SERGEANT BLUFF -- Last fall, Bishop Heelan and Briar Cliff University kicked off the football season on new FieldTurf at Memorial Stadium.
This fall, Sergeant Bluff-Luton will host its first football game on FieldTurf.
Next autumn, the Le Mars Bulldogs and Gehlen Catholic Jays will play football on artificial grass, joining a growing number of gridiron, soccer, dance squad, flag corps and, in some cases, lacrosse teams, running, cutting and strutting their stuff on synthetic turf.
Here's a list of projects completed by Midwest FieldTurf of Denison, Iowa, in recent years as football sites in western Iowa transition from natural grass to a man-made surface: Elwood Olsen Stadium (which hosts games for Morningside College as well as Sioux City's East, North and West high schools), Memorial Stadium (which hosts games for Briar Cliff University and Bishop Heelan High School), MOC-FV and Unity Christian, Northwestern College, Sioux Center, Dordt College, Buena Vista University, Spirit Lake, Sioux Central, Denison-Schleswig, Harlan, Council Bluffs Lewis Central, Carroll, Treynor, Buena Vista and Storm Lake High School baseball, Missouri Valley, Creston, and the Council Bluffs Athletic Complex, host site for Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson high schools.
Dakota Valley High School switched to artificial turf at Robert L. Peterson Memorial Stadium a few years ago, as did officials at Cunningham Field at Wayne State College. The surface at the football field in Winnebago, Nebraska, is artificial, as it is inside the DakotaDome at the University of South Dakota, which has featured that surface since the structure was erected in 1979.
The changeover, in Northwest Iowa at least, has been swift in recent years.
"When I began, we were doing a lot of projects around Des Moines and in eastern Iowa," said Corey Curnyn, vice president of sales and operations with Midwest FieldTurf of Denison since 2004. "But in the last five years or so, we've done lots of projects in Western Iowa."
Midwest FieldTurf has been a distributor and installer of the product for 15 years. FieldTurf has a fan in Dordt College Athletic Director Ross Douma, who worked last spring to help schedule practice sessions for the Defender teams in baseball, softball, men's and women's soccer, football and lacrosse.
Remember last spring? Seemed like it snowed about every other day until mid-May.
"We've had FieldTurf around four years now and it's been a game-changer for us in terms of scheduling," Douma said. "Moving from grass to FieldTurf has allowed us to schedule more activities, not only between Dordt and Sioux Center High School, but it's also allowed the City of Sioux Center to hold recreational leagues like men's adult soccer, which is very prominent in Sioux Center and has 16 teams."
The Dordt/Sioux Center project sprang from a relationship involving the college, the public high school and the City of Sioux Center, all which have a vested interest in the football field area. It's an area that for years may have been overworked at times due to the number of teams wanting to use it.
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That's precisely what happened at Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School, where high school football teams, youth football teams, soccer teams, the marching band, flag corps and more all were vying to get onto the field at certain points. In time, the grass couldn't take all that activity, especially after the occasional deluge.
Next week, the Warrior gridiron team will practice on its new FieldTurf as workers put the finishing touches on a project that comes to just over $1 million, according to SB-L Superintendent of Schools Rod Earleywine, who notes the effort is funded through a mix of 1-cent sales tax monies and the physical plant and equipment levy.
Nearly $180,000 the total cost has been raised privately. Two givers committed $20,000, while several parties gave $10,000, according to SB-L Athletic Director Brian Herman. "It's a big price tag, but in the grand scheme, when you consider how many kids would be using it, that was a big selling point for us," Herman said.
Eighty percent of the 500 students enrolled at Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School participate in an extracurricular activity, many of which may use the new field. The numbers grow when one adds middle school and youth recreation programs.
"We'll have dance on that field at 6 a.m., then the marching band will practice there at 7:15 or 7:30 a.m., getting done before school," Herman said. "And then we'll have our high school (varsity) and lower level high school football teams using the field. Youth football will play there as well."
Justin Smith, the SB-L head football coach, noted how games at the freshman and junior varsity level were either canceled or cut short last year in an effort to save wear-and-tear on the grass surface. That shouldn't be a problem any longer.
"We also had kids getting hurt on the practice field, which is like concrete," Herman added. "When you practice on a field with 80 to 90 kids every day, pretty soon the grass is gone."
Additionally, SB-L soccer games, which had been played at the city's recreation complex in years past, will now have a permanent home under lights with regular seating and an admission gate for fans to pass through.
When addressing the proliferation of FieldTurf across western Iowa, Smith noted that seven of SB-L's nine football games will be played on the synthetic surface this fall. Next year, the Warriors will play eight of their nine games on FieldTurf.
The new turf will be dedicated and a wall of donors will be unveiled as the Warriors have their first home football game on Sept. 7 against the East High Black Raiders. SB-L is on the road the first two weeks, playing at Council Bluffs Lewis Central and then at Harlan, two schools that have FieldTurf.