Editor's Page


Hokies upgrade their home-field advantage

by Torye Hurst

The Virginia Tech football team is taking a notably different field during its home games this fall, thanks to the installation of the GreenTech ITM natural grass sports field system. Created by GreenTech, Inc. of Richmond, Va., the innovative system relies on trays of turf positioned above asphalt to provide an easily dryable, drainable, moveable field.

Virginia Tech is the first university to employ the system, although Michigan State has plans to install it in Spartan Stadium for the 2002 football season. "Virginia Tech has a smart community, a smart highway, a smart football coach, and now a smart football field," says GreenTech CEO Chris Scott (business Õ77). "The fact that two of the nationÕs top turf research institutions chose our system is a great endorsement for our product." The system is currently used in Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, N.J., for NFL football and MLS soccer games and in Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, site of the 2001 F. A. Cup Soccer Championship.

Tech officials chose the system when the Worsham Field playing surface, which already had been replaced three times in 15 years, needed to be repaired. "We looked at all of the various field systems and the tray system was the most versatile," says Tom Gabbard, Virginia Tech associate director of athletics for internal affairs. "The combination of the ongoing stadium construction, the added flexibility the tray system provided, the economics, and the ability to have the type of surface that our football coaching staff wanted made everything fall into place."

The old surface was replaced with a six-inch stone layer covered by precision-layered asphalt to eliminate any imperfections and ensure a level surface. A total of 4,600 four-by-four-foot trays rest on pedestals two to three inches above the asphalt base. When the field gets wet, a vacuum system connecting 22 air vents under the field will draw water from the trays onto the base. The water then flows into large drains on either side of the field. Should the drains fill during a heavy downpour, the water will collect underneath the field while the playing surface remains relatively dry, since the system can handle up to 16 inches of rain an hour. The fieldÕs eight-inch crown will aid the drainage process. The air vents also allow air to be blown up through the trays to improve the flow of oxygen, which will enhance grass growth. Officials also note that a heating system can be installed in the future to promote growth during the early spring.

The system also allows any tray, such as those displaying excessive wear, to be removed individually. The capacity to remove sections of the field will be an advantage with the south end zone expansion project. "At some point during construction, large cranes will have to be brought in between the 25-yard line and the end zone in order to lift large, pre-cast supports into place as the stands are being built," explains Gabbard. "If we had gone with a conventional field, we would have spent funds to replace the surface along with a new irrigation and drainage system which then would have been damaged by the cranes."

Gabbard also notes that the system will give the team an added home-field advantage. The grass used is Bermuda, a faster surface that "along with our new practice field gives our team the best practice and playing surfaces in the nation."