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Times Record News (Wichita Falls, Texas)
The drought that has plagued the region the past couple years didn't force area school districts to make the switch from grass to artificial turf at their football stadiums.
But concerns over water and player safety have sped up the process for at least three districts.
City View, Vernon and Henrietta are preparing to have artificial turf installed in time for next football season. Of the 21 area high schools that play 11-man football, the majority (12 teams) will play on turf this fall, the first time that has happened.
Vernon Athletic Director Mark Bateman said his school district didn't have many options. There are two wells on school grounds that helped water some fields and diamonds, but Vernon was borrowing water from the city for its game field the past two years.
"The city was allowing us to water twice a week, but there wasn't enough water to keep up," he said. "It was a struggle. We didn't have much choice."
The lack of water makes it difficult to keep a football field in proper playing shape. The harder the ground, the better chance of an injury occurring. Turf fields also save countless hours of maintenance.
The switch to turf did begin before the drought. Graham was the first school district outside Wichita Falls to make the move, upgrading Newton Field as part of major renovations to the high school in 2008.
The following year, Bowie and Jacksboro built football stadiums in conjunction with new high schools. In 2011, Class A schools Seymour and Windthorst became the area's smallest districts to upgrade to turf.
"Windthorst and Seymour were a little bit ahead of the curve," City View Athletic Director Rudy Hawkins said. "We didn't want to get too far behind. If you can get past that initial cost, you've got to pull the trigger."
Hawkins said City View's upgrades will cost slightly more than $1 million, but there are extra benefits besides the obvious water- and safety-related ones. The school's band now can hold marching practice on it, and the baseball and softball teams can work out on turf if their fields are unplayable.
Burkburnett is the area's biggest school (and only 3A) that doesn't have turf. While the topic has been discussed, a local agreement to use reclaimed water has kept the Bulldogs' fields in good shape.
Not every district is so fortunate. Electra has an $11.98 million bond being voted on in May, but Wichita County's smallest ISD opted against athletic enhancements.
"The turf is expensive, but with the water shortage, it is a must in my mind," Electra Athletic Director Mark Young wrote in an email. "Our game field is in bad shape, but we are able to get water on it through the charity of Locke Brothers and Nason Oil Field Supply, but don't know how long they can keep it up.
"Our practice field is in such bad shape, we won't be able to practice on it. So we will have even more damage to the game field."
Henrietta is taking the turf installation one step further, including the baseball and softball fields in the renovations this fall. Bowie is the only other school district in the area that has turf diamonds.
"It didn't make much sense to put turf on football and not do it to softball and baseball," said Henrietta Athletic Director Byron West, who estimated the cost was at least doubled by replacing the diamonds. "They break ground on the football field next week, and we couldn't be happier."