Grass fields are dying out at most Western Pa. high schools |
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Paul Peirce

When the Riverview High School Raiders take on the Clairton High School Bears at noon Saturday in Oakmont’s Riverside Park, there will be nothing artificial about the matchup.

The game won’t be under lights and, in what’s becoming increasingly uncommon, it will be played on real grass instead of artificial turf.

It’s the way high school football was meant to be played, said Mario Rometo, Riverview’s athletic director.

“I like it … it’s tradition. It seems everyone’s going to turf fields and grass has become a rarity,” Rometo said.

The 2002 Plum High School graduate recalled playing at Mustang Stadium.

“Back in my playing days, I used to love playing on grass … it’s a lot softer, but they have made a lot of advances with synthetic turf,” Rometo said. “We went to turf my senior year, and then we were among a few high schools that were switching to synthetic turf.”

This year, Kiski Area switched from grass to synthetic surface when it christened the Cavaliers’ new Richard J. Dilts Field. Also this year, the Armstrong High River Hawks moved from playing on grass at Kittanning’s David “Red” Ullom Field to its new on-campus facility with artificial turf.

In 2016, the Freeport Yellow Jackets moved from James E. Swartz Memorial Field to the on-campus Freeport Area Athletic Stadium, joining the Shaler Area Titans in switching from grass to artificial surface in its renovated Titan Stadium in Glenshaw.

The first phase of construction on the Kiski stadium began in 2014, with a pair of turf fields — one for football and another for soccer — installed for $1 million. That phase included a $200,000 grant from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Greater Latrobe has the best of both worlds. Memorial Stadium in downtown Latrobe, where it plays its games, has grass. But the team practices on turf at its campus in nearby Unity.

Most schools switch to turf because of wear and tear on natural grass, especially in inclement weather, said Zac Heide, administrative assistant with Greater Latrobe’s athletic department.

“I think all schools would prefer to go to turf, but it’s certainly not cheap to put in a turf field,” he said. “Grass is a little softer. … It is easier on the kids.”

He said the wear on Memorial Stadium is limited, as the field is used only for an annual Steelers pre-season practice and Wildcats games.

“(The grass field is used for) our five home games, the Steelers’ practice scrimmage, and that’s it,” Heide said.

Springdale High School plays at Veterans Memorial Field, where the grass field is “definitely top notch,” longtime athletic director Ray Davis said.

“I think there’s pros and cons to going to artificial turf. Obviously, it takes a lot more time to maintain a grass field,” he said. “But what I like is I think it’s a better surface for the kids to play on. But there have been a lot of advances in the turf over the years. Our guys really do a terrific job of maintaining it.”

Davis noted Veterans Memorial Field is spared extra wear because the Dynamos practice at a field on the high school campus.

Davis, Heide and Rometo all expect the trend toward synthetic turf to continue.

“But I do really like the grass fields. And there are advantages,” Rometo said. “When the weather’s bad, your guys are used to it and the other team’s not.”

“Plus, there’s that tradition,” he said.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.

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