McEachern High School head football coach Jimmy Dorsey inspects the newly-installed artificial playing surface at the school's Walter Cantrell Stadium in 2003.
Photo: Andy Sharp
Photo: Andy Sharp

Majority of schools now play home games on artificial turf

For the first time in GHSA history, most Georgia high school football teams will be playing home games on artificial turf this season — about 215 of the 422 in the GHSA, according to GHSF Daily research reported for each school 

The number of Georgia football teams that play on artificial turf as their primary home fields grew by 22 this offseason. 

Joining the movement were Apalachee and Winder-Barrow in Barrow County; Adairsville, Cass and Woodland in Bartow County; Howard, Rutland and Westside in Macon; Duluth and South Gwinnett in Gwinnett County; Eagle’s Landing, Hampton and McDonough in Henry County; Griffin and Spalding in Spalding County; plus Marietta, Metter, Pinecrest Academy, Toombs County, Towns County, Walker and Worth County. 

The trend has taken off this decade with an average of 16.7 teams making the switch per season. 

It began in 2003, when McEachern athletic director and then-football coach Jimmy Dorsey persuaded his administration to invest $1.2 million from the school's private endowment for a stadium field and a practice field. 

“Certainly when I presented the concept to our school and Trust Fund administration they looked at me with an expression of, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Dorsey said. "But if this proved successful, I felt convinced it would become the future in high school facilities.’ 

Dorsey was proven a prophet. The first sign that his instincts were correct came the next season, when Valdosta put artificial grass on Wright-Bazemore Stadium, the most storied high school stadium in the state. 

About the same time, Fulton County schools began making the switch for all of its schools and used money from a local-options sales tax to fund it. Forsyth (2008), Cobb (2010) and Clayton (2010) counties soon would follow suit. Prominent single-school districts and private schools such as St. Pius (2004), Camden County (2007), Carrollton (2008), Lowndes (2008), Marist (2008) and Calhoun (2009) joined in. 

Since 2010, there’s been no turning back.The last bastion of natural grass in metro Atlanta — Gwinnett County — is finally coming on board. Duluth and South Gwinnett are the first in the state’s largest school system to turn to artificial turf this fall. The other 17 have signed up to follow gradually. 

“All in all, it’s still a great option for schools because it opens that facility up for much more use by many more groups than natural grass,” Dorsey said. “In high schools with so many programs in addition to athletics needing field space such as bands, physical education classes, graduations and other events, it just makes sense.” 

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