Crews scrambled yesterday to repair the scorched patch of a costly artificial turf field at an Anne Arundel County high school after vandals inflicted about $15,000 in damage, forcing the last-minute shifting of state title games for girls' field hockey.
Though the state's high school sports association moved the Class 2A and 4A field hockey championship games from Broadneck High, outside of Annapolis, to another Anne Arundel high school, a school district official said crews were working fast so the Class 1A and 3A championship games could resume at Broadneck today as scheduled.
The school is also hosting the girls' state soccer championship games Thursday.
"The crews are going to work as long as it takes today until it's finished, just so the playoffs can take place there tomorrow," Maneka Wade, an Anne Arundel county schools spokeswoman, said yesterday.
A groundskeeper at Broadneck High found a 10-foot-by-15-foot section of field smoldering when he got to the school about 5:45 a.m. Sunday.
When crews got there, they saw the fire had mostly consumed the field's emblem, a large B for the school's mascot, the Bruin, said Lt. Frank Fennell, a Fire Department spokesman. The fire is thought to have been set about 2:30 a.m. County fire investigators were still waiting yesterday afternoon to receive tapes from the school's security cameras to consider suspects, Fennell said.
Investigators, tipped off by an accelerant-sniffing dog, believe the fire was intentionally set, Fennell said. Because many state and federal offices were closed for Veterans Day yesterday, Fennell said, the Fire Department was waiting for lab results to show what type of accelerant might have been used.
It was the second time in as many years that Broadneck's $875,000 synthetic turf field has been burned. Just after it was completed in April 2006, several parts of the field, including the batting cage, were set on fire. Three 17-year-old boys, two from Annapolis and one from Cordova in Talbot County, were charged with theft, reckless endangerment, trespassing on school property after hours, destruction of property and malicious burning.
The vandalism also comes as the county prepares to launch a four-year, $8.8 million project to install synthetic turf fields at the system's remaining 11 high schools. Broadneck High's athletic boosters helped raise funds to make that school the first with an artificial field, popular because it is far less vulnerable to weather damage and wear and tear than grass.
The synthetic fields are becoming an increasingly popular option in the region. Baltimore County plans to put artificial turf on the football field at Catonsville High School and at Seminary Park. Howard County is conducting a similar project with fields in parks, and in Harford County, a turf field is expected to be installed at North Harford High School by March.
Wade said the vandalism has not discouraged the district from moving forward with its plans for synthetic turf.
"It doesn't affect our need and want to put the turf in place at other schools. The safety advantages ... that go with the fields far outweigh what vandals could do," said Wade, adding that the school system will pay for the repairs.