Star-Bulletin Sports


Cayetano sees
new turf by August

Meanwhile, the company that makes
AstroTurf makes a plea for the status quo

By Dave Reardon

Apparently, the company that makes AstroTurf doesn't want the rug pulled out from under it.

In recent days, the movement to replace the AstroTurf at Aloha Stadium with a softer, supposedly more player-friendly surface called Fieldturf has gained momentum. Gov. Ben Cayetano has become a vocal proponent, and yesterday he said he thinks Fieldturf can be installed at Aloha Stadium by the start of football season.

"I feel pretty good about the chances of new turf being in by the first high school game," Cayetano said. "I believe the turf has to be replaced."

Cayetano spoke after a news conference for the new Hawaii Bowl, which will be played Dec. 25 at Aloha Stadium. His comments came two days after a meeting he called that included members of the Stadium Authority, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and representatives of the NFL.

Cayetano and others in attendance said the meeting was productive and that they would move toward the switch.

But if AstroTurf has its way, there will be no change. An executive vice president of Southwest Recreational Industries (which makes AstroTurf) sent a letter to Cayetano dated May 17, defending his company's product.

Jim Savoca addressed negative publicity, including complaints from Brigham Young coach Gary Crowton. Crowton said the playing surface caused injuries in BYU's game at Hawaii last year, and that the Cougars won't play on it again.

Savoca refuted Crowton's claims and others.

"There is no history of injuries at Aloha Stadium. This is not a trend, but a one-game aberration from a team that lost 72-45!" Savoca wrote.

He also pointed out that the AstroTurf meets industry standards and that products like Fieldturf "are relatively new."

"AstroTurf has been studied and analyzed since its invention in 1965. There is not a single recognized study that shows AstroTurf as being unsafe," Savoca wrote.

"This is nothing more than an orchestrated strategy to pressure the State of Hawaii to replace a perfectly good AstroTurf field," he continued.

Cayetano indicated yesterday that he wasn't familiar with the letter.

"I'm not concerned about it. I haven't said anything about AstroTurf. I'm not criticizing AstroTurf," he said. "I'm convinced Fieldturf is a better product."

In order to contract with Fieldturf specifically, the state will have to use a sole-bid process to exclude competitors. Could that cause legal backlash from AstroTurf or other competitors?

"That is a concern. (But) we believe we have an answer for that," Cayetano replied, without going into details.

The Stadium Authority has balked at replacing the AstroTurf. The current turf has five years left on its warranty, and cost Hawaii taxpayers $2.4 million.

"Their questions have to be answered before you rip up a 3-year-old turf that still has a warranty," Cayetano said of the Stadium Authority. "They're to be commended. They're my appointees, but I don't appoint rubber stamps."

The NFL stages the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium each year. The league's contract with the Hawaii Tourism Authority has been a major impetus toward changing the stadium surface. The NFL and the NFL Players' Association, as well as college coaches, have requested a change. The NFL's contract with the HTA includes the game being played on what the league considers a suitable surface.

"If they don't change it, they'll lose the Pro Bowl," said Marcia Klompus, president of the Maui Hula Bowl. "That's why the Hula Bowl moved. We wanted a grass field."

The University of Hawaii and high school teams also play at Aloha Stadium. The first scheduled high school games this year are Aug. 23, and UH's first game is Aug. 31.

"As long as the playing surface is ready to go before our first game, we've got no problem with changing the surface," said Keith Amemiya, executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association. "If Fieldturf is safer than AstroTurf, as many people are suggesting, then a switch to Fieldturf is great for our high school student athletes."

John Gilman, the CEO of Fieldturf, provided the HTA with a proposal to install the surface for $877,500, and wrote that it can be done in two weeks. Representatives from the NFL have indicated they will share in the cost.

Cayetano also noted yesterday that other major changes could occur soon at Aloha Stadium -- and a replacement for the venue, which hosts 200 events each year, will eventually be needed.

"I foresee a time when UH will control the stadium," he said. "I also think a committee should be formed soon to plan a new stadium. This one will probably be good for only 10 or 15 more years."

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