Why Boonville, Castle football will switch from grass to turf after years of discussions

BOONVILLE — Darin Ward jokes he reached a point where it became, "I'll believe when I see it."

He returned to his alma mater to coach football in 2015. Ward has not been shy in the years since about wanting the addition of a turf field to the Boonville High School athletic complex. He wasn't alone considering the project has been in various stages for over a decade.

Change is finally coming to Warrick County next year.

The Warrick County School Corporation officially approved turf installation on Sept. 11 during its school board meeting. Castle and Boonville will switch from grass starting with the 2024-25 school year.

"I think I always knew it was going to happen," said Ward. "It was a matter of when from a priority standpoint. It will really be a benefit to the football program but for all our students too. This will be used 180 days next year. It will be our biggest, most-used classroom."

The Boonville Pioneers take the field ahead of their game against the Heritage Hills Patriots Friday, Sept. 1, 2023.
The Boonville Pioneers take the field ahead of their game against the Heritage Hills Patriots Friday, Sept. 1, 2023.

Castle athletics director Brandon Taylor got his first set of price estimates for turf installation eight years ago. This project was discussed internally for a decade prior to that. It became a matter of when it made sense fiscally and other matters took priority, such as the newly opened Warrick Pathways and Career Center.

Switching to turf picked up steam again between former WCSC superintendent Todd Lambert and current superintendent Dr. Abbie Redmon.

"It’s going to be a great investment for our school and community," said Taylor. "It’s going to be used a lot by a lot of different groups. That’s how we promoted this. A multi-use field."

What do the football coaches think?

Both see this as a net positive but not for the ultimate reason you'd think.

From a football standpoint, the biggest benefit will not come on Friday nights. Neither Castle nor Boonville uses its football fields to practice but rather separate grass lots. If it rains and becomes too wet, they're stuck in a gym or meetings. That's not the case for other area teams.

There could also be youth football games played in the future on the field. What brings additional excitement to both football coaches is the additional benefits to the school.

"I really appreciate our school board and school corporation leadership for making this happen," said Castle coach Doug Hurt. "I love our grass, but it goes from a football field to a true, multi-use facility. Sports to band to after-school activities. It’s the practices and other things it turns into. Everybody is going to benefit from it."

"We’ve been really limited coming out of the winter and spring," added Ward. "Other programs can walk right out there and have a good surface. We share our practice field. Having the ability to be really conscientious about Mother Nature in the spring – whether it’s muddy or wet – will really be a benefit to the football program."

Who will install it? How much will it cost?

The project was approved by the WCSC last Monday. No contracts have been awarded yet.

One potential company with experience in the area is Sprinturf. The South Carolina-based organization boasts more than 2,000 turf installations across North America and abroad. It installed the turf at three of the five Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation football fields and, more recently, Hatchet Hollow in Washington.

Castle and Boonville officials told the Courier & Press the estimated cost is around $1 million per field. The final price will depend on any add-ins, possible delays in construction, the type of turf and infill used and warranties.

Each school will be required to groom or brush the field after every 40 hours of playing activity. Most turf warranties expire after eight years, but the surface usually lasts ten years or longer if properly maintained.

"A lot of rumors saying if we couldn’t get it the other schools couldn’t get it," said Taylor. "We’re seeing that’s not necessarily true. Two schools to start. Since I’ve been here, it’s been more of a financial issue than anything else."

What's the timeline?

There is an unofficial date both schools would prefer to have the project complete: August 16, 2024.

Castle and Boonville are scheduled to host IHSAA football scrimmages next year. Preferably, both would have time beforehand to set foot on the turf. Much of it will matter on the speed of the project and, importantly, when crews break ground.

The project will begin first at Boonville due to Castle holding its graduation in the football stadium in late May. Once the excavating is complete, that crew will move to Castle. It could be early June when that occurs provided there are no delays.

"The goal is we're at least getting some time to practice on it in the summer," said Boonville athletics director Kevin Davis. "The latest is have that North scrimmage here."

Castle’s Antonio Harris (17) runs the ball as the Castle Knights play the North Huskies at John Lidy Field in Newburgh, Ind., Friday, Aug. 18, 2023.
Castle’s Antonio Harris (17) runs the ball as the Castle Knights play the North Huskies at John Lidy Field in Newburgh, Ind., Friday, Aug. 18, 2023.

What about other uses?

This wasn't pitched to the school board as a football-only move. Castle and Boonville have multiple uses planned.

The fields will have soccer lines in the event weather causes either grass field to be unusable. Physical education classes can use it throughout the day. Baseball or softball can use it for practice in the spring if rain washes out the infield.

The marching bands will also have access. Boonville Band of Gold and the Castle Marching Knights are currently limited in any field use. This opens the possibility of hosting a Warrick County band invitational in the future.

"This will be a nice facility that can be used throughout the year," said Davis. "If the sun is shining and it's warm, not raining and lightning, we can be on it. That’s a benefit to everybody. It’s going to become quite the task to schedule people who want to be on here throughout the year."

What about Tecumseh?

There are three high schools in Warrick County. One isn't getting a turf football field this summer.

The closest official reason why Tecumseh High School must wait its turn was discussed during the board meeting.

"Tecumseh has an outstanding new facility," board member Jeff Baker said. "Their time will come, but it's brand new. I feel like we need to utilize that a little bit before we replace it."

The school received several improvements to its athletic department beginning in 2017. Among those were football (grass) and baseball fields. In total, the entire project price tag was roughly $4.5 million.

Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on X (formerly Twitter) @kylesokeland.

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: IHSAA sports: Boonville, Castle football new turf instillation