Archive for Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Woodling: Fake grass might fly at Haskell

May 2, 2006

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A year ago, I would have figured the South Lawrence Trafficway would be completed before Haskell Stadium ever had an artificial-turf football field.

Now I'm not so sure.

In fact, it's quite possible the Haskell Indian Nations University field will be covered with SuperTurf, artificial grass manufactured by a Wichita company, in time for this fall's football season.

HINU athletic director Dwight Pickering is loathe to talk about the possibility for fear, he said, that something might go wrong.

"We're working on it," Pickering told me. "We really need it bad, but it's a long process."

In other words, since Haskell is funded primarily by the U.S. Government, the turgid wheels of the federal bureaucracy are involved.

Not that the feds will be paying for the artificial turf. Fat chance of that, not even with the oinkiest of pork barrels. Even the stadium itself was built with private funds, mostly from mineral-rich Indian tribes in the flush mid-1920s.

Haskell Stadium was built in 1926 for $250,000. Artificial turf would cost more than twice that much. Where will the money come from? No one is saying for the record, but reportedly the nut would be covered by casino money or by a large soft-drink firm, or both.

Artificial turf at Haskell Stadium would have ramifications beyond the Fightin' Indians program. Lawrence High football teams have played there for the last 75 years, and Free State has used the field off and on since the city's second public high school opened in 1997.

However, when it became clear Haskell Stadium's grass couldn't withstand the pressure of three teams, Free State began playing some of its games at Memorial Stadium, a venue that's really too big for high school games.

Now Free State is hoping to play all of its home games at Haskell Stadium this fall.

"That would be super," Free State athletic director Steve Grant said. "I haven't even talked to (KU) about (playing at Memorial Stadium)."

An eight-lane track around Haskell's field isn't possible because the stands are too close, but there is talk of putting in a three- or four-lane track that would also make the field wide enough for soccer.

HINU doesn't have soccer, but Lawrence High and Free State do. LHS games are played at YSI. Free State does have a campus field, but without lights.

Still, football would be the priority and, knowing how Lawrence High is so hidebound in history, I wondered if the Lions' hierarchy would consider fake grass too non-traditional.

Not to worry, Lawrence High coach Dirk Wedd said.

"I just want to play at Haskell Stadium," Wedd told me. "We've won a lot of games there. I think (artificial) turf would be great. I'm excited how close we are."

Turf technology has reached the point where an ersatz field now is as safe or safer than grass, and costs have dropped, too.

Both stadiums in the Shawnee Mission district have artificial turf. Salina and Hutchinson have it. So do Coffeyville and Chanute.

Keep your fingers crossed.

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