An excavation crew works on the Badger High School soccer field July 24. (Michael S. Hoey photo)

By Michael S. Hoey

Correspondent

Badger High School is in the process of replacing its soccer, varsity baseball and varsity softball fields with artificial turf fields. The soccer field is being replaced now and the baseball and softball infields will be completed later in August.

Athletic Director Jim Kluge said the new surface will provide earlier field access for spring practices, fewer game cancellations because of weather and versatile playing surfaces that more school and community teams will have access to. Kluge also said the physical education department will have complete access to all fields that had been limited before because of wear and tear on the fields. Physical education teacher Jen Oomens said her department is looking forward to having that improved access.

Superintendent James Gottinger said the impetus for the new surfaces came from Kluge and Badger coaches, and he supported the decision. He said the cost of the project is $1.1 million, which came from the general fund. The project was originally scheduled for last summer but was delayed while the district waited for the results of an Environmental Protection Agency cancer study on the effect of artificial turf.

“We just wanted to make sure we were doing the best thing for the school and the community,” Kluge said.

Weather has delayed the project a bit this summer as the project was to begin in June right after school was out and be completed by mid-August. Rain pushed that schedule back, but the fields are still expected to be completed by the end of August.

Kluge said Badger will be the only Southern Lakes Conference school with turf baseball and softball infields next year, though Elkhorn will be adding both in the next two years as part of a successful referendum. Three other SLC schools have turf soccer fields, and Elkhorn will as well in the future.

According to Kluge, the new turf fields will increase access to fields the community already had access to. The Lakers soccer program utilizes the varsity soccer field, and the Lake Geneva youth baseball program uses the varsity softball field.

Badger coaches are looking forward to the benefits of turf fields.

“It will give us the opportunity to train and play when otherwise we could not due to in-climate weather,” boys and girls soccer coach Ross Fowler said. “It will provide us a great surface to improve our foot skills and get touches on the ball.”

Fowler said the speed at which soccer is played is a little different on turf, and his team will have to adjust to that, but that will also better prepare his team for away games played on turf.

“The turf is usually a little quicker, but everything will be ‘true,’” Fowler said. “We are excited to have the chance to play and train on this type of playing surface.”

Baseball coach Aaron Zweifel said a turf infield should add an excitement level to his game, allow his team to practice and play on days it hadn’t been able to in the past and provide more consistent infield defense as the turf surface will eliminate many of the bad hops a natural surface offers. Zweifel also is hoping for fewer injuries as a turf field should provide a more solid surface than natural during a wet spring season.

Zweifel said the cancer study came back inconclusive, which most people expected. He said thousands of high schools and colleges have added turf over the years, and he is not aware of any studies that prove any link to cancer with artificial turf. He said he has no concerns about the new surface.

Zweifel said the new surface will eliminate bad hops and the ball will get on the infielders quicker, so adjustments will have to be made. He said the Badger infield had been traditionally thick, so he expects more ground balls to sneak through for hits on turf.

Another adjustment will be sliding on turf rather than on dirt, especially if the surface is a little wet. His team will have to get used to starting slides earlier than normal so the players do not overshoot the base. That could give his team an advantage over teams not used to playing on turf.

Zweifel said he has heard people say turf fields lead to more stolen bases. He said that remains to be seen. In order to steal more bases his team will need to make good reads on pitchers, get good jumps and have the speed to get there.

Softball coach Glen York said he has seen some games played on turf and the bounces seem very consistent, though higher than they would be on a dirt infield. He also noticed the playing surface was hotter than on a natural field, but not significantly so. York said that with regular maintenance a turf field can last for many years.

York said the biggest advantage will be having access to an outdoor field to practice on weeks before it has been possible in the past because of cold wet springs.

“That will be a huge advantage,” he said.

 
 

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