DeMatha High gets turf field of athletes' dreams
Mud-soaked cleats, soiled socks, and young men sweating and driving their opponents into the mud are part of the winning tradition at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville whether one is playing football, soccer or lacrosse.
But on Friday, despite days of heavy rain, DeMatha lacrosse players raced up and down the field during a scrimmage against Sherwood High School, and not a single player got dirty or missed a step, because the match took place on a new turf field at Heurich Community Park.
"From the kids' perspective, it is awesome," said Ed King, athletic director for DeMatha, which donated half the cost of the $1 million field built by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. "For years, we have been playing at Riverdale Park, and after a while there would be no grass."
It's part of a trend throughout the region. In addition to the field at Heurich, the commission financed construction of one at Walker Mill Regional Park that opened last fall, and there are plans to install turf on the field of the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex, said Steven Carter, a division chief at the commission.
Bowie State University converted its stadium field to turf with a $1 million grant from the Maryland General Assembly.
Bowie opened an artificial turf field at Allen Pond Park last year, and a second turf field is planned for next year.
Although many high schools in Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties have turf fields, there are none at public high schools in Prince George's County. Many coaches say the time has come.
"I am very happy the kids at the recreational level will get a chance to play on turf, but I am very disappointed that we who pay the highest amount of taxes in the state don't have any money to have turf fields" at public schools, said DeLawn Parrish, head football coach at Henry Wise High School in Upper Marlboro. His sentiments were echoed by coaches at Suitland and Northwestern high schools, who asked when Prince George's schools would get similar fields.
The Heurich site includes two grass practice fields. When DeMatha is not using the turf field, local teams can obtain permits to use it.
"This county has been so vibrant with football and basketball, but when I took this job I wanted to grow nontraditional sports in this county like baseball, soccer and lacrosse," said Carter of the planning commission. "Being in a predominantly African American county, these are sports that we don't necessarily gravitate to, but with turf fields, this brings new opportunities."
DeMatha student Wes DiRito said there was so much dirt on DeMatha's old lacrosse field in Riverdale Park that clouds of dust became the norm. "We used to just have the offense kick up dirt. It was impossible to see the ball or anything," said DiRito, 18, the team's goaltender. "Now we have a brand-new turf field. It's great."