Turf debate divides community

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School track has been judged unsuitable for competition. — Sam Moore

By Danielle Hopkins

Last week a survey was given out to the students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School during lunch with one simple question–turf or grass? This same question has been circulating around the school and Island since MV@Play proposed their plan to install turf fields last year. While the regional high school committee and administration has approved the project, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) is still in the midst of reviewing the project and will commence their public hearing process on April 6.

However MV@Play’s plan has been under scrutiny by many Island residents who are concerned about the impacts synthetic turf will have on the community. An organization called Vineyarders for Grass Fields has been vocal about their concerns for MV@Play’s plan and the synthetic turf itself.

The real question both sides of the debate is attempting to answer is whether turf or grass is the safest, most effective playing surface for the student athletes at the school.

“I think we should get turf fields,” said senior and varsity soccer player Doug Debettencourt. “I actually prefer natural grass, but if you look at our fields now, that is what our high school is capable of when it comes to maintaining fields and it sucks.”

“The urgency of adding a turf field in the mix of grass fields at the high school was driven by several realities,” said David Wallis President of MV@Play. “The deterioration of the track has been not suitable for home meets. Neither has the deplorable condition overall of the high school fields and the experience of both student athletes and coaches who often play on turf fields for off-Island games.”

“I cannot express how much our high school needs these new fields,” said senior and varsity soccer and softball player Cana Courtney. “I have seen too many friends and teammates get hurt because of the quality of the field we play on.”

“When I read the letters from students and coaches in support of synthetic, for the most part what I really hear them saying is how poor current playing conditions are and that our athletes want and deserve better,” said Rebekah Thomson, one of the leaders of the Vineyarders for Grass Fields group.

“As a three sport varsity athlete in high school and varsity lacrosse player at Wesleyan, I appreciate those sentiments 100 percent. That said, I believe we can address those issues directly, without committing to the dangerous, expensive, and very permanent synthetic system.”

“A lot of teams and colleges have updated to turf fields and the Vineyarders are put at a disadvantage playing there, especially for a game like field hockey which is a completely different sport on turf than it is on grass,” said sophomore and varsity field hockey and softball player Meghan Sonia.

Elizabeth McBride, mother of two student athletes, is against the implementation of turf as well. “My son played on synthetic turf in college and a slew of players developed MRSA. The MRSA quickly spread due to the synthetic fields, affecting many players on many different teams. The school had to disinfect the entire field to great expense and lost much game and practice time in the process, not to mention the expense of curing the students of this scary outbreak,” she said.

All student-athletes know that risk is something that comes with playing sports and cannot be avoided entirely. However it is important that student athletes are ensured they are playing in the safest conditions possible.

“The goal is to have playing surfaces that are safe and effective,” said senior and three season varsity athlete Pearl Vercruysse. “I don’t think we need to be too concerned about having absolutely top-notch playing surfaces to gain a competitive advantage because at the end of the day what matters is the work that we as athletes choose to invest in our sports. Right now it seems to me that the safest and most effective surface would be turf,” she said.

Another main concern many have for the turf field is the environmental impact they will have on our community. Many towns are currently implementing plastic bag bans and other measures to reduce carbon footprints, however the turf will be made of synthetic plastic that has to eventually be disposed of.

“Although I’m not opposed to the fields, I can see how some people may be against it because of the environmental and health concerns of turf,” said junior and varsity athlete Kat Roberts.

 “Until we have approval of our project and actually place the specifications out to bid, and chosen manufacturers and installers, it’s impossible to answer these questions with any specificity. However, depending on the manufacturer chosen, each offers assurances about their individual recycling plan, and if the field is well managed we should get more use out of it than 8 to 10 years. As for cleaning the turf–again, depending on the product chosen, there are different criteria. Cleaning turf is relatively simple and no harmful chemicals are necessary,” Mr. Wallis  said.

“I know that turf sounds like a great quick fix for our shabby playing fields, but often a quick fix is not the answer. Turf is more difficult to maintain than people are acknowledging and unforeseen problems do arise,” Mrs. McBride said.