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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Stafford turf as tough as tacklers

SEE MORE: For previews of tonight’s football games, give Steve Franzello’s football capsules a read.

POLL: Fans’ Choice high school football “Game of Week”. Let us know which game you think will be the best.

 

When Stafford’s football team runs onto its field tonight at Lloyd Busch Stadium, one unsung team can celebrate a victory, even before the coin is flipped and the ball kicked off.

The Bermuda grass playing surface isn’t as thick or as smooth as it was a year ago. There are thin patches and muddy spots where the carpet-like covering has been ground into the dirt by countless cleat-clod footsteps.

The Stafford football field isn’t what it was before this season started, but it is still playable and that alone is an enormous victory.

“I thought it would be close,” Stafford athletic director Wes Bergazzi said. “But the guys from Game Day Inc. [a Northern Virginia firm that specializes in maintaining athletic fields], support from [Stafford Assistant Superintendent for Facilities] Scott Horan, and especially our maintenance guys, they’ve really been able to pull it off.

“It’s all just worked. We had the perfect formula, and it’s worked out.”

POWER POLL

This week’s high school football power poll, as voted on by The Free Lance-Star sports staff (first-place votes in parentheses):

  Team    Record    Points
1)   Massaponax (9)      7-0 45
2) Colonial Forge 5-2 32
3) North Stafford 6-1 25
4) Eastern View 6-0 23
5) Riverbend 5-1 6

Others receiving votes: Courtland 2, King George 2, Mountain View 1.

The obstacle was daunting, Bergazzi said: A brand-new high school is being built right on top of the practice fields Stafford’s football team normally uses.

Bussing the team to another facility for practice was deemed an unattractive option, so Lloyd Busch Stadium has endured not just games, but also the daily practices for all three of Stafford’s football teams.

The Indians have played three homes games this season and have two remaining, including tonight’s homecoming contest against Massaponax.

The junior varsity and freshman teams will not play a home game this season.

Before the season, the field was among the county’s best—smooth and flat and covered with a thick blanket of grass. It’s taken a beating this fall, and from a distance, it appears sparse and muddy, especially down the middle of the field.

But appearances are secondary, Stafford coach Chad Lewis said. The grass has held up, and the field remains mostly smooth and safe for play.

It’s taken a team approach.

Lewis, Horan and Bergazzi heaped praised on Game Day Inc. and the work of company president Mike Sullenberger.

Game Day helps maintain athletic fields across the region, for high schools, college and professional teams. It was Sullenberger’s plan that got Lloyd Busch Stadium this far, Horan said.

“The challenge for us is always low budgets—schools that don’t have much money to spend,” Sullenberger told The Free Lance–Star. “We’re very familiar with that scenario.

“I told them it would be a challenge, and I told them it might not be pretty, but we were looking for safety first.”

Everything from the watering plan (less frequently, to make the roots grow deep) to how the field was mowed (higher, to promote a longer-lasting surface) was considered and implemented—mostly by the Stafford County maintenance crew charged with tending to the field.

“Our maintenance guys have just been outstanding,” Bergazzi said. “Once we laid out our plan, those were the guys getting it done.”

Lewis and the football team has also played a big part.

The Indians’ coaching staff has learned to take advantage of any patch of green space around the stadium.

That grass beside the bleachers? Perfect for a blocking sled. The grass around the long jump pit? That’s where tackling drills can happen. No space with grass was too small, and virtually no area went unused.

“We’ve tried moving around, adjusting the practice schedule and we want to use every ounce of grass we have,” Lewis said. “We’ve been creative for all three teams to share the field.”

And it’s paid off.

“I think it’s done terrific,” Sullenberger said. “It’s still very safe, and the field has taken the rain very well. It’s chewed up a little bit, but we’re almost through the season.”

The most difficult part is still to come, though.

In the fall, Stafford must contend with just the football team, and a dry few months have helped keep the field firm.

Spring sports include boys and girls soccer and boys and girls lacrosse, all putting additional demands on the stadium turf.

Game Day’s got a plan for that, too.

As soon as the football season is over, they’ll re-sod the most worn portions of the field and wrap the stadium grass in a protective blanket.

When it’s unwrapped in February, Sullenberger thinks there will be a good surface to play on.

Bergazzi is still formulating a plan for the spring—for starters, the boys and girls lacrosse teams will practice at county middle schools. Stafford will strive to play as many home games as possible at Lloyd Busch Stadium, but that will remain a week-by-week and day-by-day evaluation.

And plans are moving forward for a permanent solution by next fall: Leeland Station developer K Hovnanian Homes has agreed to give $750,000 in cash for an artificial turf field at Stafford as part of an agreement over changes to the subdivision’s long-term plans. And the county supervisors this week approved a plan to forward the money to the county’s schools to expedite the construction.

Bergazzi hopes that new surface can be in place by next fall in time for football practice—the new school isn’t expected to be completed until late 2015 and practice field space will continue to be an issue until construction is complete.

“I think everyone is excited about a turf field at the high schools,” Horan said. “You still have to maintain them and they have a life span—they’re not going to be there forever.

“But it certainly brings a different dimension to the amount of play and the availability for use at the stadium.”

 

Justin Rice: 540/368-5045

jrice@freelancestar.com

 

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