High on fake grass | SteamboatToday.com

High on fake grass

Nothing says the start of the high school football season like the smell of freshly cut : rubber?

No, it wasn’t a new Goodyear factory you smelled Saturday from the south bleachers at Steamboat Springs High School’s Gardner Field. It was the aroma of bits of recycled rubber tires.

Saturday’s football game between the Steamboat Sailors and the Kent Denver Sun Devils ushered in a new era of high school athletics in our little piece of paradise. And, excuse me for gushing, but boy, does that new artificial turf field smell : er, look great.

For those of you who spent the past four months living under a rock, allow me to provide a quick update.

Spurred by an artificial turf-roots effort, the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board and private donors came together in a matter of a couple months this summer to raise more than $600,000 to lay fake grass on Gardner Field. The new field, advocates argued, would decrease the amount of travel for high school sports teams (thus decreasing the risk of student injury and death), increase the amount of time student-athletes could be in the classroom and at home hitting the books, and slash annual maintenance costs. Oh yeah – and many of the school’s sports teams could actually play home games instead of pseudo-home games played on opposing teams’ fields (think last year’s New Orleans Saints versus New York Giants game at the Meadowlands).

The Fund Board money was approved, a substantial group of local businesses and residents raised the remaining money, and in seemingly the blink of an eye, the high school’s primary athletic field was transformed from a patchy, natural-grass eyesore into a facility worthy of some college programs.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask Jay Hanley, whose three touchdown runs – including a 69-yarder on which he ran over, through and past hapless Kent Denver defenders – put him on the fast track for an All-State selection (he was an honorable mention last season).

“It’s nice,” Hanley said shortly after the final seconds ticked away in the Sailors’ 31-13 season-opening victory. “Your feet don’t slide out as much. Grass will move on you – the turf is always consistent.”

Field consistency is a place kicker’s best friend. And Steamboat has what appears to be one of the best place kickers in the state in junior Ben Deline, whose father once booted the pigskin around in the NFL.

Deline hit his first three field goal attempts Saturday from 43, 38 and 40 yards. (And to think, many high school coaches are happy if their kicker simply converts the PATs.)

Like Hanley, Deline said the weather-be-damned consistency of the artificial turf field gives him confidence no matter what Mother Nature throws his way. And who knows, with those synthetic fibers underfoot, maybe coach Aaron Finch will let him boot in a real game one of those 51-yarders he hits in practice (Deline missed a 49-yard attempt Saturday).

Honestly, I hope the impressive new field does more than help Deline kick field goals or Hanley juke his way past opposing defenders. I hope it becomes a community attraction that results in increased attendance at high school games – no matter the sport. I’m talking sold-out football games, Texas-style. Can that be so far-fetched? After all, the turf motivated me to move my butt Saturday morning from my cushioned desk chair in the Pilot & Today newsroom to the hard metal bleachers at Gardner Field.

Which gives me an idea – stadium seating and fold-down seats, anyone? I wouldn’t put it past our community.

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