Leveling the Playing Field for Stamford High School Athletics – Literally


Amelia Stone, News Editor

Last spring, Stamford High School was awarded 3 million dollars in bond money to redesign the athletic fields on campus. The proposed plan of use revolves around the implementation of a multisport turf field where the current baseball field is and will accommodate baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, and girls and boys soccer.

Currently, the baseball field, which is natural grass, is in crippling condition – the outfield is littered with bare spots, divots, and rocks that present a challenge to play. And because of its natural composition, it is also frequently subject to temporary closure due to weather conditions. Being in the northeast, this happens more than other places, and it creates a challenge for not just Stamford HIgh’s teams, but teams all over Connecticut that travel here to compete.

As for the soccer teams, the only field that is currently available for both the girls and boys is turf. However, because Stamford High only has one field for soccer to use during the fall season, one team must be bussed to West Beach to use their grass fields for practice. But this, of course, does not come without a slew of its own challenges.

For one, the expense of the buses used to get players to the field from school are an unnecessary expense and a hassle for the players and coaches. Senior Captain Alex Butler explained, “We have to go to West Beach, and to do so, we have to take school buses that are usually late, and we get cut time from our practice because we have to have transportation to the fields. [Then,] we have to end early, because at West Beach, they have other teams that practice there.” Not only are there challenges with getting to the fields, but there are issues with the fields themselves. Butler said, “The fields have holes in them, so people get hurt.” And as she explained, because the team isn’t practicing on campus, they don’t have access to the athletic trainer that every other Stamford High team has.

Co-captain Brooke Kehle had similar thoughts, sharing, “Everyone’s rolling ankles… we don’t even have a goal”. Simply put, “turf fields here are a safer option”. And if the lack of space on campus and lack of safety wasn’t enough, the fact that Stamford High is one of the only schools in the FCIAC that faces this problem is extraordinarily unfair. Kehle said, “Schools that have extra fields, that extra space, it shows. You know that those girls are out there every chance they get because they have the resources to do so. It gives them a leg up, and I think we’re the only school that doesn’t have enough fields for every team to practice during the season.” Presently, the junior varsity girls’ soccer team doesn’t even have the opportunity to practice sometimes because of the time and space constraints of West Beach. However, soccer isn’t the only team that would thrive with the addition of the multi-sport field.

Pat Murphy, the head coach of Stamford High baseball, had lots of praise for the plan. “Turfing for the whole area would be great for the baseball team, the softball team, and every other team. Turfing this back area allows multiple sports to have multiple places to practice which allows us to develop kids better because we’re not worried about the conditions of our playing fields. And, the more that we can practice on a safe, flat, level playing surface, the better that would be for all teams.” Aside from both soccer teams and both lacrosse teams, the field could act as a practice space for field hockey, football, the marching band (which currently practices on the tennis courts or in the christmas tree lot) and the newly reformed color guard. There will also be immense benefit to the youth sports in Stamford.

Right now, there is great competition for practice and playing space for youth sports in Stamford and yet a lack of youth sports teams. There are no longer middle school football or baseball teams, fewer little league options available, no youth field hockey whatsoever, and an overall decline in participation across all sports. So, with the increase in available practice and playing space, there is an amazing opportunity for youth sports to be rejuvenated. Plus, because of the centralized location of Stamford High School, the new multisport fields will offer increased accessibility to all community members who want to take advantage of the new facilities. Downtown Stamford is densely populated and the next closest community sports fields are 2.5 miles away at West Beach which we know is not ideal. Yet there are still more benefits to these new facilities.

While the city of Stamford is bubbling with incredible athletic talent, it doesn’t show in our athletic teams’ records, and that’s for a few simple reasons. For one, the majority of top athletes in our city choose to attend private schools with better athletic facilities including King, Brunswick, St. Joes, St. Luke’s, and Fairfield Prep. And, these private schools’ facilities are all turfed. King, which is the only one of these schools actually in Stamford, renovated an entirely new turf field complex just last year. Having fields that are even remotely more similar to those of the local private schools would offer a leg up to all of our athletes and help make our players more competitive, particularly in the cut-throat college recruitment process.

Private schools are extraordinarily costly, tending to be north of $40,000 per year, not including many other fees, and the cost of athletic equipment is also expensive. So, many low-income families could easily be excluded from these top-notch facilities because of the cost barrier. However, bettering our own facilities with money we have already been granted will level the playing field for high school athletes across the county and could foreseeably increase the number of athletic scholarships offered to Stamford athletes. Turfing the field would also be economical for the school as the cost to maintain the fields would be significantly less; there would be no need for watering, re-painting lines, mowing, raking, etc.

Another major advantage of turfing the fields would be all of the health benefits. Aside from reduced play-related injuries like rolled ankles, knee injuries, and falls, allergens would be decreased because there would be less grass and pollen. The US Environmental Protection Agency has also found in a multitude of studies that “current information from a number of tire crumb studies does not show an elevated health risk from playing on fields with artificial turf or tire crumbs.” And while yes, turf is prone to warmer temperatures than natural grass, the weather that could potentially make turf hot comes only at the very beginning of the fall season or very end of the spring season, so it doesn’t present a major issue at all, or at least an issue that remotely outweighs the countless benefits. Plus, aside from the majority of Connecticut high schools that have turf (including other fields of ours), so do almost all Connecticut colleges and universities including UConn, Sacred Heart, Wesleyan, Fairfield University, Quinnipiac, Yale (which was turfed by the same company that Stamford will be working with), as well as many others.
And as if there weren’t any more benefits to the proposed plan, Stamford High School Principal Matthew Forker illustrated exactly how this new field will bolster school pride and optics. As he explained, most people see the back of the building and the ugly fields are like an eye sore. As he said, “we want the SHS students to feel proud of their school, seeing their fields…We should be at least comparable to our neighboring towns”. Logistically speaking, “the money secured came from the state, so we want to utilize this resource that we were afforded and we want to do it the right way, and doing it the right way, the community will benefit the most. This will be here long after we’re all done using [the fields]: it’s an investment into the future”. He also pointed out how the turf is less prone to wear and tear from additional use, especially use by outside programs, so it’s a better investment financially in that regard. The new design will feature better seating for the fields that also allow Black Knight Nation to watch multiple games from one seating area as well as better ADA compliant walkways.

In the end, it’s clear why turfing the fields is the right move: the money has already been granted for this purpose, so it makes sense to use it. It is a safer alternative than grass because it doesn’t risk holes, divots, bare patches, and unlevel surfaces and allows for teams to remain on campus with security and trainers. It is more cost effective in the long run seeing as it requires significantly less maintenance and reduces the number of bus trips needed significantly. It allows for significantly greater opportunity for student athletes young and older alike, and finally makes Stamford High’s facilities competitive in comparison to its CIAC peers. It’s the only right option to support the Black Knights, their parents, their pockets, and their community.