GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
NFL artificial and natural turf consultant George Toma stood on the newly installed turf at Aloha Stadium. Toma says the turf's drainage system has yet to be tested with a moderate rainfall.
Expert George Toma says
the FieldTurf will help
When Ronald Oyama was a kid at Kaimuki High School in the 1980s, he'd play football on a rock pile if necessary.
Today, he wants his Bulldogs to possess that same tough mentality now that he is head coach at his alma mater. At the same time, though, Oyama is among those who are thankful that Aloha Stadium has what promises to be a kinder, gentler field this season.
"We've always been, 'play anyone, anywhere.' But we've had some serious injuries (at Aloha Stadium)," Oyama said. "In 1991, Tonu Mamea separated his shoulder when it got jammed into the turf. And in 1996, another one of our quarterbacks, Bradon Moore, had his arm broken because it got planted wrong in the turf."
Oyama and others are hopeful injuries will decrease now that the stadium has a new, softer artificial surface called FieldTurf. Kaimuki plays Pac-Five on Aug. 23 in what will be the first game on the new field.
Stadium manager Eddie Hayashi and NFL consultant George Toma proclaimed yesterday the surface was emplaced. It ended months of work, including reshaping the stadium floor and installation. There was plenty of controversy as well over replacing an AstroTurf surface that still has four years left on its warranty and cost the state $2.4 million.
The FieldTurf cost more than $1.3 million to install, with the state paying $800,000 and the NFL pitching in $500,000. The NFL -- the league office and the players' union -- made a major push for the new surface, and Hawaii might have lost the Pro Bowl it hosts each year if the AstroTurf wasn't changed.
Proponents of the new surface say you can't put a price tag on the health of players.
"People complain about the $800,000, but that's cheap. The state should be proud of what they have now," said Toma, a renowned expert on playing surfaces, who monitored the installation. "It's not just for the university, not just for the Pro Bowl. It's really for those young kids. The cheapest insurance for any athlete is a good, safe playing field. It's money well spent."
UH football coach June Jones was a vocal proponent for the surface. He blamed several injuries of Warriors players on the AstroTurf. Brigham Young coach Gary Crowton also said the old turf caused many injuries to his players when UH beat BYU 72-45 in 2002.
"It's going to benefit everyone," Jones said. "All the high school kids and the college teams, and the Pro Bowl players. Plus, it's going to open up a whole new potential for revenue making for the state in (international) soccer and other things."
Hawaii High School Athletic Association executive director Keith Amemiya also believes injuries will decrease.
"One of our most important missions is ensuring the safety of our student-athletes," he said. "From all indications, playing on FieldTurf rather than a harder artificial surface is a very big step in the direction of safety."
There is at least one potential problem remaining, though. Toma said he cannot predict how effective the field's drainage system will be when it rains. He said that will only be determined with at least a moderate rainfall -- something that hasn't happened since work on the installation began April 1.
The drainage aspect was one of several concerns voiced by the Stadium Authority last year before it approved the project.
"I voted for it and I'm excited it's in and I'm all for what's best for our athletes," said Michael Green, one of the Stadium Authority's most vocal questioners of the project last year. "I can only tell you I've got my fingers crossed we don't have a big storm as people arrive for a game at 5 p.m. (and) we have a big swamp. I hope we don't end up having to play our (UH) games on Maui."
Another hot topic that has come up is field temperature. The FieldTurf "grass" blades retain a lot of heat, Toma said. But he added this shouldn't be a problem -- even for hot day games in Hawaii -- because the field can be watered down and cooled off an hour before the game.
"That will drop the temperature 5 to 10 degrees, and most games here aren't played during the day," he said.
The biggest issue, whether for the high school, college or pro players, remains the potential decrease in injuries. But as Toma said, football is a dangerous, violent game, and the injuries will never be totally eliminated.
"(Former Kansas City Chiefs coach) Hank Stram told me once that you can play on a pillow of marshmallows and someone will still get hurt," he said.
Oyama -- who has played and coached many games at Aloha Stadium -- is well aware of that.
"For us, we just want to play the game," he said. "And we enjoy playing in the stadium."