Tackling turf: Turf fields are beneficial to spring sports, but costs and other priorities often outweigh installation

FARGO - Is it time for artificial turf? Fargo-Moorhead area high school athletic officials and coaches agree poor spring weather conditions are creating a greater need for athletic facilities with artificial grass. However, sticker shock and more...

Kirsten Bokinskie
Fargo Shanley girls soccer player Kirsten Bokinskie dives at the ball during a practice session on artificial turf last week at Sid Cichy Stadium. Shanley has the only turf field among the high schools in Fargo, which allows the Deacons to play more spring sports activities than other area high schools. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO - Is it time for artificial turf?

Fargo-Moorhead area high school athletic officials and coaches agree poor spring weather conditions are creating a greater need for athletic facilities with artificial grass. However, sticker shock and more pressing projects might keep it from happening anytime soon.

"My own personal vision would be to get at least one turf field for Fargo Public Schools, and to someday have more than that," said Fargo Public Schools Activities Director Ed Lockwood. "This spring is a perfect example. There is one turf field, and it's at Shanley. Everybody else is struggling for places to practice outdoors, or for places to play games."

Snow, rain and cold temperatures have created wet and damp conditions on grass fields in Fargo-Moorhead.

Poor weather over the last decade has wreaked havoc on spring sports schedules. Multiple postponements seem to have become the norm rather than the exception.


Last year's mild spring was one of the lone bright spots in a dismal stretch of weather in Fargo-Moorhead.

This year, area schools have rescheduled several baseball, softball, soccer and track events. Some games have been postponed more than once.

With no place to play outdoors, the options have become limited.

The Fargo North and West Fargo baseball teams have practiced in parking lots, the West Fargo girls tennis team has been in the high school commons and North's soccer team has been in the school gymnasium.

"We've lost our crossover games (with the West Region)," North girls soccer coach Cordell Sinding said. "We still have to do our conference competition, and we haven't even considered rain, yet. ... I would be all for (a new turf field). But it's not my call."

High and dry at Shanley

While most schools wait out the weather indoors, Fargo Shanley's baseball, softball and soccer teams have been outside on the FieldTurf at Sid Cichy Stadium for several days.

The surface has allowed the Deacons to better simulate game conditions. The baseball and softball teams can track down high fly balls, take sharply hit grounders and play long toss. Soccer teams have room to run.


The surface has quickly become the envy of other schools.

"I think you would have people knocking down the building right now this spring," West Fargo softball coach Pat Johnson said of another turf field in Fargo-Moorhead. "... It would have been used from April 1 to the present. We wouldn't have gone one day without using it. It would be nice to have the option to have it."

"I don't think people understand how much it would be used," South baseball coach Donn Bryant added. "... Football is king in this town, I understand that. But if we just put turf on a football field, it would help us immensely."

Shanley's girls soccer team has been able to play two early-season games. Both were rescheduled from other sites to the Sid Cichy Stadium turf.

South wasn't able to play its first game until Thursday.

"We've had a call from Fargo South girls soccer, and (Fargo) Davies emailed us about the availability of our stadium for practices," Shanley athletic director Randy Nelson said. "There just wasn't enough time after our teams were done to do something like that."

Shanley's Sid Cichy Stadium project, which includes turf, lights, a press box, seating for about 1,500 and a scoreboard, cost about $1.5 million.

Nelson said it costs almost nothing to maintain the turf. When the spring snow melt began, Nelson said he and a few volunteers pushed snow off the turf.


A tool provided by the company that supplied the turf helps fluff up the artificial blades. After that it's ready to go, Nelson said.

Concordia installed turf on its football field and baseball infield last summer. Concordia athletic director Larry Papenfuss said FieldTurf - the company which installed the turf - estimated maintenance on a grass football field for one year is on average $30,000 (man hours, watering, fertilizing, seeding and painting lines).

Papenfuss said the life expectancy for the turf is around 10 years.

Turf-field wish lists

There have been preliminary discussions recently in Fargo and West Fargo about the addition of a turf field.

Packers activities director Curt Jones said adding an artificial turf field for football and soccer has come up in discussions about the possibility of a second high school in West Fargo.

A referendum vote that includes a second high school, two middle schools and renovations to the existing high school is slated for May 24. The price tag is $82.5 million.

Should the referendum pass, current plans are to have both high schools share the existing football, soccer and track and field facilities, Jones said.


Jones said that fields would be developed at a new high school site for sub-varsity games, and varsity and sub-varsity practices. Nothing has been finalized, Jones said.

"Right now we would want the buildings to be built," Jones said. "That is our biggest priority. We don't even want to go into spending the money (for a turf field). The biggest priority is spending the money on getting the kids an education."

Lockwood said adding turf to the football field at Fargo South for shared use by all Fargo Public Schools is on his wish list.

However, other projects currently have a greater priority for Fargo Public Schools.

Lockwood said it would cost nearly $1 million to add turf to South's field. South was chosen as the site because it is centrally located in the city, Lockwood said.

There was discussion of having a turf field at Davies High School, slated to open this fall. But Lockwood said it would have added too much cost to the building project.

"One (turf field) would be a great start," Lockwood said. "The way it's going, with how the spring deteriorates and with how we spend ungodly amounts of money trying to get (grass) fields refurbished and ready for the fall, it would be a good idea."

Minnesota money woes


No one in Minnesota is opposed to seeing a green field this time of year. They just know it will take some green to get an artificial playing surface.

"It would be nice to have turf," said Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton athletic director Craig Anderson. "But unless The Forum is going to donate money, which we'll take, we just don't have the money to do something like that."

Anderson is like many athletic directors across a state where money is at a premium. Even suggesting purchasing artificial turf is not considered the wisest way to spend money, Anderson said.

High schools in the Twin Cities do have artificial surfaces, and some are inside inflated facilities. But Anderson said some of those schools have relied on corporate donors.

That's not a luxury most schools have.

Dealing with unfavorable conditions in April just comes with living in the area, said Moorhead athletic director Don Hulbert.

"We think about these kinds of things when we have terrible springs," Hulbert said. "This has been one of them of course, but once we start playing outside, people tend to forget about it. It's not the end of the world."

Financing long-term, athletic projects is a constantly debated issue in Minnesota.


So is changing the spring sports schedule, according to Anderson. Northern Minnesota schools like D-G-F or schools in Duluth are still fighting snow this time of year, compared to southern schools where the weather is nicer and they are playing outside.

Hulbert doesn't like the idea of moving boys tennis and golf from the spring to the fall.

"I say no because there's always going be discussion that both genders may not get fair treatment," Hulbert said. "How many offerings are there for sports for females vs. males? I think we're all going to forget about this in a week and everyone will be happy again."

Bismarck's shared plan

Jim Haussler, activities director for Bismarck Public Schools, says the Community Bowl, which was completed in 1997, has been worth the $4.1 million investment.

The track and football stadium has an artificial turf surface.

"It has brought us an opportunity to have that surface to go in early and get out later," Haussler said.

The facility - which had a more grass-like artificial turf installed in 2002 - is shared between high schools and colleges in the Bismarck area. Haussler said that partnership helped them build a premier facility instead of having each school do separate projects.

"I kind of think it is good government to collaboratively put something like that together," Haussler said. "Does it sometimes create some scheduling anxiety for us that are in the business of it? Sure it does, but as far as getting your biggest bang for the buck, we kind of decided in Bismarck, 'Let's go together and get a quality facility and share it.' "

Haussler said the Bowl is constantly in use and during wet springs it helps cut down on lost games.

"It's never empty," said Haussler. "Any available time, it's pretty well in use. During school hours, not so much, but it is after school. Easter Monday, that thing will be packed from 8, 9 in the morning until the sun goes down. That's just the way it is."

Lockwood said it will likely be awhile before turf is considered at Fargo Public Schools due to more pressing projects.

However, a joint effort of South, North and Davies booster clubs could speed up the process.

"If we had some commitments for a five-year period, we might have enough to get something started in a year or two," Lockwood said. "It's definitely a need."

Forum reporters Ryan S. Clark and Eric Peterson contributed to this story

Readers can reach Forum reporters Heath Hotzler, Eric Peterson and Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5549.

What To Read Next
Get Local