South Terrebonne football coach Richard Curlin has spent nearly four decades either playing or coaching on the football field at South Terrebonne Memorial Stadium in Bourg.
He has seen how nasty the field conditions can get during football games due to constant rains in south Louisiana this time of year. While walking around the South Terrebonne field this week, Curlin said the field in serious need of repair due to mud and standing water everywhere.
“I’ve been looking at that same game field for almost 40 years and that’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” Curlin said. “I’ve never seen that game field that bad.”
The conditions at South Terrebonne’s football field were so wet and muddy this week that a scheduled District 7-4A football game between Vandebilt Catholic and Ellender High was moved to Thomas B. Smith Memorial Stadium on the campus of Terrebonne High School in Houma for 7 p.m. Thursday.
Ellender football coach David McCormick said work crews tried to put sand on the field at South Terrebonne to have it ready for Thursday, but the field was too saturated that they couldn't get machines on it to roll it.
Now Terrebonne’s field will host two football games this week – Vandebilt and Ellender on Thursday followed by Central Lafourche at H.L. Bourgeois at 7 p.m. Friday.
It is the second straight week that poor field conditions have forced a Terrebonne school to move its home football game.
Terrebonne had to move its District 7-5A game against Hahnville to Thibodaux High School last week due to what officials said were unsafe playing conditions at Thomas B. Smith Stadium, where the field was damaged even more following a game between H.L. Bourgeois and East St. John on Sept. 27.
Terrebonne athletic director Joe Clement said work crews put sand on the field at Terrebonne this week. If the rain stays away, Clement said the field at Terrebonne should be able to host the two varsity football games this week.
The conditions of both football fields have left many area coaches, players and fans hoping for the installation of artificial turf surfaces in the future, especially since the neighboring Lafourche Parish School Board has installed three new turf fields at Thibodaux, Central Lafourche and South Lafourche high schools this year.
Curlin, who has served as the head football coach at South Terrebonne for 30 years, said it is time for Terrebonne to follow suit.
“If this is not the time, I don’t know if there ever will be one,” Curlin said. “Playing on it is not going to do any good. Those fields are totally saturated and tore up. Right now there’s nothing you can do to make that field any better. In the next few years, something needs to be done."
The two Terrebonne football stadiums are busy throughout the school year. South Terrebonne and Ellender share South Terrebonne Memorial Stadium, and Terrebonne and H.L. Bourgeois split Thomas B. Smith Stadium.
The stadiums host varsity football games, junior-varsity games, freshman games, middle school events and Terrebonne Parish Recreation games. It is also used for soccer matches and other school related functions such as band festivals and track and field meets.
When the fields are muddy and wet during the week, local coaches said they have to move team practices into school gyms to stay dry, which hurts the team’s ability to properly prepare for the game that week.
Area coaches said the constant wear-and-tear takes its toll on the grass fields, which puts school-related functions at risk to either being canceled or moved to another off-campus facilities.
The coaches said turfing the fields will solve most of the problems.
“It’s not just about football, but for all of our extra circular activities that use the fields,” Terrebonne football coach Gary Hill said. “There’s something that needs to be done. It’s a small price to pay for the years you’re going to get out of it and the number of kids who are going to benefit from it. I don’t see how it will be a bad investment. It’ll be a tremendous investment for each school that will be able to use it.”
McCormick said dealing with unsafe playing conditions at both fields have caused many frustrating problems, including moving home football games to other road venues due to muddy fields in recent seasons. He said losing home football games will cost the school thousands of dollars in revenue.
“We’re moving it because of the safety of the kids, but it also hurts financially,” McCormick said. “The constant use on the fields we have now is too much. We’ve heard talk before about getting turf fields but it never happened. Hopefully they realize it’s embarrassing when teams have to go out of parish to play home games. It’s a big safety issue, so hopefully we can fix the situation this year.”
HELP ON THE WAY?
Over the years, the Terrebonne Parish School Board has performed many studies looking at the costs and benefits of adding turf.
The School Board put aside $200,000 to go toward adding turf to both stadiums in 2014, but the project stalled due to a slump in the local economy. In 2014, the School Board spent $10,000 to re-sod a damaged grass and soil at Terrebonne after a torrential downpour during a football game.
Terrebonne School Board member Gregory Harding has pushed for getting Field Turf, an artificial turf surface used at many high school, college and pro stadiums, installed at the parish’s two public school football stadiums, for years.
Unlike Lafourche, Harding said Terrebonne doesn’t have a millage system specifically set up that would fund maintenance work to pay for things like artificial turf surfaces and other school building upgrades.
Lafourche citizens voted to renew a pre-existing millage to put $3.5 million toward turf fields and other improvements at Thibodaux, Central Lafourche and South Lafourche high school stadiums last year.
With the current state of the grass fields in Terrebonne this season, Harding has put the artificial turf fields item on the agenda to be discussed at the buildings committee meeting at the school board office at 5 p.m. Monday.
The Terrebonne Parish School Board is planning to make future additions to the buildings at Mulberry Elementary School. Once the cost of that project is known, Harding said the school board will see how much money is left in the buildings to possibly pay for turf at the football fields at Thomas B. Smith Stadium and South Terrebonne Memorial Stadium.
Harding said having turf will eliminate the need to waste money on repairing the grass fields every week.
“I think it’s a no-brainer,” Harding said. “I think they need to do it. If the money is there, I’m a 100 percent supporter of putting artificial turf on the football fields at Terrebonne and South Terrebonne. I think the time is now to do this. I just think it is needed being in south Louisiana and the amount of teams that use those fields."
Terrebonne school Superintendent Philip Martin said he is aware of the current field condition problems and the possible need to get artificial turf soon.
“It’s just the beginning stages,” Martin said. “I don’t think anybody is opposed to turf. Everyone will agree that it will be nice, but I think most of the concern is how much is it going to cost. Those are some things we’ll be looking at.”
First-year H.L. Bourgeois head football coach Ryan Fournier said he believes that all four public high schools in Terrebonne deserve their own on-campus stadiums.
If each school had their own football stadium, Fournier said, it will cut down the amount of games played at the Terrebonne and South Terrebonne fields. He also said it would prevent any “unfair advantages” Terrebonne and South Terrebonne would get from having turf on their campuses.
“I don't think turf is the answer," Fournier said. "I think each school having their own home stadium is the answer. If you have turf at Terrebonne and South Terrebonne’s stadiums, then us (H.L. Bourgeois) and Ellender are still practicing on mud while those two schools are still practicing on turf and that’s not right. I can’t understand why our kids don’t deserve to play a home football game on our campus.”
Fournier said having their own stadium in Gray will give them more of a home-field advantage.
“It will solve a lot of issues,” Fournier said. “It would allow our families in Gibson and Schriever to not have to drive 30 minutes to see a home football game. They can come right here to Gray and see our kids play in a home game on our campus.”
If Terrebonne and South Terrebonne get turf in the future, McCormick said a possible solution would be to put the small artificial surfaces on the practice fields at Ellender and H.L. Bourgeois.
Both Martin and Harding said Martin said it would be too expensive to build separate stadiums for H.L. Bourgeois and Ellender.
“We definitely don’t have the money for that,” Harding said. “That might be something we can look at down the line, but as of right now, the most important thing is getting turf on the two football fields at Terrebonne and South Terrebonne football stadiums.”