STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — Just before the 2018 football season started, Wade Whiteside and his son, Braidon, were looking at photos of Mustang Stadium from a few years ago.
The elder Whiteside noted the turf back then was taller, and others have said it was greener. Braidon, a member of the varsity Marble Falls Mustangs football team, understands firsthand the importance of the turf and its role in absorbing an impact.
But eight years of use forced the Marble Falls Independent School District facilities planning committee, a group made up of residents, to take a closer look at Mustang Stadium last spring. The district put the committee together in April to evaluate MFISD facilities and make recommendations for improvement and upgrades.
After reviewing the stadium,committee members advised school officials in July that they should replace both the turf and the track at an estimated cost of $900,000.
The cost of the upgrades is part of a $55 million bond package that will go before Marble Falls Independent School District voters during the Nov. 6 election. The bond includes a number of safety and security measures as well.
MFISD officials are hosting several upcoming presentations about the bond package. They are set for 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, in the MFISD Central Office Community Room, 1800 Colt Circle; 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, in the Marble Falls High School library, 2101 Mustang Drive; 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25, in the Spicewood Elementary School library, 1005 Spur 191; and 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1, in the Highland Lakes Elementary School cafeteria and library, 8200 RR 1431 in Granite Shoals. The last meeting will be held in English and Spanish.
Mustang Stadium was built thanks to a 2006 bond. Going into the election, voters were told the turf’s lifespan was 10 years.
School district officials have had the turf’s impact, commonly referred to as G-max testing, examined. This measures the shock attenuation performance of sports surfaces, including synthetic or artificial turf and natural athletic fields. Test results or G-max values are a ratio: maximum acceleration (deceleration) experienced during an impact to the normal rate of acceleration because of gravity. The higher the G-max rating, the poorer the shock-attenuation performance of the surface. Measuring impact-attenuation is a fundamental tool of athletic field safety testing and the playability of a field.
Simply, when a player falls, the impact is either absorbed by the playing surface or the player’s body. The “harder” the surface, according to reports, the greater the amount of the impact absorbed by the player’s body, which increases the chances for injuries.
Currently the G-max rating of the synthetic turf at Mustang Stadium is at 175. The University Interscholastic League has a cutoff of 200.
“If it’s over 200, by UIL rule, we’re not allowed to play on it,” MFISD Superintendent Chris Allen said. “It’s a student safety issue.”
The committee’s concern involves the track’s Lane 8, which is currently not useable and limits opportunities to host meets. Bubbles are forming on the track, committee members said, making it a safety issue. Allen noted the track has “cracks, tears, and uneven running surfaces.”
“(That) can increase the likelihood of an athlete falling during a race or workout,” Allen said. “In addition, a compromised running surface may lead to degradation of the track’s base and lead to more costly repairs.”
“What this amounts to is safety and maintenance,” said bond committee member Todd Hickingbottom. “That’s the two main things on turf and track. It’s not to put anything in to one-up another community. It’s for all sports that play.”
While Mustang Stadium is associated with football, the facility is used for so much more.
The stadium starts the school year in August during football training camp and never enjoys an offseason. From August through the first half of November, the high school football teams, which have more than 120 student-athletes each year, play their homes games there. The Mustang band, cheerleaders, and Starlettes dance team perform during the fall, shining brightly under the Friday night lights. Because of the participation of so many, football is more of an event and less of a game.
Once football finishes, the soccer teams take to the fields for after-school practices following Thanksgiving and play until March.
While the soccer teams are practicing in the spring, pole vaulters and high jumpers are practicing at the back of each end zone as runners round the track or hurdle. This year, thanks to sophomore phenom Bailey Goggans, who won state gold and bronze medals, the track season didn’t end until May, just in time for 18 spring football practices.
Football and soccer camps and 7-on-7 football games are conducted on the field during the month of June. Summer strength-and conditioning sessions begin in June and end in August in time for fall training camps.
Physical education students are constantly walking the track during the school year. Graduation ceremonies are at Mustang Stadium, too.
“It’s used all the time,” Allen said. “There’s no way to do it on a grass field. It would tear it up.”
Safety is the No. 1 objective. With so many athletes playing, people want to see each player exit the field the same way they took it.
Whiteside wants to spare other families the worry and concern he had when he saw his son, Braidon, lying on the turf with a knee injury last season. The younger Whiteside missed the final three games last season but returned to the team to play this year.
Wade Whiteside recalled that, in a stadium that seats 5,000 just on the home side, not a peep was made when his son went down. The stadium was so quiet that people shifting weight from one leg to another could have been heard.
“I don’t think he was thinking about winning when he hurt his knee,” Whiteside said. “I wasn’t thinking about winning when he was hurt. Is there a question about winning when the kid is hurt? I want to see my son have a winning season his senior year. But if a kid is hurt, we don’t think about winning. At that moment, we’re all concerned about that child.”
The committee members can’t get past that part: safety and ensuring that students can compete in the sports they love without worry about playing surfaces.
“We don’t want to see kids get hurt,” Hickingbottom said. “We don’t want to see kids go down because of our negligence as a community. We want to make sure that field is safe.”
“So we can continue to do all the fun things we can do,” Allen said.
Go to marblefallsisd.org for more information on the bond or attend one of the upcoming meetings.