Long Park’s new makeover

Why the Virginia Soccer Club opted to ditch traditional turf fields


The girl’s VSA team practices on the new wood chips at James Long Park. Photo by Ashley Donohoe

Ashley Donohoe, Author

James Long Park has been a staple of the Haymarket area for decades, providing the local area with the opportunity to develop a high-level soccer club. This club, known as the Virginia Soccer Association (VSA), has been working for the past two years to completely redesign the three turf fields located at the front of the park. Over the summer, this dream finally became a reality and all of the fields were revamped, with one intriguing switch.

Traditionally, the faux grass on turf fields is paired with small, black rubber pellets likened to the material used to make tires. The entire field is scattered with this crumb rubber to help cushion players as they fall or dive onto the ground. However, there has been recent push-back regarding the safety of turf, and many have come to belief that these pieces of rubber can cause cancer. According to Penn State, Many of these toxins [emitted by rubber turf fields] have unknown effects on humans,” but studies noting a clear correlation between soccer players exposed to turf and those afflicted with forms of cancer has caused a general panic amongst the population.

Due to this lack of direct evidence, VSA never deemed the crumb rubber on the fields as a health risk needing immediate fixing. However, other health impacts have shown that crumb rubber may be a thing of the past, so the pellets are being replaced by crumb wood chips. “Replacing the current black rubber crumbs will be BrockFILL™, an organic infill that is manufactured from sustainable harvested trees in the southeastern US that undergo a 12-step proprietary process. The new infill will deliver better traction, greater durability and lower field temperatures,” VSA explains in a press release. BrockFILL™ is a new turf technology and is not yet being widely used in soccer clubs.

Not everyone is excited to be one of the first players to be using new wood chip technology. Varsity soccer goalkeeper, sophomore Lyndsie Clough, shares her thoughts on the new turf, saying, “Bring the [rubber] turf back… it’s used almost everywhere. Also the wood chips are not ok, if they had to change it don’t change it to wood chips.” Clough, along with multiple goalkeepers for VSA, believe the wood chips are not a safety improvement for the fields, as they are causing much more intense and frequent cuts to athletes who slide across the chips. Rubber turf caused turf burns, but since the wood contains less cushioning than the rubber and has sharper edges, thin cuts and shallow splinters are replacing these burns.

Despite recent outcry amongst players, VSA has officially replaced all of the rubber crumbs on their turf fields. Over time, players will be able to see which they prefer, and as technology improves they may discover this decision saved them from developing a form of cancer.