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Gorches: Whiting breaks ground on turf project so many other schools should consider

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Updated: May 13, 2013 6:49AM



As I was listening to different Whiting school officials on Thursday — from superintendent Sandra Martinez to principal Jay Harker and so on — explain their feelings about the new turf field that will be installed at the Oilers’ football stadium, Ray P. Gallivan Field, my thoughts veered off course to the numerous Northwest Indiana schools without turf.

Griffith, Andrean, Bishop Noll, Lake Station, River Forest, Lowell, Kankakee Valley, Lake Central (though that will change once the new school is built and subsequent new football stadium), three of the four Hammond schools — come to think of it, why can’t all four Hammond public schools have turf when Morton has had it for a few years now?

My brain diverting off course was interrupted when Whiting athletic director Paul Laub recalled the trip he and football coach Jeff Cain made to St. Louis more than a month ago to check out a few schools that had the turf they were looking at — Shaw Sports Turf. Laub said on the way home, they both thought, “Why not Whiting?”

When he said that, I almost immediately thought that those other much bigger region schools should look in the mirror and ask, “Why not us?”

Especially when Whiting officially became the second Class 1A football school in Indiana to change from grass to a much safer, much more inexpensive turf (Knightstown is the other).

Then it was like Laub stole the thought from my brain: “Next year other schools will be sitting in the stands wondering, ‘Why not our school?’”

Darn you, Paul! Nice thought.

And he’s absolutely right.

Changing to turf isn’t just a football decision.

It’s not just a financial decision.

It’s not just a safety decision.

It’s all of the above, and much more.

Turf is safer and cheaper to maintain than grass. And it’s good for the football team in more ways than one. Now Whiting doesn’t have to practice on a small field behind the locker rooms to save the playing surface at the stadium.

You’d have to live in the Little City by the Lake to completely understand what football means to its residents, even though the Oilers haven’t won a sectional since 1997.

“Some schools play football, but at Whiting we live football, and next year we’ll be living the dream,” Cain said.

He added that the official team slogan in the fall will be “Live it,” though he tossed in another possibility that has new meaning now: “Defend our turf.”

The turf helps several school activities. Cheerleading can practice on it, as well as the band and every gym class.

It was fitting on Thursday that it was chilly and rainy at the time of the groundbreaking. It was also typical Whiting that a loud train passed by some 50 yards to the east just as the officials were getting ready to ground their shovels.

“It’s a unique synergy that athletics has with our community,” Martinez said. “I look forward to standing outside — not in the rain — for the ribbon cutting ceremony in August.”

The journey to the “new era of Whiting sports,” as Mayor Joe Stahura put it, started in the fall of 2011 when Laub called eight high school athletic directors with turf and listened to them laud its advantages.

It continued with the one-day trip to St. Louis that Cain said began at 4:30 a.m. and ended with a return to Whiting at 5 p.m.

And maybe, for Whiting’s loyal, success-starved football fans, it ends similarly to the professional football team playing at M&T Bank Stadium that uses Shaw Sports Turf on both its practice and stadium fields — the Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl in February.



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