By Al Mattei


Just past a 130-degree turnoff near Main Street in Greenwich, Conn., you drive along gentle tree-lined streets until the campus of Greenwich Academy lies in the distance.

But you need to go behind the multimillion-dollar field house in order to see what could be the future of American field hockey facilities on the high-school level.

There, behind a new field house with spacious offices, rooms, and trophy cabinets, is about five acres of FieldTurf.

Yes, as far as the eye can see, from the staircase leading from the parking lot to the earthen embankments next to a creek, is a massive flat carpet of artificial grass.

For the field hockey player, it is the next best thing to paradise.

And it's much the same for Greenwich Academy's players.

"When we would have field hockey in the fall," recalls field hockey coach and athletic director Angela Tammaro, "we would have recreation soccer teams play here on Sundays for leagues. With the rain and everything, it would really tear up the fields."

Not anymore.

The project is one of the largest ever attempted; there is enough room for at least three field hockey pitches on the back lawn of Greenwich Academy.

"The great thing is that we can just put the goals out there for lacrosse in the spring," Tammaro says.

The school is working closely with the manufacturer as the underpiling settles down and makes the field faster; a universal complaint about new artificial grass surfaces is that they are bumpy and slow. But the FieldTurf makers created a special formula just for Greenwich Academy.

"The FieldTurf people are coming out here every once in a while for maintenance," Tammaro says. "They tell me that it takes about a year for it to settle in and it will be as fast as AstroTurf."

In 2003, the new surface really proved its worth in the face of torrential rainfall that rendered many home grounds unplayable.

But the Greenwich Academy surface, aided by two sets of drainage pipes, did its job.

"I looked out the window from the athletic office, and there looked like there was an inch of water out there on the field," she says. "But when the game came in the afternoon, the kids were so excited because their shoes weren't even wet."

Despite the proliferation of artificial grass and artificial turf in Connecticut schools -- even crosstown rival Greenwich High has new artificial grass in its football stadium -- the Academy has not yet been offered a chance to host the Western New England Preparatory Athletic Conference championships or to be a neutral and/or backup site for the public-school tournament matches.

But Tammaro knows one thing that having turf has done.

"I haven't lost a single game to the rain in two years," she says.

Of course, being an athletic director as well as a coach, that puts the mind at ease. Especially in a field hockey Valhalla.