If things go as planned, Brighton, Covington and Munford will be playing on artificial turf football fields in the fall of 2022.

Director of Tipton County Schools Dr. John Combs received approval from the school board Thursday night to begin researching plans to equip all three county schools with turf that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance costs and provide more field time for other sports and activities.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but obviously money has been an issue,” said Combs, who estimated the price tag to be $5 million.

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Combs said federal Covid relief funds have been used to for technology, roofing and heating and air conditionings systems which has freed up fund balance money to be used on this project.

While the football programs are the most direct beneficiaries of the new fields, Combs pointed out that many other students will benefit as well. Other teams and bands will be able to practice on the fields, which are much more durable than grass. The field will also be much better for each school’s graduation ceremonies.

“When graduation is approaching, everybody is watching the weather,” Combs said. “With these fields it could rain 30 minutes before graduation and we could still go out there and have our graduation.”

Covington head coach J.R. Kirby posted the news on Covington football’s various social media platforms last night and the reaction was overwhelming. He said he stayed up late into the night taking calls and texts from Charger supporters.

“I’m excited for the kids,” he said. “Hopefully we can host some playoff games on it. How exciting will that be? You’ve watched our field get torn up while we were making some November (playoff) runs. We’ve played on some muddy fields. It’s going to be nice to not have to worry about that.”

Football coaching staffs spend countless hours and dollars maintaining grass fields throughout, before and after the football season. Kirby estimated as much as $500,000 would be saved over 10 to 15 years (the average life of an artificial field) in maintenance costs.

This what Covington’s new artificial turf field could look like. Graphic by Echo Day

“My whole week revolves around taking care of the field,” Kirby said. “It costs about $1,000 each time we paint it.”

Like Combs, he pointed out that soccer, baseball, track, softball and cross country teams could use the field and nobody would have to worry about the wear and tear that comes with grass fields.

Brighton football coach Mike David coached on artificial turf at St. Benedict and several other schools and knows first-hand how much better they are.

“We spend a lot of time lining the practice field, trying to put hashmarks and numbers down,” he said. “With a turf field you can practice on it knowing it’s not going to get ruined. We’re definitely looking forward to it … Pretty soon it pays for itself. Your field will look the same in November as it does in August.”

“I think our players will definitely be excited, but our coaches may be more excited spending as much time working on the field as they do,” said Munford head coach Slade Calhoun.

Calhoun said he’s more excited about the practice opportunities a turf field would bring than actual game night. Munford’s practice field does not drain well and footballs regularly get water-logged and have to be replaced at about $100 a pop.

“We’re very proud of our game field. I thought it looked immaculate this year,” he said. “For us it’s more about practice and practice safety. Then you figure in what we spend on paint. We buy cases and cases of paint a year. It’s several thousands of dollars to paint the practice field and the game field. You’re talking about cutting costs way down … In the long run it’s a (financial) no-brainer.”

Assuming the final plans get approved by the school board and the Tipton County Commission, Combs said the goal is to begin construction on all three fields as soon as the 2021 football season ends.

He has researched fields at Dyersburg High School, Collierville High School, the University of Alabama and the University of Memphis and wants fields similar to those. The newest fields, he said, have synthetic cooling technology that keeps the field about 20 degrees cooler than the temperature, which will come in handy during summer practices and early-season games in August and September.

Many high schools in Memphis, Jackson and rural West Tennessee already have artificial turf fields. Milan, one of Covington’s biggest rivals, installed one last year.

“If I’m a parent looking at athletic facilities for my kid you can’t pass up Tipton County and what we’re doing,” said Kirby, who oversaw major practice facility renovations over the past 12 months. “We’re being pretty progressive. We’re trying to keep the kids in Tipton County here. We don’t want them going to Bartlett, Collierville or Arlington because they’re doing stuff. This is just another step toward this.”

Kirby is already coming up with ideas of how the field will look. He wants a lightning bolt at the 50-yard line and purple or gold end zones with “Covington” drawn in one and “Chargers” in the other.

“I can tell you the people here in Covington are freaking pumped about it. Very, very excited,” he said. “It’s going to be something we can all be proud of. It’s going to make Friday nights even more special going forward.”