Friday, May 18, 2001

Bengals say Pee Wee play was too hard on their turf

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Youth football games might be relegated to the Paul Brown Stadium facility's three practice fields this fall.

        The reason: The 50-pounders did too much damage to the grass last year.

        For years, Pee Wee football was played at Cinergy Field one weekend every fall. The tradition continued last year at Paul Brown Stadium, after a firestorm of controversy erupted when Bengals' officials said the games could harm the turf.

        The county's head groundskeeper, Doug Bradley, said three straight days of youth football games inside the stadium last November did, indeed, take a heavy toll on the grass playing field.

        Mr. Bradley said the games wore out the turf like a carpet. It never recovered, he said.

        “It's no different than walking on a strip of carpet for 37 straight hours -- it's going to wear out,” Mr. Bradley said. “The grass was already starting to shut down in November, so there was no way for it to recover.

        “If we hadn't been faced with that, we would have been fine.”

        The field was reduced to sand, particularly in the middle, for the last two Bengals' home games.

        County officials are negotiating with two youth football leagues, trying to get them to either play their games earlier in the year or on the practice fields.

        Joe Feldkamp, assistant stadium director, said the stadium will host high school and college football games this year, too. That makes it more difficult to protect the grass — and therefore protect a million-dollar public investment.

        “We'd like to highly utilize the practice fields as opposed to the stadium field this year,” Mr. Feldkamp said. “We're not going to allow them to play 37 hours on the stadium field.

        “We're trying to make prudent decisions. We want them to come down, but they have to know what we're up against,” Mr. Feldkamp said.

        A juvenile bluegrass field is being installed at the stadium this week. The grass grows between a synthetic turf liner, which will help stabilize the sod and keep it from being ripped to shreds — either by kids in sneakers or 350-pound linemen in cleats.

        Mr. Bradley said the field will be much stronger after two or three years than it will be this fall. The practice fields, which have been growing for three years, are a living example, he said.

        Suzanne Burke, the county's budget director, said the county will charge the same rate for using the fields this year — $1,500 per day for the stadium field and $500 per day for the practice fields.


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