The John Bapst High School girls field hockey team practiced and played at the University of Maine’s turf field this season.
Coach Gina Schuck said her girls loved the surface.
Maine’s turf resembles the old carpet-like Astroturf, not the grass-like FieldTurf that has become much more popular.
But some of their opponents feel they have an unfair advantage. There is also an injury concern.
Nokomis High School coach Katie Thompson and Dexter High coach Margaret Veazie both played there this season.
“It’s not that I don’t like it,” said Thompson, whose Warriors triumphed 1-0 in double overtime. “We have some kids who had played on it previously. But if you get to practice on it every day, it is clearly an advantage for them. Our kids were slipping on it. We don’t have turf shoes like they do.”
John Bapst athletic director Rick Sinclair said his players supply their own shoes and he said some prefer sneakers or cleats to turf shoes.
Thompson said having the wrong shoes can lead to injuries like pulled muscles. And because the ball moves faster, she is afraid one of the flyers (penalty corner defenders) will get hurt if they get hit with a shot.
“The flyers can use facemasks in college, but we can’t in high school, only goggles,” said Thompson.
Veazie said she “loves the game on the (Astroturf)” and that several of her girls play there during the summer.
“But it’s a huge advantage,” said Veazie. “It’s a very different game, even from FieldTurf. It’s such a big jump.”
Dexter and Nokomis have grass fields and Veazie said there are only three Astroturf fields in the state: Maine, Colby and Bowdoin.
Veazie said her team’s two games with John Bapst validate her contention.
Bapst scored three second-half goals to beat Dexter 3-1 in Orono, but Dexter won at home 2-0.
Veazie and Thompson said they wouldn’t find it as problematical if Bapst just played games on it and didn’t practice there.
Sinclair said it was an “11th-hour decision” to play at Maine since their grass Job Corps field in Bangor wasn’t available.
Schuck knew former Maine AD Blake James and Sinclair said, “The university was trying to reach out and get more people on their campus.”
Sinclair wouldn’t discuss the fee but said “it has been well worth it.”
“Our girls like playing on it and I thought our opponents did, too,” said Sinclair. “The people at the university have been great to us. And there haven’t been any more injuries than in years past.”
He also said his players are at a distinct disadvantage playing on grass fields.
One noticeable difference is the ball stays down better on Astroturf, so in that regard, it is safer than grass.
Sinclair hopes his team can play on it next year, and they should if they can afford it.
Every home field is an advantage, regardless of the surface.
Thompson and Veazie made good, compassionate points and they aren’t alone in their convictions.
But the Maine field is a first-class facility and the product is much better than games on grass fields, especially if the grass field is frozen or wet. It is also better than FieldTurf.
It may also be the only chance some girls get to play on that surface, so it will provide a lasting memory.
The Maine Principals’ Association should allow penalty-corner flyers to use facemasks at Maine and if there is a playoff game, the visiting team should be allowed to practice at least once on it.