Joe DiPietro speaks at field dedication
"Hey," Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley yelled, "no celebrations."
On this day - Wednesday at the dedication for the new UT Center for Athletic Field Safety - the coach's request was resoundingly ignored.
Dooley was one of a number of big names on hand for the dedication, which celebrated the beginning of the largest known undertaking of athletic field research. A little more than one year after UT and AstroTurf broke ground on the $1.5 million facility at UT Institute of Agriculture's East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center, all the responsible parties converged on the sprawling site to officially open it with a game of catch.
"It's probably one of the most exciting days of my life as an academician to see this come to fruition," said John Sorochan, associate professor and turfgrass specialist with the Department of Plant Sciences in the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
"We jokingly call it our field of dreams."
Really, it's 60 fields, and all are constructed just a little differently from the other with a variety of playing surfaces. The fields are designed to represent those used for professional-level sports to surfaces used by schools and public parks.
Initial research began in the fall, as UT scientists are attempting to determine the safety and performance of AstroTurf products compared to various natural turfgrass systems. They also are analyzing the environmental impact on the surfaces over time.
"The quicker that we get this information out to the industry, folks like AstroTurf and the others we compete with on the open market can change their products," AstroTurf president Bryan Peoples said. "It will provide a safe environment and a safe surface for athletes."
Dooley and the Vols have been happy customers with AstroTurf, as they recently replaced 100 yards worth of old turf in the Neyland Thompson Sports Center with the company's latest, "3DH" synthetic grass surface. They're currently laying a new patch of "3DH" at Haslam Field for the section where offensive and defensive linemen carry out their individual drills.
Former Vol standout Eric Berry, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, partnered with AstroTurf last summer when he released plans to refurbish a park in his hometown of Fairburn, Ga. Berry was unable to attend Wednesday, but sent along a statement that was read during the ceremony.
Among the hundreds that gathered for the ceremony were Washington Nationals general manager Bob Boone and NFL Players Association assistant executive director Clark Gaines.
"This program puts us on the cutting edge," DiPietro said. "That's where the university presidents want their universities to be and their programs to be."