Last fall’s football “Mud Bowl” with Staunton River is a thing of the past at William Byrd High School. Among improvements to be done to the athletic facilities at Byrd will be an artificial turf surface on the field at Patterson Stadium.
Work on the improvements will begin in May, and will include the field, a new rubberized track, and lights on the practice fields. All work is expected to be done by the fall, but the practice fields won’t be addressed until all the work is done on the stadium field.
“It’s something we really need,” said Byrd athletic director Jason Taylor. “Our game field gets so much use, we don’t have a true growing season. Last spring there were three days, not counting Sundays, when nothing was on the field.”
The Patterson Stadium field is shared by the high school and middle school football teams in the fall. In the spring the soccer teams take over and Byrd also plays some lacrosse on the field. That doesn’t count practices and band rehearsals and the like.
“We’d like a nice, Bermuda grass field,” said Taylor. “But in our case it’s just not possible. This isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”
Byrd football coach Jeff Highfill has been coaching at Patterson Stadium since the days when Bob Patterson was principal at Byrd. He’s been the football and/or soccer coach for 36 years.
“Certainly a nice grass field would be preferable, but this is the best thing for our situation,” he said. “With all the wear and tear it gets, it’s the best move.”
Ironically the change comes when Byrd is changing boys’ soccer coaches. Highfill was the only boys’ coach since Byrd started the sport, but retired from soccer after last season and was replaced by Matt Guilliams. Highfill took advantage of the narrow football lines by having a strong player to throw the ball in toward the goal, and then having players scrapping in front of the cage for a score. The Terriers scored lots of goals that way over the years.
The new field will be wider, making that a little tougher. It will also change the style of the game, as the field will be flat instead of having the big drainage crown of the past. It will also be a much faster game on turf.
“It will really change of the speed of the game,” said Highfill. “It will lend itself to the skilled, fast teams.”
As for football, it shouldn’t make a lot of difference in the style of play. What it will do is eliminate games like the one last fall when Byrd beat Staunton River on a muddy surface after a couple days of rain.
“That game actually helped,” said Taylor. “After that game the field was so torn up no one could play on it for three weeks and that allowed us to aerate, seed and roll it.”
The new turf field will have a logo in the middle, probably a Terrier paw. It will be ringed by a new, rubberized track with six lanes circling the infield and eight lanes down the stretch.
“We wanted to do eight lanes all around but there just wasn’t enough room,” said Taylor.
The practice fields, below the football scoreboard, will also get a makeover. The irrigation system will be redone and lights will be installed for two, game sized fields. That will allow teams to practice later in the evening and not worry about the water that collects in the low standing field after a hard rain.
As mentioned, the stadium field is first priority and work will begin in May.
“We won’t start the practice fields until the stadium is done,” said Taylor. “Our goal is to be playing on turf in August.”