It doesn’t get much better than the Loyola Academy football program. Its home playing surface, though? There was room for improvement, according to school officials.
The school’s decade-old stadium turf at Hoerster Field in Wilmette was replaced in the fall as part of a $1.2-million project that also includes two upcoming turf replacements at Loyola’s Munz Campus in Glenview.
John Stutz, Loyola’s director of athletic facilities and grounds, said the old surface had run its course after 10-plus years of use.
“The No. 1 concern is the hardness of the field,” he said. “ … Some areas almost feel like playing on cement if you get tackled there or land in an awkward way. It’s not conducive of being safe for our players.”
Stutz said that turf facilities have advanced a lot in the past decade, which includes the development of shock pads.
A shock pad is an extra layer of protection — usually around a 1/2-inch thick — that goes under the turf. Stutz said it cost about $100,000 of the $635,000 replacement cost.
“It was a no-brainer to put it in,” he said. “It was the right thing to do. Any kid playing on the field is not prone to a concussion from a hit to the turf because of the turf. You can’t make football 100 percent safe but you can make big strides in how the player interacts with ground.”
The turf itself has similar density — 52-ounce face weight — to the turf used at the professional football level, said Stutz, a Wilmette native and New Trier High School graduate.
All the attributes, including the rubber infill, reduce the field’s GMAX, a score that measures the hardness of a surface. The measurement should not reach 160 — a benchmark at which the risk of concussions and other injuries drastically increases, Stutz said — over the new turf’s eight- to 10-year lifespan.
Stutz explained that the old surface hardened over time, as the rubber pieces used as infill compressed.
Loyola football coach John Holecek said there is a noticeable difference.
“You step on it and it’s so soft,” he said. “With the old turf, being 10 years old, it wears down and flattens. It wasn’t as cushiony. … It was time.”
When the football team will get to use it consistently is another question. Because of the pandemic, the football season was pushed from the fall season to the spring season, with a tentative start date in February.
The state’s increased mitigation efforts, however, have the already-delayed-season’s start in jeopardy, as in-person gatherings are limited to 10 people.
With other sports, such as basketball, also in a delay, school’s must solve a logistical puzzle for once mitigations are lifted. Holecek said he does not know how it will happen, but his program can be ready for game action on the new turf relatively quickly.
The surface replacement will be similar at the Munz Campus, where two fields used for lacrosse, soccer and field hockey will be re-turfed.
The project, however, is currently on hold as the pandemic shut down construction before winter weather came along.
During the delay, Loyola Academy is continuing to fundraise for the project.
According to the school, 41 supporters gave $635,000 to fund the Hoerster Field replacement. Efforts are now underway to raise an additional $670,000 for the Munz Campus portion of the project.