Chautauqua Hydroseeding Getting Ahead Of Concussions

Bob Lucas, owner of Chautauqua Hydroseeding, recently introduced a new service to his lawn care business that will allow local high schools to test their football field’s hardness. Lucas offers the initial testing for free in order to allow school districts to gage their sports fields. P-J photos by Jordan W. Patterson

LAKEWOOD — The Lakewood based lawn care company Chautauqua Hydroseeding LLC recently introduced a new service offering local school districts the opportunity to test the hardness of football fields and other related athletic fields to potentially prevent risk of concussion.

Bob Lucas, owner of Chautauqua Hydroseeding, said he looked into field hardness testing after reading various reports from Cornell University, USA Football and Penn State University that stated 20 percent of all football concussions could have been reduced by decreasing the hardness of the playing field. The idea is that concussions are additionally caused by impact with the ground, not just from player-to-player contact.

The company was created in 2009 by Lucas and his wife. The primary work of Chautauqua Hydroseeding involves the one step-application called hydroseeding. The process includes combining wood, paper mulch and grass seed into a slurry and the mixture is then applied to a prepared soil area. Chautauqua Hydroseeding’s work also includes erosion and sediment control, weed control, top soil work and lawn fertilizing and aerating.

Lucas said the company purchased “Gmax” testing equipment that allows the company to determine whether a field is too hard to play on. The same testing is conducted in the National Football League on every team’s field before each game, according to Lucas.

“It’s a relatively new focus,” he said regarding surface hardness testing.

The newly acquired tool allows Chautauqua Hydroseeding to measure the shock absorption of natural and artificial fields. The equipment drops what’s called a “missile,” or an accelerometer, that impacts the field and simultaneously relays data remotely with a number that signifies how hard a field actually is. The goal is to have a field that isn’t too hard and simultaneously not too soft.

“It’d be very tough to play on something that’s as fluffy and soft as a feather, but you don’t you want to play on concrete either,” Lucas said. “There’s a window there where it’s safe to play and playable. That’s what were focusing on.”

Depending on how fast the missile stops determines how hard the field is. The speed at which the missile stops is called the Gmax.

Over 200 Gmax is unsafe, according to Lucas, and the closer the hardness is to 100 Gmax, the safer the field.

Currently, Bemus Point and Jamestown school districts have utilized Chautauqua Hydroseeding’s new service. With the initial testing free of charge, the subsequent remedies Chautauqua Hydroseeding offers come at a price. Both districts maintained football fields that were determined to be safe to play on.

“(Both fields) were close to ideal,” Lucas said.

On natural fields, the soil beneath the field naturally hardens over time increasing the risk of head trauma. Artificial fields, or “turf,” are layered with an in-fill of rubber pellets that sits below the visible field. The rubber pellets are designed to absorb the impact of a player hitting the ground. Over the course of play and time, the pellets are gradually pushed to the sides causing certain areas of the field to become harder due to the lack of support from the shifting rubber pellets. Additionally, the pellets get caught on players’ clothing removing them from the field altogether.

To combat the gradual increase of hardness, two different methods are used for natural and artificial athletic fields. Natural field surface hardness is combated with a service Chautauqua Hydroseeding already offers called aeration — a process many schools already implement, Lucas said. The process includes towing a roller-machine equipped with spikes with a tractor across the field to open holes with the ground.

“In most cases, just the opening of the holes relieves the compaction and makes the surface softer,” Lucas.

In severe cases, athletic sand is poured onto the surface and into the newly opened holes to cushion the field.

For artificial fields, Lucas described machinery that rolls over top of the field to push the pellets back into the depleted areas to balance the play area. Also, more in-fill or rubber pellets are added to compensate for the amount that has been unintentionally removed during play.

Lucas’ company will test several target areas of the field as every spot on the field is not equally balanced in order to determine the overall hardness.

“I suspect that most schools are doing due diligence and I suspect they would pass the test,” he said.

He said the testing would give school districts a base line and a historical record of surface hardness testing for safety and liability purposes.

“This gives the schools an opportunity to proactively potentially prevent injuries of their players,” he said.

For cost of services, Lucas said interested individuals should contact Chautauqua Hydroseeding at 386-7394.