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Oct. 19, 2016 — The game-changer

A half-mile east of uptown Houston, on the southeast corner of Buffalo Speedway and Alabama Avenue, a green carpet now shimmers in the sunlight. Welcome to Finnegan Field, the home ground for the Houston St. John’s School (Tex.) field hockey team.

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The field, complete with the kind of high-volume watering and underground drainage system you might see at an FIH-compliant facility, is part of a slow trend in American field hockey amongst U.S. secondary schools. While hundreds of public and private schools have made the transition from grass to rubber or cork infill competitions surfaces in the last decade and a half, St. John’s is one of the rare secondary schools to open a field hockey-specific pitch, following Norfolk (Va.) Academy and St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Va.), who opened turf facilities last fall.

“It’s been an 8-to-10-year process,” says Craig Chambers, the head coach of St. John’s. “We really started looking at the viability about three years ago, and instituted the plan about two years ago.”

Finnegan Field officially opened last Thursday with a varsity match against Austin St. Andrew’s (Tex.), and the Mavericks have seemingly started making up for lost time. St. John’s has also hosted Austin St. Stephen’s Episcopal (Tex.) and Houston St. Agnes Academy (Tex.) in the five days since the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This,” Chambers says, “is unique in that there really isn’t another facility like this for about 900 miles. You have to go to St. Louis to find a water-based turf field.”

The school’s six field hockey teams are the primary tenants of the facility. The Texas Pride club team also practices there. The school is also readying itself for hosting a Futures Elite camp this winter as well as hosting the Region 10 Futures Tournament.

By the time that happens, the full scope of the work for the St. John’s athletic program will be on display. Finnegan Field is one of a number of projects being built for the school’s athletic teams. Whereas the current facilities for football, baseball, track, and soccer are all shoehorned into a city block shared with Houston Mirabeau Lamar (Tex.), the eventual plan is to move many of these teams across Buffalo Speedway to a series of new facilities currently under construction. At least two of them are going to be inlaid with artificial grass.

“Having a Futures tournament also means that you need more than one field,” Chambers says. “When the project is done, we can have the U-19s primarily on the water-based surface, and younger players on the other fields.”

Eventually, the field is being envisioned as a possible venue for off-season exhibition or showcase events, or perhaps as an incubator for interstate competition or even to spark interest from amongst public schools or even local universities.

“We’ve been pushing for years for USFHA to concentrate efforts in this area of the country,” Chambers says. “To their credit, they have. There is tremendous growth potential here. But when it comes to the public schools, trying to break through that dam is a huge hurdle, because in the fall, you have football, and that’s all that people concentrate on.”

But a water-based turf in the city of Houston could be a game-changer.

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