Maybe it’s happening near you.
The exciting and thrilling sport of lacrosse is killing sports fields all across the country.
Since 2009, lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in high school and college, according to the National Federation of High School Sports and the NCAA. In terms of sheer participation, lacrosse may have a ways to go before catching up with the more traditional sports. But, already, it’s making an impact on the playing surfaces where the games are played and practices conducted.
Boys’ and girls’ lacrosse (and men’s and women’s) are growing because lacrosse is an exciting sport with deep, traditional roots in North American native culture and the universities and colleges up and down the East Coast of the US. Breaking free of its preppy stereotypes, it has exploded in popularity, especially in the South and West.
But, as great as the sport is, greater still is the damage seen on the surfaces on which it is played, natural and artificial. Schools and parks have not built new lacrosse fields to match the growth of the sport.
Rather, lacrosse has glommed onto existing sports fields to fuel its meteoric growth. It typically lands on the football field for some reason, and has not helped our football fields, already more over-worked and beaten down than a rented mule.
The nature of lacrosse means the fields are hit with a few areas of very concentrated and heavy traffic that will quickly kill off and dish out a natural grass surface in only a handful of games.
On synthetic infill fields, the damage is typically slower and may take a few years to become untenable, but will almost always need replacement before the rest of the field by a long shot. We are beginning to see infill fields that obviously have had the crease areas replaced for heavy wear.
Girls’ lacrosse rules typically place the goals on about the 5-yard line of the typical football field. Put boys’ and girls’ lacrosse on the same football field, and you have trouble at both ends. These happen to coincide with some of the heaviest wear areas on a football field.
The center point, especially in men’s lacrosse, get shredded with every faceoff, sometimes 40 or more in a game. This is where the players will grind the turf with their cleats, hands and sticks on the ground trying to get possession of the ball.
Players from both teams usually are on the same sideline, so their movements on and off the field are controlled and funneled into two small areas of heavy damage.
Lacrosse should do what baseball did eons ago and realize that you cannot keep a flat surface in certain parts of a field and go with a dirt-skinned area, like a baseball batter’s box. The area could be quickly repaired after each day’s use. There would be fewer bad hops, which lacrosse goalies despise.
The obvious problem with this idea is that the harder-skinned surface areas in the middle of a grass or turf football, soccer or multi-purpose field would negatively impact the quality and possibly the safety of that playing surface.
But leaving a deep dish or hole in the middle of the same field is not an option, either. Often, someone will eventually fill the hole with loose dirt, which may solve one problem only to create another.
For now, fundamental sports field management compels us to re-sod the damaged areas using sod of 1.5 to 2 inches thick after grading and settling the bed. This should be done as needed, at least until lacrosse can find its own field, and its own way of managing the problems associated with the playing surfaces of this rapidly growing and exciting sport.