High school football is a driving force on Friday nights. East Ascension football coach Darnell Lee anxiously makes a regular drive these days.
“Not every day, but every other day, I drive past our stadium to see what progress they’ve made,” Lee said. “I stop and ask if things are on schedule.
“Our jamboree is at Dutchtown. I pass by there too. Everybody is excited about the stadiums getting artificial turf. But with the rain, we all nervous. The players ask me about it. Everybody wants to know when it will be done.”
Once considered a luxury, artificial turf fields are becoming the norm. Ascension Parish is installing turf on all four of its stadiums this summer, along with purchasing the base that will be used at the yet-to-be-built Prairieville High.
Iberville Parish is adding turf for its two Class 1A schools — East Iberville and White Castle. There are now 16 turf fields used by metro area schools, including Southern University’s A.W. Mumford Stadium turf Southern Lab uses for home games.
The majority Baton Rouge’s Class 5A schools now have turf stadiums. The addition of EIHS and White Castle gives five area 1A schools home games on turf.
Reasons for the move are three-fold. Acquiring turf has become more affordable, it slashes maintenance costs and it services schools and their communities.
Iberville Parish school board also approved the purchase of video scoreboards for all three of its schools last week, including Plaquemine High, which has had turf since 2015.
“It gives us another useful space that will be available at all times,” Ascension schools planning and construction supervisor Jeff Parent said. “This isn’t just about Friday nights.
The fields are used for high schools, middle schools, soccer, ROTC, bands, biddy football and PE classes. Now you don’t have to tell people no or worry about repairing a muddy grass field.”
Parent said Ascension studied adding turf for more than eight years and it took time to get everyone on board. They studied safety and have even purchased turf designed to be 20 percent cooler which is definitely welcome in south Louisiana, thanks to a bond issue.
A total of 12 companies bid on the Ascension project and more than $7 million was allotted. The project came in under the budget, allowing Ascension to add turf for baseball and softball infields. Iberville will also turf its baseball and softball infields.
Iberville Parish athletic director/Plaquemine football coach Paul Distefano credits a robust tax base for making turf and other upgrades possible.
“It’s about giving something back to the taxpayers. So many people use our field," Distefano said. “Turf cuts expenses. There is a large one-time expense. But in return, you no longer have to cut the grass and maintain fields.
“And it is worth every dollar. It is safe and convenient. When you practice on it, you all your lines and landmarks are in place and they don’t wash away when it rains.”
Parent said rain has disrupted work. The projects at Dutchtown and St. Amant began ahead of East Ascension and Donaldsonville after May graduations. Once all the ground work is complete, Parent has been told the turf process will take 10 days.
Iberville schools started their projects a bit later. Both schools and have been told to make plans for road games the first month of the season. East Iberville moved its practices down the street to a soccer field at the nearby Math & Sciences Academy.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to make this work,” EIHS coach Justin Joseph said. “Our field is in a low-lying area to start with.
"For years, our opponents have complained about the holes we had to fill with dirt and sand. The first things our guys said was ‘Great, no more beach for us.’ This is a real game-changer.”