John F. Russell: Synthetic stains vs. real dirt

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— I like mud.

I like the vision of a defensive lineman covered in the stuff, arms stretched as far as he can reach the moment before he collapses on an opposing quarterback. I like the vision of a powerful bronco dancing in an arena full of the stuff as it tries to unseat a tough-as-nails cowboy. I like mud and what mud brings to just about every sporting event I’ve ever photographed.

Mud adds emotion, mud adds character and mud makes life a little more interesting to look at on a cold, gray day. Sure, there are plenty of things about sports that add character, but nothing adds color like mud.

That’s why I wasn’t smiling a few years ago when a group of local residents got together with the idea of covering Gardner Field with a synthetic material. I knew the new synthetic surface would mean an end to those late-October football games where the mix of snow, rain and a grass field resulted in mud-filled battles that can leave an impression not easily washed away with time.

I realized that grass-stained jerseys and grimy uniforms would no longer rule on the all-natural surface that had been the site of so many epic high school clashes in fall and spring. The clashes continued, but the uniforms were cleaner.

I knew the group of parents was going to be successful in raising the money and support for the new field, which was completed in August 2006. I also knew that in the long run it would be good for high school sports in our valley, even if I was losing out on the photo opportunities I cherished.

The funny thing is that it was a photograph that ran in our paper last week by local resident Sherry Longbottom that showed just how important the synthetic surface is to the students at the Steamboat Springs High School. The image shows dozens of athletes running and competing on the snow-covered field and the track that surrounds it during a spring storm.

Before the addition of the synthetic surface, that field would have been hidden — sleeping under several feet of snow — as the spring sports season passed. By the time the snow melted, the season would have been nearing an end, and the students would have spent most of their springtime practicing inside the high school gym. Many of the benefits that spring sports offer would have been lost in the snow and mud of the season.

Thanks to the synthetic surface, athletes at Steamboat Springs High School get the chance to step outside to practice, they get the chance to compete at home in spring, and they have an opportunity to be competitive on the playing field at home and away.

Sure, I miss the mud and the character it added to the game. But I have to admit that the field seems to have paid off for the athletes who call Steamboat Springs home, and it’s especially evident in the spring.

—To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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