By Colin Harris | Staff Writer
Brace yourselves, Portage County -- the "Smurf Turf" is coming to Ravenna.
When Ravenna Stadium was constructed in 1998, its artificial playing surface began a trend among area schools as newer stadiums began to move away from natural grass.
So when school administrators recently announced a plan for a 1.1 million-dollar refurbishment of Ravenna Stadium, Ravenna superintendent Dennis Honkala said the goal was to put the school and its community back on the map.
"Back in 1998, we were the talk of Ohio with our artificial turf, but now everyone has it," Honkala said. "So we want Ravenna back on the map. This stadium is a jewel of the community and we're proud of it."
So if artificial turf is the new norm, Honkala said, what would be a new way of both innovating at the high school level and drawing eyes back to Ravenna?
Well, a phone call to Boise State would be a good first step.
First installed in 1986, Boise State's blue playing surface is the only non-green one of its kind in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formally Division I) and one of the most visible symbols of the school's football program.
With blue as its own primary color, Honkala said a committee of Ravenna school officials, including head football coach Jim Lunardi, brought the idea of adopting that same blue turf to the local community.
"After informally surveying hundreds of people, 80 or 90 percent of them were in support of it and really looking forward (to the flamboyant colored-turf)," Honkala said. "Coach Lunardi was a driver of the blue turf as well. He has the access to the kids and community and he came back with a lot of excitement from (those groups)."
The first step, Honkala said, was making that phone call to Boise State. The university holds a trademark on its famous blue turf -- a fact it recently enforced when Oxford (Mich.) High School was issued a cease and desist notice over the usage of the term "Blue Turf" on its own blue playing surface.
"We found out that Boise State has a trademark license on blue turf, so it was a process to get a trademark waiver," Honkala said. "Boise was cooperative and they said that, as long as we don't (market the surface) for a profit, they would give it to us for free."
As for the costs associated with the unique color, Honkala said that the financial cost was not much greater than the traditional green surface.
"The blue surface was originally around an extra $28,000 or so," Honkala said. "But we told (FieldTurf, the company providing the surface) that we would really be their Northeast Ohio showcase (for blue turf), so they would need to work with us. We got them down to around $8,000, so we were happy they worked with us."
Finances have also not been an issue for the project as a whole, as the plan to renovate the school's football field, track surface and tennis courts -- in addition to a new stadium scoreboard -- is already approaching its goal in under a year's time.
"We set a goal of 1.1 million dollars in 10 years, and we're already at $720,000 with nine years left to raise the remaining money," Honkala said. "I never doubted for a minute that the businesses and people in this town would support the school."
Traditional artificial playing surfaces can last anywhere from 8-to-10 years, Honkala said. The field previously installed at Ravenna Stadium was the original surface, so the school was able to get 14 years of steady use.
Honakla said that the blue turf currently being installed comes with an eight-year warranty, but the superintendent is hopeful to at least get a decade's worth of use out of it between school functions and as a host for state football and soccer neutral-site playoff contests.
"We have built all of our fund-raising and advertisement deals for the stadium around a 10-year plan," Honkala said. "So we're guaranteed at least eight years of life with this surface, but we're definitely hoping for a decade."