Drought drying up football fields

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. --- The drought is painting a different picture for a pair of Flowery Branch football teams nicknamed the Falcons.

The Atlanta Falcons of the NFL have practice fields that remain lush and green, despite the drought gripping Georgia.

Just across the street, a distance of a few football fields away, Flowery Branch High School's Falcon Field is totally different -- withering, brown and dying, if not already dead.

"The middle of the field is basically sand," Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. "(Even after a hard freeze) we usually have bare spots, but we have some grass, even if there's not much. The middle section of our field is getting to where there's no grass at all."

The total outdoor watering ban that went into effect Sept. 28 for north Georgia has left many high schools in a similar condition. With relatively limited resources, there's not much high school coaches can do but watch the turf dry up and hope that it doesn't greatly affect the games or endanger the athletes.

Georgia Tech is capturing water from a stream that runs under Grant Field. Georgia and the Atlanta Falcons are tapping into retention ponds for watering purposes. Georgia uses its water in Sanford Stadium, not on practice fields.

"The field is surviving; it's stressed, but it's hanging in there," said Wayne Hogan, associate athletic director for external relations at Georgia Tech. "The good thing is we recently devised a way to capture water from an underground spring and divert it for use on the field."

Georgia has leaned on its onsite retention pond to help weather the drought, but even that hasn't been quite enough. Both Georgia and the Falcons have seen their irrigation ponds drop to nearly unusable levels and have cut back on watering.

Jim Hewitt, the Falcons' groundskeeper, said he's extended pipes an extra 30 feet into the retention pond and has cut watering to one-third of the recommended level.

The Falcons have an indoor facility it can use if the practice fields lose all their grass.


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