The Trouble With Turf: 10 Investigates Uncovers Impact Dangers

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  • Several local school districts don’t test for turf hardness
  • Doctors: at least 10% of concussions traced back to hard turf
  • Pro and high school  players warn of increased turf injuries.

Tommy Horn had a future in football. Hilliard Bradley High School's quarterback played in October 2012's cross-town rivalry game against Hilliard Darby, until a tackle in the 3rd quarter.

“It wasn’t the guy’s fault that hit me, that landed on me. It wasn't dirty or anything. it was just the way I hit the ground and the impact of it,” said Horn.

Horn was in the hospital three days. He had a bruised spinal cord, two broken bones in his back and a severe concussion.  Horn believes he suffered these severe injuries because he was being tackled on turf, not grass.

Horn recalled, "My body kept on going forward. It was just the impact of the turf really that did it."

Many Ohio high schools replaced their natural grass fields with artificial turf. 10 Investigates found three quarters of Franklin County school districts now use artificial turf fields in one capacity or another.

To make the turf soft, turf companies scatter crumb rubber across the field. Players regularly kick or carry that crumb rubber off the field - leaving dangerous spots without cushioning. Schools are supposed to regularly distribute this crumb rubber while turf companies do long-term repairs.

Retired Columbus Crew midfielder Frankie Hejduk knows first-hand how painful artificial turf impacts can be, "When I played on turf, after games, my body hurt a lot more than it did when I played games on grass."

"You thought about that when you played. You thought about should I go for this tackle because it's a turf," added Hejduk.

To assess the hardness of a turf field, technicians perform what is called a GMAX test. 

WEB EXTRA: Testing Field Turf

Field Turf: What Do The Pros Think

The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) trade group developed the standard and recommended fields be kept below a rating of 165. 10 Investigates found some schools hadn't been testing their fields until asked.

Those who test show a variety of results.  Rated at 170.8, Westerville Central has a level just above the 165 standard and Johnstown Monroe is approaching the recommended GMAX limit.

Johnstown Monroe is limiting use of its field and plans to build a new turf field as a result of that test. Industry safety experts say anything above that level leaves athletes in danger of head injuries. 

Westerville school officials said they too will be putting down extra pellets to soften the field and will conduct another test.

Dr. Charles Mancino runs tests for CLC Labs,  one of the few independent businesses in the country that test the hardness of artificial turf fields. "If you decelerate too quickly, you can suffer a life threatening head or neck injury," Dr. Mancino explained. "There are probably a lot of schools that don't know the value exists."

10 Investigates asked 68 Central Ohio school districts whether they had turf and what their latest GMAX field test results are. Some area schools including almost all the area's private schools, would not disclose to 10 Investigates what their ratings are. Athletes and their parents have no way of knowing.

Dr. Pete Edwards at Columbus' Orthopedic One Medical Center explained the potential dangers of artificial turf.

"10 percent of the concussions are definitely influenced by the hardness of that surface.” Dr. Edwards added, "Hard turf creates more injury mechanisms and more force so players get injured more."

Another issue athletes face on turf is how their footing is impacted.  That's what engineer Chris Sherwood with Biocare research in Charlottesville, Virginia studied for years.

Sherwood listed the injuries more common with artificial turf, “Either a fracture of ligament tear in the mid foot. Regular ankle sprains, something called high ankle sprains where the ligaments are a little farther up and it can cause a more severe type of injury. The belief is even injuries in the knee, ACL tears, that type of thing."

Former quarterback Tommy Horn say there can't be too much discussion about this issue. “If this opens the eyes of other high schools and prevents student athletes from getting hurt then pursuing their dreams, then I'm glad I can help and be the poster child of this injury unfortunately.”

For a complete list of central Ohio schools, click this link.