Tending to turf wear
Sharing field time with the marching band is becoming a huge part of the seasonal routine. The band members march along the same preset route every practice, as well as the performance itself. The markings of the football field layout help them maintain the proper spacing, called intervals, and keep sharp lines whether marching in rows, breakout groups or single file in curving arcs or complex patterns.
Consider the alternatives to alleviate field wear. Some use restrictions should apply to the band, as well as the sports teams. For natural turfgrass fields, restrict use when the soil is too wet; when the turf is extremely dry due to drought conditions and/or irrigation restrictions; when the turf is immature due to seeding, sprigging or sodding; when the turf is dormant; when the surface is covered, or partially covered, with ice or snow; and when the field surface is responding to weather fluctuations such as freeze/thaw cycles.
Keep practices on a natural turf game field to a minimum for all user groups. Many facilities are able to reduce the sports team nongame field time to a low-contact, walk-through practice the day prior to a home game. Others add one regular on-field practice the week of a home game, along with the walk-through.
For many marching bands, one night practice under the lights on the game field during the week of a home game is sufficient. It allows the band to get the feel of the turf, and acclimate to the differences in sound within the space confined by bleachers or a full stadium.
If teams must use the game field as the practice site more frequently, they can rotate the practice areas to reduce field wear. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for marching bands. Their entire performance is dependent on specific, fixed, on-field positioning.
On synthetic turf game fields, the extra practices may be workable, but each on-field event does contribute to wear, so over the long term, the additional field use must be factored into the life span of the surface. It may be more cost-effective to move practices to a synthetic practice field if one is available. Some college marching bands use the synthetic surface of the football team’s indoor practice facility during unfavorable weather conditions. Others also use the indoor field for their game day morning practice site.
If synthetic field space is not an option, consider the following alternatives. Some colleges and large high school campuses have set aside a natural grass practice field specifically for the band. Others paint the football configuration on a section of the lawn surrounding the school. Often, the practice field painted on the lawn can be moved to a new site periodically to avoid excess turf wear. Some schools have separate fields for interschool and intramural play. Sometimes the band is able to share space on these fields with the recreational sports teams by carefully monitoring scheduling and spreading the wear over multiple fields.
Many sports field managers will paint a section of a parking lot in the football field configuration as the designated practice site for the marching band. In some cases, they’ll also line out the configuration of the tunnel or gate through which the band enters the field so the entry and exit formations can be practiced. While the parking lot surface doesn’t provide the “feel” of working on grass, it meets all the other requirements of a practice field. The extra time spent painting is more than compensated by the reduced wear on the game field turf. Some bands work in conjunction with the sports field manager providing student or booster club volunteers to keep repainting the parking lot practice field once the original configuration has been painted. Others designate volunteers to learn how to do the initial painting properly and then take over the responsibility of the practice field setup, as well as repainting. The band may be able to put that expertise to use to set up their own practice site when they’re attending a competition or giving a performance at an out-of-town location where prepared practice space is limited.
The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.