The Ed Defore Sports Complex got a makeover before the start of this football season with the addition of a new artificial turf field and scoreboard that cost $2 million as part of the ESPLOST.
The goal was to try and provide features that would add something special for everyone from the fans to the band and cheerleaders as well as the athletes on the field, Bibb County Athletic Director Barney Hester said.
“I think it has been a sense of pride for our students and our fans,” Hester said. “I think it adds to the game. It adds to what we are looking for to create an event that our students can have fun at and get involved with.”
The upgrade with one of the biggest impacts on the actual game was the transition from natural grass to a turf field.
The Westside Seminoles play their home games at Ed Defore and have been able to make the adjustment to the new surface. Westside head coach Spoon Risper said his players love playing on the turf.
“It was exciting seeing the looks on our kid’s faces once they finished...just to see their faces for the first game was like priceless,” Risper said. “Our kids love to play on that turf...you are faster on it, it absorbs the rain so you don’t have to worry about sliding in the mud. So there are a lot of conveniences.”
Jehlen “Hollywood” Cannady is a senior cornerback and wide receiver for Westside and said the field is easier for him to plant his foot on when making cuts rather than on a grass field where at times it can be more uneven. It also gives players the chance to get prepared for the potential of playing on turf at a college level.
“On our turf, it is easy to stick your foot in the ground and go. You don’t have to worry about your feet getting stuck,” Cannady said. “Playing on the field now prepares us more than a whole lot of students across the nation.”
One of the other major upgrades is what can’t be seen. A “Brock Pad” used underneath the turf is designed to help prevent injuries and is similar to ones used by the NFL and other major sports organizations.
Also lying underneath the turf is a cooling agent called “Brockfill.” The Brockfill utilizes wood chips instead of the crumb rubber typically used in many turf fields, with a goal of preventing heat-related injuries.
Hester said after installation, Bibb Athletics checked the temperature of their crumb rubber soccer field and the one that has Brockfill. The difference was around 30 degrees cooler.
“We feel very confident in what this field provides,” Hester said. “Not only from a concussion standpoint but also from a heat factor.”
According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, one in five concussions are caused by head-to-surface impact. But there is limited data to support one specific piece of equipment or surface, according to the foundation.
Tee Spinks of Piedmont Orthopedic in Macon, the organization that provides care to Bibb County athletes, said the surface that the game is played on is similar to other aspects of the player’s equipment.
“From a medical standpoint, it falls into the area of just like everything else. You want to make sure their helmets are right,” Spinks said. “It is just another level of safety. That is the way we look at it.”
Since the field has only been in use for less than a year, Spinks said the pad and fill have not shown a significant increase or decrease in terms of injuries so far.
“Sample size is very small right now,” Spinks said. “In terms of significant injuries I can’t tell you there has been a significant change to date.”
Cannady said he is grateful for the investment in their field as well as the addition of the big screen and sound system.
“It kind of makes the high school game more exciting than they already were,” Cannady said. “It makes us more excited to see ourselves on the big board and to hear music from the big board.”
The video board is similar to the one installed at Mercer University. It is made by Daktronics and can showcase highlights, fan interaction and more. A smaller board is located at the other end of the field and displays scores and a clock.
“We can do just about all things (Mercer) can do but at a high school level as opposed to the collegiate level,” Hester said. “Daktronics wanted a high school board in this area… so we got a good price and with that price they put up another board at the other end.”
Hester says that the next goal is to get Thompson Stadium outfitted with a similar set-up.
“We would like to do the same thing we have done at Ed Defore at Thompson Stadium,” he said. “Of course finances has a lot to do with that but that is at the top of our list from my standpoint. The next improvements we make in terms of facilities is bringing Thompson up to par.”
For players like Cannady, he says that the improvements at the fields sends a message that Bibb County Athletics wants to invest in its athletes.
“It shows that they care about us,” Cannady said. “With us playing on the new field added a different type of excitement to the game.”