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Turf wars looming in high school football?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of Mike Hayden's pet projects before he stepped down as the executive director of the SSAC in 2007 was to hold all the football playoff semifinal games on artificial turf fields.

For whatever reason, that idea never came to fruition, but it could be revisited next month when the SSAC's football committee members hold their next meeting.

"It has been discussed quite a bit,'' said Gary Ray, the current SSAC executive director.

"I'm kind of torn between the fact we need to have the semifinals on the best fields possible but, by the same token, we have a lot of schools who work extremely hard to get their fields up to standards so they can host.''

As of now, all playoff games except the three championships are held on approved home field locations. If the higher-seeded team's own field doesn't meet specifications, it gets to choose a nearby field that is approved.

Three of the six semifinal round games this year were played on grass - one Class AA game (Robert C. Byrd at Wayne) and both Class A games (Madonna at Tucker County, Wahama at Magnolia).

No real problems were reported with the playing surfaces in those games, although the one at Tucker was played in snow and some mud. Ray attended that game, but didn't think there were any problems with the field conditions.

"What a neat experience for those kids, playing in the snow,'' Ray said. "Was it a turf field? No. Did the field impact the outcome? I can't say it did or didn't. It went two overtimes. The field was in pretty good shape. They did a nice job with it.

"Some of the smaller schools work extremely hard to upgrade their facilities the best they can. People have pride in their communities, which gives you two sides to look at - good people who work extra hard to have their teams play there. Again, that's one of the things we'll discuss with our committee. We'll look at all angles of it, and go from there. We'll continue to consider and look at all aspects of what we need to do with the playoffs. I know this is discussed every year, and I'm sure it'll be on the table for discussion.''

Listed as members of the football coaches committee on the SSAC website are Sean Biser (Keyser), Don Dellinger (Hedgesville), Jim Frashier (Ripley), Tom Harmon (Wayne), Benny Hopkins (Valley Fayette), Brad Jett (South Harrison), Eric Meeks (Weir), Gene Morris (Nicholas County) and Jodi Mote (St. Marys).

Giving the committee even more reason to pause is the proliferation of artificial turf fields in the last 10 years. At last unofficial count, there will be 36 such fields around the state when the 2013 season begins (see graphic; Preston and Clay-Battelle hope to have their fields and adjoining facilities completed by then).

At one time, the available turf fields were located in just a few pockets of West Virginia and some schools would have lengthy trips to play at the closest one. Now, however, there aren't many schools too far from one.

Ray, though, points out that several of those turf fields would be unavailable for high school playoff games - such as those at West Virginia University, Marshall and some state colleges.

"I think there's really only 26 or 27 we can use,'' Ray said, "and that's the problem.''

Both AAA semifinals were played on turf fields this year (Morgantown at Cabell Midland, George Washington at Martinsburg), as well as the Bridgeport at Keyser AA game.

"We want to do what's in the best interests of the game,'' Ray said, "but at the same time, we want what's best for the kids as well. We want to give the local communities the chance to host.

"I've been accused of stretching things, but not to the point of safety.''

Ray himself will be out of action for a while in the coming weeks, as he's scheduled for hip replacement surgery on Jan. 11.

The Super Six finals have been held at Wheeling Island Stadium since 1994, and that facility installed field turf in 2004.

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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