There's a good reason Lummi football coach Jim Sandusky sounds like an over protective father these days when he asks people to stay off the new artificial playing surface being installed at the school this summer.
"We just want to make sure nobody gets on it and inadvertently damages it before it's ready or sets construction back so we don't get it done in time," Sandusky said in a phone interview.
The removal of the old grass football field for the installation of the new FieldTurf surface began on June 22 and is expected to wrap up on Aug. 12, just three days before the Blackhawks will need the new surface to begin practices for the 2012 season. At this point, Sandusky said installation is "a few days ahead of schedule, but we don't want to have any setbacks or fall behind."
The new surface, which will be the exact same product as what was installed in February at CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle, was laid down at Lummi on Thursday, July 26.
"The Revolution Fiber, which Lummi's field will have, exceeds the durability and wearability of any other surface," said Donnie Jones, regional vice president for FieldTurf.
The nearly 10 pounds of rubber/sand fill that goes over every square foot of the field still needs to be spread on the surface, and the field needs to be painted and lined before it is ready for anybody to step on it, Sandusky said.
The new surface is part of a $1.3 million project to upgrade the football field and track surfaces at the school, a project Sandusky said is fully funded by the Lummi Nation.
"I'd like to thank the (Lummi Indian Business) Council and everybody for stepping up and voting this in," Sandusky said. "The new football field and the new track are something that are really going to benefit our student athletes and this community."
The new rubberized, all-weather track surface, which will replace the existing crushed gravel surface around the football field, isn't expected to be installed until mid fall, but should be completed long before the spring track season.
"The neat thing about the track when it's installed is that all members of this community will have access to the rubberized surface and won't have to run on roads that don't have sidewalks," said Bernie Thomas, who is a member of the Lummi Indian Business Council and serves as Education Director. "Obviously, this project will benefit the kids at school, but I see this is something that is good for everybody in this community."
Sandusky said he sees the new track helping Lummi's fledgling track program grow and thrive in the future.
Less than two years since winning its first Class 1B state championship, the football team already is thriving, but it will definitely benefit from its new surface, too.
Most important will be the safety it will provide for the Blackhawks. According to FieldTurf.com, independent research is finding that FieldTurf football surfaces are now safer than even grass fields, which are difficult to maintain and keep flat.
"Many independent test results over the past nine years have compared grass to FieldTurf," Jones said. "They've studied exactly the same situations, hours and athletes and found it's safer than grass. Grass fields deteriorate so quickly. If an athlete knows it's a crappy field, he might run a bit more nimbly on it. But the trouble is where you think you have a good field, and there are only a few divots in it. You might be running along full speed, and then you step in a divot and roll an ankle or a knee. FieldTurf, you've got that smooth surface that never deteriorates. ... Plus FieldTurf is so much softer, which helps with every time you get hit to the ground. The fiber is much softer and guys don't get burns from it anymore."
Sandusky said reducing the number of concussion, knee and ankle injuries was one of the key factors that went into the decision of whether to install the surface.
"At Lummi Nation, players need to pass all of their classes to be eligible," Thomas said. "Every Blackhawk you see on the field is passing every one of their classes. We want to make sure we do everything we can to make sure we keep their brains healthy. Knee and ankle injuries are going to happen, but you can come back from those a whole lot better than you can concussions."
In addition to keeping their players healthier, the new FieldTurf could help make the Blackhawks better.
No longer will the field turn into a swamp once the rains arrive in October.
"By mid-October, we usually have to move practice into the gym because the field is such a mess," Sandusky said. "By November in the playoffs, we're usually going to Civic (Stadium in Bellingham) two or three times a week to practice. There's only so much you can do in the gym, but that shouldn't be a problem anymore. It will be nice to walk outside and be able to get in a full practice."
Lummi won't have to make the journey to Bellingham for district or first-round state playoff games, either, as the artificial surface will make the field meet the minimums that the WIAA requires for Class 1B playoff competition.
"I think it's going to be awesome," Sandusky said. "It will be great for our community if we can play those big games closer to home, and obviously playing on our own turf should give us some sort of an advantage."
That advantage will carry over into the regular season, as the notoriously fast-strike Blackhawks offense is likely to only become more dangerous on a quicker surface.
Lummi will not be the first 1B school in the area to play on an artificial field. Tulalip plays on Marysville-Pilchuck's field, and Muckleshoot has its own artificial surface, Sandusky said.
But the Blackhawks' new field will definitely feel like their own.
Sandusky said the end zones will be black with white lettering outlined in maroon - "Lummi Nation" in one end zone and "Blackhawks" in the other - and midfield will feature a 16-foot logo.
The field also will be lined for soccer, allowing the school, which does not have any soccer teams, to rent out the facility to other area soccer programs, as well as youth football and lacrosse teams, to help bring revenue into the school.
"We're real excited for our players and our students," Thomas said. "We've always had a first-class coach, and as a result, a first-class team. Now, it's pretty exciting to have a first-class facility to go with them. ... We're all so excited we can hardly breathe right now. Maybe we'll be able to start breathing again once our players are on the field and start taking those first hits."
To celebrate the new field, Lummi is planning to get an early start to the practice season. The WIAA does not allow football teams to hold organized practices until Aug. 15, and Lummi plans to hold a midnight practice early that morning under the lights that were installed only a few years ago - sort of a "Midnight Madness" style practice from college basketball.
The new field will be formally inaugurated with a special pregame ceremony before the Blackhawks' 1 p.m. season opener against Pomeroy.
"The guys that are installing this, do about 30 to 40 installations a year, and they've said we're going to have the nicest field in the Northwest," Sandusky said. "That's not just the field, but everything we're doing with it, and that's pretty neat to have been part of the design process. ...
"The kids are so excited. It's one thing to say we're going to do it, but you always have that little doubt in the back of your mind until you see it. We have kids that have been out fishing, crabbing or canoeing, and it's amazing to see the look in their eyes when they come back and see we're actually doing it. It's kind of like hearing that you're going to get a new bike, but it's not really real until you get to see that new bike and actually take it out for a ride."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.