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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Freeman High School installs full-turf surface on football field

Freeman High School, located in Rockford, has installed a full-turf surface on Kent Smith Field.

The turf will be available for use by Freeman’s football and soccer programs, as well as the Freeman School District athletics and performing arts departments.

Freeman’s school board made a list of needs and priorities a few years ago. The school tackled the turf and lights project after other needs were met.

“It’s been one of the most complex projects we’ve worked on in the past 12 years. There were multiple reasons,” said Randy Russell, superintendent of the Freeman School District. “One is trying to have a common level of excellence for our facilities across the campus. We were putting quite a bit of money and resources into our existing site to try to keep it usable and ready to go.”

Last winter, the Freeman School Board approved a movement to install turf on the field. Construction began as school ended in June. The field will be used for the football and soccer teams’ practices and games.

One of the primary concerns of turf surfaces is the potential for injuries, specifically blows to the head. Russell said the new turf field at Freeman is safe.

“There was a lot of research, over a year’s worth, looking at pros and cons of grass versus turf,” he said. “After looking at factors like safety issues, playability and performance, I think it’s going to be a huge plus. It’s a win-win all the way around. That’s one of the main charges of a school district is to offer great programs and support for kids and to continuously improve a student’s experience while they’re in school, and we’re doing both.”

The Scotties’ football and soccer programs had to prepare for playoff games at University High School due to poor conditions at Freeman during the 2022-23 academic year.

The primary reason behind installing turf is the lack of water outside. There is only one well that contains all the water the school can use. The school board agreed that a new outdoor facility was the best use of the school’s leftover capital funds.

“It mainly stemmed from the lack of water out there and how to upgrade our facilities because our indoor facilities looked great, but our outdoor facilities needed some work,” Freeman Athletic Director Chad Ripke said. “Our football team always practiced on it, and it was just in rough shape, so this enables our football and soccer teams to practice and play games on the field.”

Water isn’t the only material the school intends to conserve by installing turf. The turf surface has painted yard lines and hash marks, meaning there will be much less grounds crew work to be done.

Aside from the turf installment, Kent Smith Field also received new field lights; the residential lights had created problems in the past. The complete makeover of Freeman’s outdoor sports complex cost the school approximately $1.7 million.

The money came from the capital projects levy, as well as leftover government money from the HVAC project at Freeman Middle School.

Freeman planned to complete renovations on Kent Smith Field on Aug. 1. Ripke has high hopes for the new surface and is excited for the community.

“You know the benefit,” Ripke said. “It can be used year-round by any of our sports teams. There are several months out of the year where that field was soft and wet, and it just wasn’t very usable. A small school having something like that is great for the Freeman community.”

While there is some controversy surrounding turf and player safety, Freeman has done everything it can to maximize the well-being of its players.

“We put a pad underneath our turf for extra protection against concussions,” Ripke said. “The G Max rating for helmets and bodies hitting the turf is as safe as we can get it. I have no safety concerns in regards to grass versus turf.”

G Max is a unit of measurement that quantifies the hardness of a surface.

Freeman’s athletic program has shown gratitude and appreciation for the turf installment. Many football and soccer players are used to playing on turf complexes and prefer it over grass.

“Our soccer coach, Dave Ellis, and his team are extremely excited,” Ripke said. “Our football coach, Ben Cochran, is just chomping at the bit to be able to get his team out there. The kids are super excited.”

Russell said community support has been positive.

“Students, families, our community as a whole has been supportive,” Russell said. “It’s just been awesome to see this kind of support.”

Liam Bradford's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.