Communication helps 13 Westmoreland schools maximize turfs
Friday, September 6, 2019 | 7:44 PM
It’s a muggy late summer day in Harrison City.
The fall sports season has begun, and Warrior Stadium, with its gleaming new artificial turf, is alive with action.
The field is split for a dual workout: The No. 1-ranked football team is on one end, the three-time defending WPIAL champion field hockey team is on the other. Though the 50-yard line divides the teams, they are much more connected than at first glance.
At Penn-Trafford, and a dozen other Westmoreland County schools, sharing turf fields is a practice in and of itself.
“Fairness and sharing is what it is all about,” Penn-Trafford athletic director Kerry Hetrick said. “You have to surround yourself with great people, and that’s what we have here. All of our teams have the same goal in mind. What we’re doing works.”
What seems like a scheduling nightmare for athletic directors — and their secretaries — is a matter of organization and planning. Finding equality is not always easy, but local schools have done their part to avoid tug-of-wars.
Still, stadiums with multipurpose turf fields have become a seven-day operation.
Penn-Trafford, Norwin, Franklin Regional, and Greensburg Salem had new replacement surfaces installed over the summer. Now the trick is squeezing in time for fall sports teams and marching bands to use the fields.
Of the 18 high schools in Westmoreland County, 13 have synthetic playing surfaces.
More than football
Football is not the kingfish it once was and in most cases, it is treated the same as other sports. This-way and that-way lines all over the fields indicate that fact.
“It’s called Warrior Stadium,” Hetrick said. “Not Warrior Football Field.”
Jeannette is the latest to add turf for the first time at decades-old McKee Stadium. School officials have stressed the importance of multiple sports, and the band, using the field.
“We have boys soccer, girls soccer, the band, even the baseball and softball teams can use the field in the spring,” Jeannette football coach Roy Hall said.
Jeannette has football and soccer in the fall, a light list of schools when compared to larger county schools.
Other schools with turf stadiums in the area include Belle Vernon, Franklin Regional, Greensburg Salem (Offutt Field), Hempfield, Kiski Area, Latrobe, Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland, Yough and Valley.
“There is no secret to getting everyone on there — if anyone has one, please let me know because I would love to hear it,” Norwin athletic director Brandon Rapp said. “We just do the best we can.”
Communication is key
Youth and middle school teams included, Norwin has 10 teams that play at Knights Stadium, which takes up the majority of turf time in the fall.
“We simply try to divide the remaining time as evenly as possible, and if we are lucky enough, we attempt to get the teams who will play the following day a practice in the stadium,” Rapp said. “Where we are really fortunate is the fact that we have a great group of coaches who work extremely well together.”
Norwin also divides the field. One day during fall camps, the boys soccer team and field hockey teams shared the carpet.
“The coaches work well in coordinating their practices to make sure that drills are conducted in a safe manner, and their cooperation allows more access for teams to practice,” Rapp said.
Hetrick, who also schedules buses in the district, said literally having everyone on the same page is a key to a smooth operation.
“Communication with the coaches is very important,” Hetrick said. “We have been splitting the field every day since I have been here for 10 years.”
Most schools also accommodate boys and girls soccer, and others have field hockey.
Hetrick and coaches use the Remind App to keep one another, trainers and athletes, up to date with schedules. He said even the cross country team sometimes uses the track at Warrior Stadium.
“Conversation with other field hockey coaches in the region concerning turf time leads me to believe that Penn-Trafford has one of the best situations in terms of cooperation and opportunity,” Penn-Trafford field hockey coach Cindy Dutt said. “We definitely have a tight schedule on the turf, but every one of the coaches are terrific about sharing. The turf is definitely scheduled to the minute.”
Franklin Regional also has a high-demand field at Panther Stadium. But also a well-structured schedule.
“The coaches and directors that I work with are very professional and all work very well together,” Franklin Regional athletic director Zach Kessler said. “Shortly after graduation each year, I have a meeting in my office which includes Greg Botta (football), Rand Hudson (boys soccer), Rich Garland (girls soccer) and Kevin Pollock (band director). It’s actually become a fun tradition. Coach Garland brings coffee and bagels every year, and there is a lot of friendly banter. We go over the schedules for about an hour or so and map out the stadium and grass fields for June up through the end of fall sports.”
Kessler said Panther Stadium usually is booked from after school to 10 p.m. Like at Penn-Trafford, nearby grass fields run by the municipality can be used at Franklin Regional.
All levels welcome
Varsity sports are not the only ones to use the fields. Offutt Field in downtown Greensburg is used by several middle school, junior varsity and varsity teams, as well as hosting Seton Hill football games and Greensburg youth football.
“You have to be able to juggle things around and be flexible,” Greensburg Salem athletic director Mike Burrell said. “The same with coaches. If we have teams practicing at Offutt and a middle school game on the grass field, it’s a possibility we may have to flip-flop to get the game in. Sometimes our teams won’t practice after school and practice in a 5-7 (p.m.) or 6-8 (p.m.) time slot to get turf time.”
In sports, like everyday life, nobody is ever happy all the time. But the people in charge attempt to appease the masses.
“Having a group that understands equal access and does not place one program above another allows our programs to benefit,” Rapp said. “We all recognize how fortunate we are to have the facilities available to accommodate so many teams, and I think keeping that in perspective is a key component.”
A typical example of a fall sports practice day on the turf at Norwin might have football and girls soccer sharing the field from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. and boys soccer and field hockey divvying up yard lines from 5:30 to 7:30.
The football team often practices on a lower grass field on Norwin’s campus, an area known as “The Pit.” There also is a nearby field for soccer.
“It’s really amazing what Brandon has been able to do to get everyone time on the fields,” Norwin boys soccer coach Scott Schuchert said. “And our football coach (Dave Brozeski) has been great with us and other sports. We all work together to try to make it work.”
Burrell said there are days when Offutt Field will host middle school girls and boys soccer games, followed by varsity soccer, all in a tripleheader.
Burrell, also a longtime official, said turf is the wave of the future.
Norwin will have turf infields on its baseball and softball fields, and Penn-Trafford plans to follow suit.
“Turf everything you can,” Burrell said. “With weather in Western Pennsylvania and the amount of usage all fields get, if you can turf it and put an artificial surface in, it will not go to waste.”
Turf fields in Westmoreland County
School Varsity fall sports*
Belle Vernon Football, boys/girls soccer
Franklin Regional Football, boys/girls soccer
Greensburg Salem Football, boys/girls soccer
Hempfield Football, boys/girls soccer, field hockey
Jeannette Football, boys/girls soccer
Kiski Area Football, boys/girls soccer
Latrobe Football, boys/girls soccer, field hockey
Mt. Pleasant Football, boys/girls soccer
Norwin Football, boys/girls soccer, field hockey
Penn-Trafford Football, boys/girls soccer, field hockey
Southmoreland Football, boys/girls soccer
Yough Football, boys/girls soccer
Valley Football, boys/girls soccer
*Sports that play on turf
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .