Natural grass fields are becoming increasingly rare in high school football

The days of lawn mowers and broadcast fertilizer spreaders are past. Well, almost.

A majority of Valley football teams and most high schools in general have made the move away from natural grass playing fields to artificial turf to prepare for and play their games.

Only a handful of teams in the RGV still play on natural grass. Among those is Frank Martinez’s Progreso Red Ants. District 16-4A Division II might as well be named “the district on grass,” because Progreso, Rio Hondo, Raymondville and Port Isabel all still play on grass. Martinez said he is proud of Progreso’s field, even as many opt to go new school over tradition.

“Personally, I came from Edcouch, and when I was at Edcouch, we had grass when I used to play,” Martinez said. “When you went into turf, obviously there’s a better look to it. Maintenance is a little bit different, but the whole aspect of playing football, especially when it’s drizzling, you’re playing out in the mud. That just brings back old memories for me, so I love playing in the grass. It’s just a different feeling. It feels more at home for me.”

The nuances of playing on a grass surface are often lost for teams that might not play a single opponent on natural grass all season. Martinez says his team is accustomed at all times.

“We practice on a daily basis, so when we play on grass, we’re used to the feeling as far making sure our cuts are done properly,” Martinez said. “I know playing on turf is a little bit different. Your cuts have to be a lot tighter, since you grip on a lot faster.”

Natural surfaces are more abundant in the Mid- and Lower Valley. At La Feria, Santa Maria, Santa Rosa, Monte Alto and Lyford, the grass is still watered and cut.

Progreso players practice away from the game field to preserve its integrity for Friday night action.

Now, turf is king. A trend that started around the turn of the millennium has transformed every large school district’s football fields and many small campuses, as well.

Brownsville’s Sam’s Stadium and PSJA ISD Stadium started the trend. Now, districts from Donna to La Joya to Valley View and Edinburg sport the clean look of the 1964 invention historically known as “AstroTurf,” which was made famous when the Houston Astrodome installed the product in 1966.

This summer, Rio Grande City ISD and La Villa installed turf at their fields. Turf is also set to be installed at Rio Grande City’s practice field, and at Grulla.

“I get the cost part of the equation,” Rio Grande City football coach and athletic coordinator Aaron Garcia said. “It might be a big cost now, but over time, it’s more cost-efficient than having to do maintenance year round. Also with turf, it’s more versatile. You don’t have to tell kids to stay off the grass. It can be used year-round.”

The Valley’s larger districts have gone beyond installing turf at just their main stadium. In 2016, McAllen ISD installed practice football turf at Memorial and Rowe, which double as soccer game fields in the spring. Turf was originally installed at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium in 2006. Brownsville ISD has done the same for its multiple high schools, giving their football and soccer teams equal footing with most of the Valley.

Garcia admitted that the feel and smell of playing on grass are elements he misses. Still, he’s happy his program can train and play on the same surface as the teams he’ll face all season. The other nine teams in the newly formed District 16-5A Division I play on turf.

“I’m glad the kids in this community and the fans will get to enjoy the beautiful facility at Joe R. Sanchez Stadium this season,” Garcia said. “If it’s good enough for the Dallas Cowboys, it’s good enough for us.”

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