Madison County and more than 70 percent of Illinois may be in an extreme drought, according to the National Climatic Data Center, but there's one field in the Metro East that doesn't need sprinklers.
"We have not watered a single drop," said Collinsville High School athletic director Chris Kusnerick of his school's new synthetic turf football field installed this spring.
Though the Kahoks don't have to worry about irrigating their football field, most Metro East high schools do. The drought has left several sports fields dried up.
"We are going to have to move practices to the outfield at the baseball field, because some of our fields are so dry and cracked," said Granite City High School athletic director Daren DePew.
Besides looking unsightly, bone-dry fields can actually pose a threat to student athletes in the form of rolled ankles and extreme lower leg pain. It's something coaches say they'll be on the lookout for today during fall sports tryouts.
"The quality of the field plays a role in injury incidence," said Triad High School athletic trainer Jack Edgar. "It's a big deal."
Plush, grassy playing fields keep the ground cushioned, Edgar pointed out.
"Put those guys in cleats and have them run around on a surface as hard as concrete and you're going to see an increase in lower leg pain," he said.
More commonly known as 'shin splints," this lower leg pain results from muscle inflammation around the lower leg bone, or the tibia, that comes with increased physical activity like running. Edgar advised athletes take it easy if they're experience lower leg pain when practicing on parched fields. Continued use could lead to stress fractures along the foot bone or tibia that can put athletes out of play.
"There's just no good way to manage it," Edgar said. "The best way is to wear good fitting shoes and take ice and rest when you need it." Additionally, Edgar said he gives out a lot of Band-Aids when fields are dry. "You see an abundance of turf burns and scrapes. That hard brittle grass just skins up their elbows and knees like when they were little kids. If you have more abrasions, you have a higher rate of infection too."
Though rain would seem like a welcome party to alleviating dry fields, it can actually make them more dangerous.
"The drought has killed all the grass, and then you have mud. You step in that, leave a foot mark and when it dries you can roll your ankle in it," Edgar explained. "It ends up looking like a cow pasture with all the foot marks."
To prevent injury, schools are improvising. Many of the underclassmen fields for soccer and baseball aren't watered at Granite City High School, so those teams will be practicing in the outfield of the school's varsity baseball field, said DePew. The varsity baseball field, soccer field, football stadium and varsity practice field are watered.
"We have a freshman soccer field that we're not sure we're going to be able to use because of the cracks," DePew said. "We want to make sure our kids are practicing in an area that's safe."
To keep gridirons green, Edgar said someone soaks non-irrigated fields at Triad High School with a high-powered hose.
Kusnerick, Collinsville's athletic director, said their turf field has helped cut down on manpower and spending they've seen in past seasons.
"We would have had someone out there watering daily, maybe even twice a day," he said. "Who knows what the water bill would have been."
Contact reporter Sarah Baraba at 618-344-0264, ext. 126