Turf Field Update

Swan Field goes from gray to green this month as the rocky substrate gets carpeted with the plush plastic of artificial grass.

The guy sewing it all together — literally — is named Mark Gregory.  He and his daughter Samantha are from Upstate New York.  They’ll be here for the next three weeks stitching together the 15-foot-wide rolls of turf. 

They use a machine that’s adapted from the technology that sews up bags of dog food and charcoal, and if the field holds together as well as those maddening bags, it’ll stay tight and snug forever.  (Tip from Mark: “Don’t try to open those bags by pulling the end of the thread.  Cut it about an inch into the seam and it’ll open right up.”)

Marks says he’s one of only about 200 people in the entire country who make their living stitching turf surfaces.  He has been doing it for four years and figures he’s done 28 fields.  The most recent gig was in Anchorage.  “It sucked,” says Samantha.  Reason for the suckage include snow and constant drizzle in 50-some degree temperatures.  “The sun came out once, ” adds Mark.  “We took a picture of Mt. McKinley 130 miles away.  It was the only day you could see it.”

Here’s how the process works.  With the first giant spool of turf unrolled, its neighbor is unfurled on top of it, face to face:  

The stitching machine — usually operated by Mark Gregory but on this day (and for these 18″ at least) by Haverford’s very own Steve Emerson — connects them like the binding of a book:

Next, the gang grabs the edge and runs on the count of three, opening the “book” so that the second piece is now lying face-up:

The third piece will  be laid face-down on this now-face-up second piece.  It’ll get stitched into place, and on they will go, unroll-stitch-open up-unroll, down the field.  Boundary lines are woven into the surface, but lines on the playing area are sewn in later using 4″ wide strips that Mark and Samantha have cut, by hand, from those enormous spools:  

Mark says he has never screwed up by, say, putting the goal line at the 20, but recalls a job that required him to fix others’ work.  “What a mess!  The lines around the coaches’ box were all crazy.”  Likewise, he hasn’t ever stitched himself to the carpet, though admits blistered fingers from the 350-degree hot glue that keeps edges in place.  “And remember that guy who got caulk in his underarm hair?” recalls Samantha.  (Surely “that guy” hasn’t forgotten, either.)

When the carpet is laid, sand and rubber pellets will get raked into the surface creating a soft pad that mimics the density of real earth.

Mark says he has no idea where the next assignment will take him; as for Samantha, she hits the books at community college later this month and can’t wait to check out of their motel.  “Fleas!” 

Swan Field is named in honor of the late Athletic Director Dana Swan.  Watch this space for details about the dedication ceremony this fall.


  1. Dear Concerned Student,

    Thanks for writing. Like you, we are mindful of the health and safety issues associated with our facilities. That’s why we asked many questions about the turf surface before proceeding, including those you identified above.

    The turf fabricator with whom we are working (FieldTurf) reports that “the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) found that there are “very low or undetectable levels of lead” in the polyethylene fibers used by FieldTurf. However, the NJDHSS stated that “high levels of lead” were found in the nylon turf fibers – old style, carpet-like fibers that are not even remotely similar to FieldTurf’s fibers. FieldTurf has never used nylon fibers. This is not the first time that FieldTurf, the inventor of the infilled grass system, has been mistakenly accused and lumped in with other turf manufacturers.”

    This month NPR ran a story pegged to heat issues associated with turf fields (e.g. the surface can get hot); their report also touched upon larger safety concerns and noted that “the New York City Health Department hired consultants to assess potential health risks associated with crumb-rubber turf fields. The report concludes that the risk of harm from exposure to hazardous chemicals such as lead in the rubber appears to be very low unless the chemicals are basically eaten. According to the report, another possibility is that players may inhale chemicals that vaporize to form a gas. Health assessments suggest that the exposure levels are likely below a level of concern to human health. But these assessments use conservative estimates of exposure.”

    The New York State Dept. of Health recently published a “Fact Sheet” which concludes that a “review of the available information on crumb rubber and crumb rubber infilled turf fields indicates that ingestion, dermal or inhalation exposures to chemicals in or released from crumb rubber do not pose a significant public health concern.”


    Ground-up tires have been used for at least two decades in products produced by a company called Mondo, which is the world-wide standard for tracks, including most of the Olympic tracks since the early 1980s. Many colleges have indoor Mondo surfaces, and we’re unaware of any dangers arising from their use.

    With respect to staph, our teams have been using Haverford School’s turf field for many years with no evidence of staph.

    We’ll remain sensitive to such issues as the science on the topic moves forward, and appreciate your raising these important points.

    Chris ’82

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