The sudden artificial turf ex-plosion on Knox County high school football fields has one Farragut man, who helped set the wheels in motion toward a $10.1 million Pilot Corporation donation for the fields, working harder than ever to execute the projects.
Farragut resident Mark Packer, news co-anchor at WVLT-TV, is project developer of the donation effort labeled “Fields of Dreams” — which includes the new artificial surface at Farragut High School’s Bill Clabo Field — thanks to the donation from Pilot founder Jim Haslam Sr.
However, “I didn’t know how much work it takes to give a school system $10 million until this process,” said Packer, owner of PacMan Sports Productions and play-by-play voice of WVLT’s “Rivalry Thursday” high school football games. “So many people have to approve it.”
For another Farragut man, however, “From April until the end of October, sometimes into November, it’ll save me anywhere from 12 to 20-plus hours a week of work,” Eddie Courtney, FHS varsity football head coach, said about another benefit of his school’s new surface.
The Powerblade Bolt synthetic surface, with much longer blades versus the artificial surfaces of the 1970s and 1980s, is set to be ready for summer practice in late July.
“If it rains hard for two or three days we don’t have to worry about trying to put the field back together for a Monday JV or freshman football game,” he added. “Or vice-versa, tearing it up on Monday and getting it ready for Friday.”
With Courtney estimating the cost of purchasing and installing his school’s new surface to be “$700,000 to $800,000,” he added the savings in less maintenance cost would be significant.
“Last year we spent about $8,000 just to paint, no telling how much in water, sand, mowing, fuel,” he said.
Performance-wise, Courtney said the new surface is faster than natural grass “just because it’s cut even, you don’t have any dips in it or anything.”
The gift also included two new yellow goalposts. “Farragut” and “Admirals” are painted in the end zones [blue background with gray lettering and white trim].
Farragut boosters paid an additional “$12,000 to $15,000,” Courtney said, to add track and field improvements — while also having the Admirals’ star logo placed in at the 50-yard line.
Farragut was one of five Knox public schools chosen, in a televised random draw in late February, to receive a new football field surface.
All 13 Knox County public high schools with football programs are scheduled to have artificial turf fields installed and ready for play no later than August 2018.
Work has been completed on Bearden’s Bill Young Field, one of five schools to also receive a new track surface as part of Pilot’s donation.
Each of the 13 already has received $100,000 of the Pilot donation to be earmarked for academic improvements, Packer said.
“Mark Packer and Mr. Haslam, without them nobody in Knox County would have a new turf field,” Donald Dodgen, FHS athletic director, said. “It’s just an outstanding donation to Knox County Schools and the high schools.”