As schools, universities, and municipal parks become increasingly landlocked, our clients are constantly looking to balance the high demand of their sports programs with the maintenance and safety issues that come with overused fields. The National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) estimate that in the 2015-2016 season over 8.3 million students across the country participated in high school and collegiate level sport programs, and that number is rising every year (NFHS, 2016) (NCAA). While 8.3 million is a formidable figure in itself, it does not include the millions of people that use municipal parks and school facilities for summer recreation and youth programs.
Due to the growing number of athletes in need of a place to play, many of our clients are turning to multiple sport offerings on a single field, known as multi-purpose fields. In addition to offering flexibility, multi-purpose fields offer an egalitarian solution. Athletes and administrators alike want to feel a sense of pride when they walk out under the lights on their home field during a homecoming, sectional, or championship game, and providing a multi-sport field allows many teams the opportunity to use the school’s best venue.
The primary element that determines the size and layout of a multi-purpose field is, of course, which combination of sports will need to be played on it. There can be any number of combinations, sometimes with up to 5 or 6 sports. Common combinations can include football, softball/baseball, lacrosse, and field hockey, all on one field. The largest sport that will be played (paired with the appropriate safety zones for each included sport) will regulate the dimensions of the overall field.
Another major consideration would be what play surface to use: synthetic turf or natural grass. This choice is often considered the “great debate” of athletic field designers around the country. The capital costs of natural grass fields are lower upfront, are less expensive to repair, and remain cooler than their synthetic turf counterparts, but require much more day-to-day maintenance and will suffer from high wear. Synthetic turf fields can be used in all weather conditions, and do not require rest between games and practices, but have a limited life span.
Equipment can be tricky on multi-purpose fields. Many people think of certain equipment items as being permanent. Some examples include football goal posts, baseball bases, and netting poles. In a standalone field, these items can be permanent, but a multi-purpose field requires more flexibility. Football goal posts can be rotated, baseball bases can be removed and plugged, and the netting from poles removed. Safety is always the main concern of administrators, and there are many options out there for durable, safe, and flexible equipment for these fields.
A common headache for administrators with a competition level multi-purpose field is the potentially complicated scheduling that goes along with multiple teams playing on one field. Providing equal playing time for all teams on the field can be a challenge, so it is beneficial to have several multi-purpose fields on a campus in order to rotate teams between practices and games. By rotating, fields are able to stay ready for play for longer periods of time and require less rest between events. When administrators are scheduling their seasons, special attention should be paid to the maintenance requirements of the field, and it can be very beneficial to engage the maintenance staff in such conversations.
One of the major benefits to choosing a multi-purpose field over a typical standalone field is the revenue that can be generated by hosting a multitude of different athletic events on one competition level field. Having one or two multi-purpose fields instead of a dozen standalone fields can also help maximize resources for amenities such as bleachers, restrooms, scoreboards, and concessions. One school may be able to host several sectional level events, tournaments and championship games, thus generating more revenue from ticket sales and concessions.
Having so much going on in one field can seem overwhelming. Is it confusing for athletes to have so many different lines on a field? Rick Krysztof, a representative from A-Turf, a Western New York synthetic turf manufacturer states “We hear from athletes that though there may be several different sports striped on a field, confusion while on the field is minimal. Once that whistle is blown, all of the other lines fall away and the athletes focus on their sport.”
Focusing on the field may be one thing, but what about up in the stands looking down on a multi-purpose field? Spectators watching games from a distance may find that seeing too many lines on a field gets overwhelming. To alleviate some of this confusion, typically one “main” sport is picked for a field and striped in the brightest color, and the secondary sports are striped in more muted colors. If the field is a synthetic turf field, permanent striping can be installed for some sports, and tic marks can be placed to help maintenance staff add temporary striping as necessary.
At the end of the day there is no “one size fits all” perfect athletic field. Needs vary based on the client, the type of play a field will see, the volume of players, the climate and weather, and the budget an owner is working with. Athletic field design professionals are brought in to evaluate a client’s specific needs and help them find the solution that works best for them. To read more about synthetic turf vs natural grass options, visit us here.
About the Author:
Laura Wadhams is a Civil Engineer at LaBella Associates. Laura has over 5 years of experience in civil site engineering, primarily for K-12, higher education, and municipal clients. A primary focus of her K-12 work includes athletic field design through Capital Improvement Programs. Email Laura or connect on Linked In.
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