Turf. It is the thing in high school football now It can be polarizing to the old school crowd who love grass fields and to the new school fans who think turf is the way to go. Now we are on the precipice of a turf field on “The Hill” at CCHS.

The field is a relic of the past at this point. It is original to the school and is suffering. It can be fixed of course and if you ask me turf is the way to go here for a multitude of reasons.

Many citizens, school board members, and boosters have secured letters of intent from donors who are ready to chip in a good chunk of change to make this happen. This would be the ultimate evolution of the facilities at CCHS. Since the Price era began the facilities have improved a great deal. The weight room is now college level, the press box has been expanded and improved, there is premium chair back seating available, a new scoreboard, and there is a new theater quality film room for the team.

With all of this you would think the facilities were second to none. In some ways they are but the field has seen better days. If not for the hard work of Jeff Price the grass would be almost ragged. To add to the woes of the field, and this is something you will never notice from the stands, the endzones are in collapse and the crown is weathered away to almost nothing. The endzone issues come from the drains placed back in the 1970’s when the field was built. Those drains are collapsing and the field with it. I first noticed this during track season when I almost fell into one. Though this does not directly effect the playing surface bis close enough to that area to be a danger.

For those of you that do not know the importance of the crown in a football field I shall explain. Every football field has a crown in the middle. It is a gentle grading slope that sheds the water to the sidelines and in the case of the field in question the collapsing drains. Without the crown the water will pool in the field and make for a sloppy playing surface. To make matters worse the this sort of surface further destroys the grass. Several years ago a coach, who will remain nameless, who did not understand how a football field worked thought the field at JMS had a hill in the middle, it did because as I said football fields have crowns. He had it leveled. It basically destroyed the field and it had to be remade when the new JMS was built.

Now let’s talk for a minute about what a game changer a turf field is. It does not have to be manicured like grass. It does not have to be painted on a weekly basis, it does not have to be watered. It does not get spots chewed into the field when the ground game gets bogged down. It sheds water in an amazing fashion. Also these are not the astroturf fields of the 70’s that were basically carpet over concrete that were just injury magnets. These fields are much easier on the players that a standard grass and dirt field.

One of the worst parts about coaching is field maintenance. CCHS is lucky to have Jeff Price. For the better part of the last decade he has been the caretaker of the field and he has done an amazing job. But with this Jeff could take a step back and spend more time as a fan, something he so richly deserves.

It would also save the coaches a great deal of the time they spend painting it during the seasons. Tje casual fan has no idea the time coaches spend on this. When I was the coach it was the absolute least favorite thing I did. Now most coaches are not in it for the money. But this is a multi hour event five weeks of the season. Hours that these coaches are paid pennies for. Hours that these coaches could be spending with their families. It would be a boon to the coaches to not have to do this.

Now lets hit another part of this field maintenance that the casual observer probably has not thought of. Money. The field has to be babied. It is not just mowing. A grass football field is second only to a golf course. This equals money and lots of it. Gas for the mower alone is hundreds per year. The paint is thousands for year.

Now let’s talk money for the field. I have the actual numbers for the field but I am gonna round for simplicity sake. The whole set up for the turf field is a shade under $700,000. Now that is a large sum of money. But between pledged monetary donations and in kind donations $460,000 has been pledged. In kind donations are work and material donated for those wondering what I mean by that. The county itself would be on the hook for roughly $250,000.

Now the school system and the county commission are in the process of a large capital improvement plan. I will not go into money specifics of this but $250,000 is a small part. This will include roofs on schools in Jellico and technology upgrades throughout the system. Unfortunately some commissioners apparently see this field money as a sticking point. It would not be and I will tell you why.

This field will be more than just for football. The band would be an obvious beneficiary. The band currently practices on an uneven area in front of the school or in the parking lot. With this field they could practice on the field itself and not worry about wear and tear on it. I have been at the high school for various reasons in the summer when they are doing their camp, the equivalent of 2 a day practices in football, on the pavement in the dog days of summer. It is actually the most brutal high school practice I have ever witnessed. But there is another benefit. Band competitions. The Cougar Band could host them. If you have ever been to one or seen pictures it is a collection of bands featuring hundreds if not over a thousand people at a facility all day. This is a boon to the local economy because all of these people have to eat, many will have to buy gas, depending on the bands on occasion some will stay in local lodging. This is a huge win for our local economy.

In addition I have on good authority that The Battle of Rocky Top (a major regional event in youth football) would hold games here if a turf field was in place. Like the band competition this would bring a multitude of people into town to spend money. Much like the band competitions the people that come to town would buy food and gas. They are way more likely to utilize our motels and other rental properties in the county.

Now I know some people will also say, “well don’t these fields have to be replaced every few years?” The ones in place in Knoxville have about a 5 year lifespan. This is a high quality field. A professional quality one. It has more like a 15 year lifespan. In addition you can actually sell the field back at the end of said lifespan to be used as material.

I also know there will be people that say, “Can’t we use this money to hire more teachers, nurses, SROS?” Well here is a little civics lesson on how money is spent. This is what is known in the budget as capital outlay. Capital outlay is defined as money that’s spent to maintain, upgrade, acquire, or repair capital assets. Capital outlays, sometimes called capital expenditures, are recorded as liabilities by accountants on the balance sheets for the company. This means it can not be used as a recurring expense like teacher salaries.

If you remember a couple years ago this was how they replaced the track and lights on the field. That money, which was about twice the school board’s contribution for the turf, was borrowed and that debt has already been retired. If you know me I can be very critical of government bodies. But to have retired that debt this quickly tells me the school board is a pretty good steward of our tax dollars.

I the end the turf field makes sense. If it did not they would not be so wide spread in the area. I actually trust the leadership in the school system to do the right thing here. I hope the county commission follows and lives up to funding this field as initially promised.