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School's athletic field doesn't take vacation

If you look inside the stadium at Mallard Creek High and think there's something odd about the field's appearance, you wouldn't be the first.

If you're standing far enough away, you gaze down at the field and think, “How did they get the grass so green?”

Well, it ain't grass. It's Sports Turf, and it has made Mallard Creek High Stadium the jewel of athletic fields in northeastern Mecklenburg County.

The high school is not the only entity that takes advantage of the field's unique surface. Through an arrangement between Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the stadium has become an attraction for other community and regional athletic events, especially this summer.

The field will be only a year old at the end of the summer and already has hosted local youth recreational football championships, a youth winter lacrosse league, and adult soccer and flag football in the spring.

In addition to the recent southeast U.S. regional high school lacrosse tournament, which included 42 teams from eight different states, Mallard Creek also is scheduled to host a high school football skills combine for 50-100 players, an adult women's lacrosse league, and a preseason high school boys' soccer jamboree, which will include the Mavericks' team, through the end of the summer.

“I think the best advantage of the field is that it can sustain so much use,” said Karen McKaig, Mallard Creek's athletic director. “Not just by our program but by the community and the events that parks and rec facilitates.

“It's a great example of combining efforts. On weekends, when we're not using it, it's nice to know that someone else is. We wouldn't be able to have so much use if it weren't a turf field.”

Sports Turf is the same type of artificial surface that is laid at several NFL stadiums. It was also installed at Charlotte's Ardrey Kell High, which opened a year before Mallard Creek.

On the surface, Sports Turf is a version of indoor-outdoor carpeting. But underneath is a 3-foot layer of sand and rock that allows it to drain easily. That's one of its huge advantages: Activities are seldom washed out by rain.

Another advantage to Sports Turf is that the surface, peppered with small rubber pellets, has some flexibility to it that approximates a natural field. The down side is that such a surface absorbs more heat, creating uncomfortable temperatures during the summer's hottest days.

Because of the surface's appeal, the field was built so that it's wide enough to fit the official boundaries for soccer and lacrosse. Those boundaries exceed a 50-yard-wide standard football field, meaning lacrosse and soccer often play within unofficial dimensions.

Mecklenburg Park and Recreation and CMS have a memorandum of understanding that their entities can use each other's property for free. Mallard Creek Park is adjacent to Mallard Creek High.

Mallard Creek High also gets to use Mallard Creek Park's soccer fields. Mecklenburg Park and Rec is the scheduling agency for community use of the high school field and the school's tennis courts.

According to Atuya Cornwell, a park and recreation coordinator/supervisor, the standard rental fee for an artificial turf field is $45 for 90 minutes.

“It's been great in the University City area to have a site like that,” Cornwell said. “It's a good example of a good partnership with the county and CMS. The field doesn't just sit there when school is out.”