Friday, March 19, 2010

Merrill Field

Merrill Field-Alfred University

Merrill Field is the home for many of the Alfred University Athletic Sports Teams. The Men’s and Women’s Soccer Teams, The Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Teams and the Football Team all play their home games at this site. The Field is located on the bottom of the hill behind and adjacent to the McLane Center in back of Main Street. The Field is comprised of Astroturf with bleachers flanking either side. The bleachers on the side that is closest to Main Street are designated for Alfred supporters, while the smaller set of bleachers on the other side are designated for supporters of Alfred’s opponents. The Astroturf, which was installed in 1999, is an “Astroturf 12” system. The materials within this field surface include antimicrobial protection, a rubber infill, backing systems, and nylon yarn fibers and plastic. Astroturf was first publicized heavily in the Houston Astrodome, home of the former NFL football team the Houston Oilers (Now the Tennessee Titans). This type of field requires no maintenance, in contrast to grass fields and has its pros and cons.

The fact is, that the Astroturf that Alfred University still uses on Merrill Field is obsolete. New Synthetic Turf Grass is generally the preferred synthetic turf to be used. It is very rare to find sports teams that still play on an “Astroturf 12” system. NFL teams constantly had teams play on Astroturf in both outdoor stadiums and domed stadiums. Teams that used to play on this form of field in the NFL include: The Buffalo Bills, The Cincinnati Bengals, The New York Jets, The Detroit Lions, The Minnesota Vikings, The Indianapolis Colts, and others. However, Astroturf is no longer used by any NFL teams, but has been replaced by the more optimal synthetic field turf. The Indianapolis Colts were the last team to transition in 2005.

Merrill Field still serves its initial function which is to host intercollegiate athletic matches and serve as a field for Alfred teams to practice on in preparation for their games. In 1991 the press box at Merrill Field was rededicated in memory of the late Johnny Nelson, who spent 32 years publicizing AU teams as Sports Information Director. The bleachers hold a capacity of roughly 5,000 people. For most soccer and lacrosse games, this capacity is not threatened. However, with the recent successes of the football team, Merrill Field has been packed on Saturday home games in recent years. There were fears that due to structural deficiencies and insufficient load bearing capacities that the stadium would not be able to host football games this past fall. However, football was held at Merrill Field and the problem was remedied.

Merrill Field serves more as a social ritual function than an identity formation functioning. Although Merrill Field has some unique features such as the Astroturf, practically every collegiate institution maintains athletic facilities for the same purposes of housing competitions in various sports. Alfred is no different in this respect. Merrill Field can be said to adequately perform this function as a majority of the outdoor teams are able to play their home games in front of a potential audience of up to 5,000 people. The band and the cheering sections make up an identity for Alfred. However, home crowd advantage is not contingent on Merrill Field, so I think that this venue serves more of a social ritual function.

Merrill Field is marketed for Alfred students and future student athletes. It is a symbol of sport and recreation for students which is definitely different than the symbol of the buildings that line Academic Ally. Campus tours always involve Merrill Field and athletes who are considering coming to campus can tour all of the athletic facilities to see how they may enjoy playing their home games at Alfred.

Due to the new innovative synthetic turfs, along with older bleachers and press box, Alfred’s stadium looks somewhat out of date. The new fake turfs are relatively expensive to install, and seeing how Alfred had just installed the Astroturf 11 years ago, it stands to reason that they may not change any time soon. The synthetic turfs, which look closer to grass than they do to Astroturf, are equally as easy to maintain and are thought to provide a gentler playing surface for athletes. For example, when a football player gets tackled, the new turf feels softer than the Astroturf and cushions the fall better.

Many students enjoy coming to Merrill Field to cheer on their team. Many athletes have issues with playing on Astroturf however. Inherent injuries are associated with playing on this kind of surface. These injuries include “turf toe,” and many problematic knee injuries. The new synthetic turf plays softer and is gentler on the knees, which cause many athletes, especially football players, to prefer that playing surface.

The design improves us because it provides a setting where students can unite to cheer for Alfred. However, modifications to the design would go a long way to improve us further. Inserting a new playing surface may cut down on injuries and protect the athletes. More modern bleachers would make for a more enjoyable experience for the fans.

The new synthetic grass offers a competing idea. Although it is relatively expensive to insert, this new field surface would offer a new, more modern look for Merrill Field. There are certainly newer technologies and materials that could go to improve the bleachers. Merrill Field has an older look and certainly these competing ideas should cause at least some discussion amongst the powers that be.

Merrill Field is in ways a responsible design and in other ways is not. It adequately serves its function, and in this way it is responsible. However, due to the number of injuries associated with Merrill Field due to the Astroturf, it is irresponsible. It seems that when the field was constructed it was not expected to ever have to hold 5,000 people and when the football team became successful, adjustments were made on the fly to accommodate fans.

Is it necessary to insert the new, synthetic playing turf which will reduce the number of injuries and help protect athletes, or should that be a lesser concern when compared to other academic budget concerns?

1 comment:

  1. Merrill Field

    Jake Merrill donated the land for the athletic field and the names for Merrill Field, Merrill Field House and Merrill Field Box Press were named in his honor. Merrill Field was built on the land behind Main Street and in front of Pine Hill. Merrill Field House (1921-1982) original construction date is unknown. Merrill Field was one of the first college stadiums with permanent lighting, installed in 1930 so the University football team could play its home games on Saturday nights in deference to Sabbath observance. Better lighting was later installed in 1942. (Seventh Day Baptists, which was most of the Alfred population during this time, observe the Biblical Sabbath which begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday) Floods in 1935 and 1942 destroyed the field which had to be rebuilt. In 1977 the field was used for all varsity sports. It was previously used for only football, ROTC drills and commencement. The field house was removed in 1982 when a new field house was added to the McLane Center. A new press box and bleachers were installed in 1983. Important people associated with the field include Johnny Nelson and Jake Merrill.

    Merrill Field has been linked to MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). MRSA is a severe antibiotic-resistant version of the more common staph infection. This is something that just doesn’t appear. “The most logical source of contamination is the players themselves. There are a tremendous amount of body fluids that end up on the turf,” said professor of biology Jean Cardinale. Athletic Director Jim Moretti explained that these turf burns are a “natural consequence” of playing any contact sport. Athletic Trainer Andrea Wilkinson stated that the number of cases per year at the university ranges from zero to three. Under anonymity several alumni who played contact sports admitted that a post-game tradition may also be a source of MRSA cases. The tradition consists of several players urinating on the 50-yard line of Merrill Field after consuming alcohol. Urine like blood is another contaminates that could carry MRSA. (Fiat Lux Vol. 104 No. 12)

    Future Plans
    In May 2010 President Edmondson is scheduled to present a plan to the Board of Trustees regarding options to finance a project to replace the aging artificial turf and bleachers.