not moved on the central kitchen to date does not mean that I in any way support abandoning that dream,” she said. “Frankly, I think it would be unconscionable given the involvement of so many stakeholders in trying to see that reach fruition.”
Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, a school board member in 2012, co-chaired the bond working group and the independent campaign effort for Measures Q and R.
He said the impetus for the kitchen came from school community members who met with the district’s healthy foods task force and embraced the idea that nutrition is “incredibly important for student outcome and we can provide healthier locally sourced food with a central kitchen.”
“I spoke to dozens of PTAs and at back-to-school nights and events at the district. People mostly wanted to talk about the kitchen. It struck a chord with people,” Kennedy said. The idea was backed, too, by then-Superintendent Jonathan Raymond.
But, Kennedy added, “I don’t know how much of a priority it is. There’s still no kitchen.”
Trustee Jay Hansen, who chairs the trustees’ facilities committee, said he received the review of deteriorating fields in the district last week. It ranked McClatchy fifth behind the needs at Sam Brannan Middle School, John Still K-8, Hiram Johnson and Kennedy.
The review shows major gopher infestations at all four schools at the top of the list. Though Kennedy has a new stadium, it still suffers from gopher problems in turf used for soccer and softball, Allen said.
McClatchy needs field dressing on all athletic fields. The track needs grading and decomposed granite to solve the flooding issue, the review said.
“Obviously we’d love to be able to do everything,” Allen said. “We can’t.”
She said the district for years has had to limit work orders to issues that pose a fire hazard or threaten life or safety.
And maintenance funds that might resolve some sports field problems have been scarce since the recession. Those could be restored through state funding in about 2021. In the meantime on issues of field maintenance, she said, “You’re always in competition with the classroom.”
Hansen, who represents the Land Park neighborhood that is home to McClatchy, said he wants to work with the booster club. He said he has been exploring innovative solutions with state officials. One proposal: Install artificial turf at McClatchy and finance it with a loan from state water funds leveraged by money saved on irrigation costs.
“We need to make the case with the other board members that this is a priority for the community,” Hansen said. “Everybody is fighting and working for their own schools. But it’s important for us to look at McClatchy. They’ve got the largest student body in the entire district.”
Loretta Kalb: 916-321-1073, Sacramento Bee
Playground concussions are on the rise, according to a new government study, and monkey bars and swings are most often involved.
Most injuries studied were mild, but all concussions are potentially serious, and the researchers say the trend raises public health and safety concerns.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study examined national 2001-2013 data on playground injuries to kids aged 14 and younger who received emergency-room treatment. Of almost 215,000 kids on average treated yearly, almost 10 percent – about 21,000 annually – had traumatic brain injuries including concussions. Only nonfatal injuries were included.
The study found that, in 2005, 23 out of 100,000 kids had traumatic brain injuries, a rate that jumped to 48 out of 100,000 in 2013. The rate declined in the previous years but increased steadily after that. By 2013, the annual total was almost 30,000 kids treated for these brain injuries.
The rise may mean parents are becoming increasingly aware of the potential seriousness of concussions and the need for treatment. It’s also possible more kids are using playground equipment, the researchers said.
Only 3 percent of kids with concussions were hospitalized or transferred elsewhere for additional treatment; 95 percent were sent home after ER treatment.
Half of the head injuries were in kids ages 5 to 9, and injuries were more common in boys. Symptoms weren’t listed but signs of concussions after a blow to the head can include headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea and vomiting.
Dr. Jeneita Bell, a CDC brain injury specialist who co-authored the study, said the results highlight “that sports is not the only important cause of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries for children.”
Playground equipment most commonly involved in concussions included monkey bars and swings. The study lacked details on how kids got hurt but many concussions result from falls and the researchers’ recommendations include using soft ground surfaces including wood chips or sand, rather than concrete.
The researchers said adult supervision is key to helping prevent these injuries. They also recommend checking to make sure playground equipment is in good condition and that the equipment is right for your child’s age and size.- The Virginian – Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
There is talk of Brigham Young University’s baseball field getting a makeover, but until that happens Brian Hill’s work is never done.
As the sports turf manager for BYU’s baseball and softball fields, Hill has one eye on Doppler radar and one hand on a rake. He must be ready to roll out the tarp and cover the fields in minutes to avoid a rainout.
When BYU’s opponents open a series in Provo, the inevitable spring storms bring rain and sometimes snow, which puts pressure on Hill to work some pitcher’s-mound magic to make the baseball field playable.
Read it all here
Watching grass grow is not usually considered exciting but there’s currently a buzz of anticipation among Qatar’s World Cup organizers about 12 different types of turf gently sprouting on former Doha farmland.
If all goes well, one of these dozen grasses will eventually take center stage and become the most watched strips of green on the globe, at least for a 28-day period, during the 2022 World Cup.
The different turfs are being grown at a research and development center to find the best playing surface for the football World Cup in six years’ time.
“This is a unique facility, there’s nothing like it in this region,” said Yasser Abdulla Mulla, a sports turf manager with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the Qatari body responsible for organizing the World Cup.
“We are looking for the best type of grass that can survive the region and Doha. We are looking for the best of the best.”
The R & D center is located in Murakh, to the western margins of the capital, Doha.
Emphasizing Qatar’s transformation, this was formally a place where dates were grown and locals brought their animals to drink at freshwater wells.
Now it is a high-tech testing center, built in the shadow of the Khalifa International Stadium, which will host the World Athletics Championships in 2019 and World Cup games three years’ later.
All the grasses are flown in from abroad, usually the United States.
They are transported as sprigs in 40-kilogram boxes, planted, watered and grown in full shade, partial shade or left completely uncovered, leaving the turf to the mercy of Qatar’s harsh desert climate.
The grasses are watered once a day and have been planted as a full pitch or in approximately meter-long squares, depending on what is being tested.
They are examined not only for how they survive the weather – even though the 2022 World Cup is being played in November and December, temperatures can still reach the mid-20s – but also the turf’s “playability” and aesthetics.
The turfs are a selection of types such as Bermuda grass, commonly fast-growing and tough, Paspalum, found in sub-tropical regions, or tufted Ryegrass.
Sand and organic materials are used for the grass base.
The trials started last year and a final decision will be taken in 2017.
That choice rests with Qatar, says Mulla, but eventually it will have to be mowed into a pattern approved by football’s governing body, FIFA, for the tournament.
TURF’S A GROWING BUSINESS
It is gloriously green and verdant but if the center all sounds like a glorious pastoral scene, then that is misleading.
The global sports turf market is big business and the names of the grasses being tested are kept secret for commercial reasons, except for one known cryptically as “Latitude 36”.
A US market research company Technavio, reported earlier this year that it expected the global sports turf market to be worth almost $3 billion by 2019.
Mulla refuses to say how much has been spent so far on searching for the right grass.
There is also the hardy perennial issue of migrant labor abuse in Qatar.
In the recent Amnesty report, published in March, which cited abuse at Khalifa, it mentioned workers employed by a company called Nakheel Landscapes.
The same firm employs staff among the 16 or so people working at the grass center in Murakh.
In its response to Amnesty’s damning report, the supreme committee said Nakheel “had undergone a comprehensive rectification process”.
Mulla says they have been retained because they have improved.
“It’s not about kicking someone out of your facility, you need to improve your contractors, what’s the point if you kick them out?”
STMA is seeking educational videos that demonstrate maintenance practices for sports fields. The goal is to develop a collection of 3-8 minute educational videos focused on sports field how-to’s that STMA members can use to improve their operations. Topics can include anything related to sports turf management, such as:
– How to calibrate a sprayer or spreader
– How to edge an infield
– How to paint a logo
– How to repair equipment or irrigation
Making the video can be easy. Determine your topic and collect the equipment you need to effectively explain the management practice you are demonstrating. Using a phone or other recording device, record the video and send it to STMA via email or Dropbox.
STMA will thoroughly review your video. Remember, the goal of these videos is to enhance the education of Sports Turf Managers. STMA will be promoting your video and expects you to provide professional, applicable educational content. STMA reserves the right to decline or remove any video it feels is inappropriate.
To learn more about how to create and submit a video, visit STMA’s Knowledge Center – Videos and Webinars.
Per the STMA bylaws, President Jeff Salmond, CSFM has appointed John Watt, CSFM, North Kansas City Schools, Kansas City, MO, to fill the K-12 Director position on the STMA Board. The position was open due to the recent resignation of Bobby Behr, CSFM, due to a job change and a focus on his new responsibilities. John will complete the term, which concludes at the end of this year.
By Paul Steinbach, Athletic Business magazine
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children.” So opens a video released jointly by the Safe Fields Alliance and the Recycled Rubber Council this past February. The video, titled “The Truth About Crumb Rubber and Artificial Turf,” mentions the words “safe” or “safety” 10 times in seven minutes. It’s the most visible effort yet by turf industry advocates to counter mainstream media reports — what the video terms “scary news stories” — that seem to lend credence to suspicions that crumb rubber infill in synthetic turf sports fields may cause cancer, even as these same reports admit, as NBC Nightly News did Oct. 1 of last year, “No research has linked crumb rubber or shredded rubber to cancer.”
At the center of NBC’s two-part “Fields of Danger?” report that aired last fall — as well as the network’s initial investigation a year earlier — is Amy Griffin. The associate head women’s soccer coach at the University of Washington first drew the attention of local affiliate KOMO with a list she began compiling of young players, predominantly goalkeepers, who had been exposed to crumb rubber, the product of recycled car tires, and become ill — her personal exercise in curiosity as much as insisting cause and effect.
“Right now, there’s no way to prove that enough of any of this is getting into us that it’s actually a direct link. But, that was my gut feeling,” says Griffin, who has coached goalkeepers for Washington’s women’s team for 20 years and long wondered if carcinogenic components in car tires could be rendered toxic in particle form and under certain conditions. “Even on their busiest days, keepers are not rolling around on the turf. But in training, we hit the ground hundreds of times, and especially on a hot day, the crumb rubber sticks to you. So every way it could enter a body and become an issue, we’re getting it a lot. We eat it by accident, we get it in our abrasions, we get it in our eyes, and we breathe.”
As of this writing, Griffin’s list contained the names of 203 athletes with a confirmed cancer diagnosis. The 159 soccer players listed included 103 goalkeepers. All but a handful of the 203 have played on synthetic turf containing crumb rubber. Thirty-six have died, including 11 in 2015 alone.
“This is just a goalkeeper coach looking at the list, but it seems like the ones with the blood-related cancers are the ones who have played a significant amount on crumb rubber, and if there’s someone with melanoma, it’s one who has never played on crumb rubber,” Griffin says, adding that more than one scientist on the UW campus has told her that she’s “on to something” (her words). For confirmation, Griffin turned her list over to Washington’s Department of Health, which has been cross-referencing the coach’s data against state cancer registries to see if rates of diagnosis are consistent or cause for alarm. The DOH told AB its findings will be released in late spring.
“Obviously, this is a very serious issue. Cancer is a health effect that is very concerning,” says Michael Peterson, senior toxicologist at Gradient Consulting and scientific adviser to the Recycled Rubber Council, who cautions, “Just based on how epidemiology studies are conducted, it’s very difficult to find a comparison population to soccer players. The good news is it’s being looked at, but it’s going to be hard for Washington state to make any definitive conclusions because this list is just completely anecdotal at this point.”
Between 2009 and 2011, limited studies by government agencies in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey did not find an elevated health risk associated with exposure to fields containing crumb rubber. Meanwhile, individuals including members of the medical community have weighed in as well. “It’s incredibly difficult to ascribe a cause to a specific type of cancer, since there can be many factors leading to cancer formation,” writes Dev Mishra, a clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University, on SidelineSportsDoc.com. “Witness the fact that it took several decades to prove that cigarette smoking can cause lung cancer.”
Says John Sorochan, a University of Tennessee turf grass professor and founder of the Center for Athletic Field Safety, “Of course, we need to look at things. Dose equals poison. Paracelsus told us that in the 1400s. Water’s a poison if you consume too much water.”
Sorochan’s corner of the Knoxville campus contains 72 sports surface swatches, including 40 synthetic turf systems, which reside over pond liners from which water samples are gathered during leachate studies. Sorochan asserts that it’s “highly unlikely” athletes are subject to high enough doses of ingredients extracted from recycled rubber to cause health issues.
“I guess this is me on my soapbox, but I have an eight-year-old and an 11-year-old who play travel soccer,” he says. “They train three times a week on an artificial field. My youngest has been playing since he was four years old on an artificial field, so he’s a lot closer to the surface than goalies are. And kids fall down all the time. It’s the whole reason I got into doing what I do, and why we have the Center for Athletic Field Safety.”
Sorochan is also quick to point out that linemen and running backs in football, a sport that has embraced crumb rubber synthetic surfaces for longer and in far greater numbers than has the soccer community, come in direct contact with infill exponentially more often than do soccer goalkeepers. But his skepticism transcends sports. “If you look at the real-world perspective, we have a quarter of a billion cars on the road every day, which means there are a billion car tires. You have to replace your car tires because the rubber wears, and it wears down into a fine particulate. If you’re looking at what you put in a synthetic field, you’re looking at a really course particle size, whereas car tires break down into a fine dust. Then every time it rains, that tire debris washes into our sewer systems and goes directly into our rivers and streams. If there’s a contamination concern, it would be way greater in urban areas from car tires being driven up and down the streets than it would from crumb rubber on athletic fields.”
INDUSTRY FRUSTRATED, THRIVING
The cloud of confusion has not lingered without producing some fallout. While a majority of municipalities and school districts have opted to maintain the status quo in terms of their synthetic turf fields in the absence of evidence linking crumb rubber to health risks, others have cancelled planned installations. Still others have decided to stick with crumb rubber for now, but transition to organic infill alternatives such as cork or coconut fiber as new fields are constructed.
It’s a luxury of choice that has faced legislative threat. In 2014, the California Tire Dealers Association helped defeat a bill that would have placed a moratorium on schools and municipalities installing crumb rubber athletic fields in that state, which is already home to more than 900 synthetic turf fields. The bill also would have kept the California Department of Resources Recovery and Recycling from issuing grants or rebates to synthetic turf producers and end users.
“What is so frustrating for the industry is that the critics perpetuating these persistent unfounded concerns continue to utilize half-truths and outright false statements that continue to frighten and alarm parents and public officials,” says Al Garver, president of the Synthetic Turf Council, a nonprofit association that has done its part to clear the air with informational toolkits. “Between October 2014 and October 2015, we sent out hundreds of those electronically, and our members would also provide them when the issue would come up from their customers or within their region. Over the course of that year, many of those entities investigated the unfounded claims, discovered the available studies, and came to the same conclusions nearly every one of 60-plus studies did: There is nothing that indicates elevated risk. To our knowledge, all have kept their fields or are continuing to purchase. We have heard of a few that opted to change to an alternative infill, but demand for synthetic turf fields continued to increase in 2015. We estimate 1,500 fields were built, with more than 13,000 in use today in America.”
FILLING DATA GAPS
Last fall, a three-year study considered by some to be the most comprehensive to date began with three workshops and a webinar to assess and ultimately address as many crumb rubber concerns as possible. Funded by CalRecycle, the $3 million study is the third on the topic conducted by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which, with help from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will look at the potential impact on crumb rubber of such factors as heat and turf system lifecycle — two items that have bothered Griffin by their absence in existing research.
Even those who have conducted studies have recognized their limitations. Last August, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that 2008 research was “not good enough” to claim whether or not crumb rubber is safe, reversing its longstanding opinion that it is. The EPA likewise has backtracked from 2009 claims that crumb rubber posed “low levels of concern.” On Feb. 12 of this year, the Obama administration announced that the CPSC, the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — 50 federal employees in all — will conduct a new $2 million federal study.
That announcement does not change plans for the California study, according to Sam Delson, the OEHHA’s deputy director for external and legislative affairs. “We’re looking to fill in the most significant data gaps from the previous research, but it could take more than three years and the $3 million that we have for this study to answer every possible question,” he says. “We’re going to do our best to address the concerns that many parents, coaches and athletes have over the safety of this surface. There’s nothing more important than the safety of our children and young athletes who, as bodies are developing, are especially susceptible to health risks in many cases, and we expect to significantly advance the body of knowledge on this subject.”
While the study won’t be completed until 2018, the OEHHA intends to release in 2017 preliminary findings that will inform the design of additional research protocols — perhaps involving biomonitoring of athletes. Time will tell whether such efforts will quell remaining concerns, particularly those of one curious soccer coach.
“As far as Amy Griffin, we applaud her efforts to raise attention to her concerns about the potential health effects of synthetic turf, and certainly the number of names she’s collected raises concerns,” Delson says. “But that information in and of itself is not statistically valid, so we need to build on that and go further to answer these questions. As I understand, she would be one of the first to acknowledge that.”
“There will always be skeptics in the scientific field. It’s impossible to prove that there’s no risk. It’s impossible to prove a negative,” adds the RRC’s Peterson, who has examined product safety for 20 years. “However, the California study is going to cover a huge variety of different end points and exposure scenarios. And I would hope that if that study comes back with a clean bill of health it would put this issue to bed.”
The Synthetic Turf Council is likewise looking for closure. In a Feb. 12 statement, the council said it hopes the federal government’s renewed involvement will “settle this matter once and for all.”
“We have consistently said that we support all additional research,” the statement reads. “At the same time, we strongly reaffirm that the existing studies clearly show that artificial turf fields and playgrounds with crumb rubber infill are safe and have no link to any health issues.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Athletic Business with the title “The Case for Crumb Rubber”
Seeking to address dwindling participation numbers and hoping to quell parental fears about the safety of football, the Independent Metro Athletic Conference (IMAC) held a panel discussion on Feb. 29 to introduce some significant changes to the way football is offered by member schools.
Six private schools – Blake, Breck, Minnehaha Academy, Mounds Park Academy, Providence Academy and St. Paul Academy and Summit School – make up the IMAC. All six are pre-K through 12 institutions. Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, conference schools will offer flag football only to students in grades five and six, and a modified “hybrid” of tackle and flag football in grades seven and eight.
Players can begin playing tackle football in ninth grade.
“What we see on the playgrounds is that, when the kids get the chance, they’re always playing some sort of football,” Providence Academy Activities Director Kurt Jaeger said. “It’s a great game. We wanted use that enthusiasm.”
Jaeger said the change was spurred during a meeting of school representatives, athletic directors and coaches to discuss the future of football. Numbers at all of the schools had dropped so far that four of them – Blake, Minnehaha, Mounds Park and St. Paul Academy – combined to form a cooperative last season. That team, the SMB Wolfpack, finished the regular season undefeated and was so successful that league members felt it necessary to ensure football’s future.
“We thought it was important to get kids interested from the bottom up,” Jaeger said.
Conference representatives felt flag football will not only allow young athletes to enjoy the sport without incurring the risk of collisions but that it would be more inclusionary for athletes of all sizes by eliminating the weight restrictions in common in youth football.
“Bigger kids can play all positions if they’re not be tackled to the ground. Littler kids can play all positions if they’re not being tackled to the ground,” Jaeger said. “And at the same time, in seventh and eighth grades, we can use that time to teach kids how to tackle properly.”
Members of the panel convened to discuss football, and contact sports in general, were:
- Dr. Uzma Samadani, a neurosurgeon and brain injury researcher at Hennepin County Medical Center and co-author of “The Football Decision: An Exploration Into Every Parent’s Decision Whether or Not to Let a Child Play Contact Sports.”
- Edward Kim, Breck head of school.
- Derek Asche, head football coach at Providence Academy.
- Abby Turbes, a full-time athletic trainer at Blake contracted through Twin Cities Orthopedics.
- Dr. Andrew Arthur, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with a subspecialty certification in sports medicine and former three-sport athlete at Blake.
- Dr. James Wolpert, a pediatric urologist for Pediatric Surgical Associates and father of four sons who were student-athletes at Minnehaha Academy.
Panel members discussed the problems associated with football and agreed there are risks but that those risks are generally no greater than risks associated with other sports.
Members of the panel also spoke in favor of the IMAC’s proposed changes and emphasized that the advantages to playing football often outweigh the risks.
“The trainer [Abby Turbes] said that, although it’s a small sample size since she’s only in her second year, football is fourth on the list where they see the most concussions per capita,” Jaeger said. “I think girls’ soccer was second.”
Jaeger added that one of the benefits of football is the positive community environment surrounding a football game.
“We don’t have a better-attended sport than football,” Jaeger said. “If possible, we’d like to play all of these football games on Friday. We’d like to make it a big day for football for all levels.”
Jaeger said the IMAC reached out to the Minnesota State High School League to inform the league about the changes and that non-IMAC schools have already made inquiries about joining them.
The meeting was webcast and archived on the IMAC website and be viewed at www.imacmn.com.- by Jim Paulsen
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
Not only has there been a decrease in young people interested in the turfgrass industry, but the entire agriculture industry is feeling the effects of reduced college graduates entering agricultural careers. USDA job reports found that 20,000 agriculture jobs go unfilled each year. Click here to learn more about the misperceptions associated with agriculture careers and possible solutions to attract young people to the field.
Hermleigh, Graford and Brock aren’t exactly garden spots in the state of Texas, nor are they some of the bigger metropolises of the state.
But putting artificial turf down on their baseball and softball fields has made them popular spots during the UIL baseball and softball playoffs in the spring.
Bowie and Henrietta have recently thrown their hats into the ring, as well, and hosted more than 40 playoff games in 2015.
But Wichita Falls could soon be a major player in the late spring after the decisions by the Wichita Falls ISD and Midwestern State University to turf their fields.
Artificial turf is currently being installed at Hoskins Field (baseball) and Skip Brown Field (Sunrise Optimist Field No. 2) at the Memorial Complex, while the field at MSU’s Mustangs Park was scheduled to be ready by the first week in February.
The new fields will make it easier to get games in when it rains, but the drought that preceded last year’s record rains had a lot to do with the decisions as well.
“After going through four years of drought and then record rainfall, it’s been tough on the fields and expensive to maintain them,” said Scot Hafley, WFISD athletic director. “And then when we got the rain, we were limited in the number of games we could get in. It will help out in the playoffs as well. Last year Rider had to play at two different sites – Bowie and Henrietta – to finish its series with Aledo.
“A growing number of schools that we compete with have or are adding turf fields. We want our players and coaches to have the same resources.”
Although they did end up capturing the District 5-5A title last year, Rider coach Josh Bobbitt didn’t like the way his team had to play at the end of the season because of rainouts.
“We ended up having to play back-to-back-to-back and that was hard on us,” he said. “With this, as long as it’s not actually raining or lightning, we’ll be able to get our games in. In the long run, this is a no-brainer. I’m really excited for the kids. This could be a big advantage.”
MSU softball coach Brady Tigert admits it will make his job easier not having to spend time each day working on the grass field. But safety is the main issue as far as he’s concerned.
“That field really needed to be watered every day to get the dirt right so you don’t get bad hops,” he said. “But we were only able to water it once a week (with well water). Now all the hops will be true.
“Having turf will help us save on equipment as well. Less wear and tear on softballs, on uniforms and on our players as well. The field is cushioned more now. It was kind of hard during the drought.”
Hafley, Bobbitt and Tigert all agree that the addition of turf fields will help Wichita Falls once the playoffs roll around.
“We’re hoping that our own teams are using it for the playoffs,” Hafley said. “But we anticipate sharing with other teams wanting to use our fields. The Memorial Complex has long been a showplace for the district and the city.”
“This is the halfway point for a lot of teams in West Texas and the Arlington/Fort Worth area,” Bobbitt said. “They’re always looking for a place to play. We have the stadium; it has the seating; and now it will have a state-of-the-art field to go along with it. Plus, it’s in a bigger community.”
Mustangs Park was a great place to play when it was a grass field. It will probably draw more attention now.
“We had six or seven dates scheduled for last year that we couldn’t get in because of the rain,” Tigert said. “But that won’t be a problem now with the turf field. And we’re also making some other changes that will make this a great place to play.”