ASHLAND — Goodbye grass stains and mud-caked cleats, hello traction and rug burns. And not only for football players — for everybody.
That's the hope of Ashland High coaches and administrators who, in the wake of a surprise offer by Grizzly alum Jeremy Guthrie, are looking into the possibility of replacing one of the oldest playing surfaces in the state with state-of-the-art synthetic grass.
Ashland School District director of business services Greg Lecuyer has been busy researching similar projects in an effort to formulate a cost estimate and will present his findings to the school board during its next meeting Dec. 12.
If the project wins approval from the school board, the next step will be finding out how much Guthrie, a starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, is willing to contribute.
"This is a great opportunity and a tribute to the Ashland School District that one of our alumni wants to give back," Ashland athletic director Karl Kemper said. "He obviously has fond memories of his time in Ashland. He was a valedictorian, a three-sport athlete and a stellar citizen, and he has an opportunity to give back and he's very selflessly offering to do that — it's a beautiful thing."
Class 5A Ashland is the only 6A or 5A school in southern Oregon without an artificial-turf field.
Guthrie, 34, who graduated from Ashland High in 1997, got the ball rolling in August by texting former Ashland High football coach Jim Nagel, who coached Guthrie. The proposal was first brought up to the school board during its October meeting, which preceded a work session that included Kemper, Nagel, Ashland football coach Charlie Hall, boys soccer coach Brad Roupp, superintendent Jay Hummel, principal Michelle Zundel and trainer Max Munson.
According to a press release by Ashland Public Schools, the new field will cost at least $500,000. The school is also looking into the possibility of piggybacking several other projects, including a new set of stadium lights that would limit glare for neighboring homes.
"We're doing some cost estimates to get an idea of the possible scope of the project," Lecuyer said. "We're in the very early stages."
If completed, a synthetic field will get plenty of use at Ashland High. Currently, says Kemper, coaches must be selective about who uses the field and when, in order to keep it in good shape for the prep football season.
"We do 10 or 12 events a year there, which is basically varsity, JV and freshman football, and we really limit use outside of that because the field can't take a lot of wear and tear," Kemper said.
That would change if Ashland upgrades to a synthetic surface, which is much more durable and cheaper to maintain than grass. Besides football games and practices, including Pop Warner, the field could be used for soccer, baseball, band, cheer, PE classes and training.
"Because it's been a football-only field without a track, there's an intimacy that we've enjoyed as a football program and, selfishly, I hate to give that up," said Hall. "But on the other hand, it's going to be a great facility that other teams can use. So many more athletes can benefit from a synthetic surface, and not only for competition. "¦ It's a great deal."
But first, said Kemper, the school must consider the long-terms costs. While synthetic fields require far less maintenance than grass, they don't last forever. In 10 to 15 years, the turf will need to be replaced. That will leave the district with the cost of replacing the field and disposing of the old one.
"My thought is, it's a one-time gift and we have to have a long-term plan for maintaining the turf for the future," Kemper said.
Guthrie, who attended Brigham Young and Stanford before being drafted No. 22 overall in 2002 by Cleveland, made his major league debut with the Indians in 2004. He's since pitched for Baltimore, Colorado and Kansas City, the team he was traded to in the middle of the 2012 season.
Guthrie went 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts for the Royals to finish that season and signed a reported three-year, $25 million deal the following November to return to the Royals.