When the Thomas Worthington High School football team opens its season Aug. 27 at home against Jonathan Alder, Dow Nelson Field should be in pristine condition with lush, green grass and freshly striped sidelines.

When the Thomas Worthington High School football team opens its season Aug. 27 at home against Jonathan Alder, Dow Nelson Field should be in pristine condition with lush, green grass and freshly striped sidelines.

However, senior wide receiver Colin Carter expects the field to look quite different when the Cardinals play host to Worthington Kilbourne in the season finale Oct. 29.

"Last year it seemed like we got rain every Friday and the field was chewed up (by the end of the year)," said Carter, who also plays lacrosse. "When there's mud like that, it's hard to run clean, crisp routes."

"Last year the field was somewhere between unsafe and unplayable," football coach Scott Gordon said. "We had several games where the field was all mud. It was a dangerous playing surface."

When the Cardinals begin play in 2011, Gordon hopes those concerns will be a thing of the past. The school currently is raising funds to replace the natural grass field with third-generation artificial turf.

TWHS Cards, Inc., the school's booster club, raised more than $220,000 of the $500,000 needed to install artificial turf. The Worthington Youth Boosters donated $25,000, but most of the money raised so far has come from private donations ranging between $1,000 and $10,000.

Athletics director Dan Girard believes artificial turf is needed on many levels.

"(Installing an artificial turf) is one of our top priorities right now," he said. "It's needed for our student athletes, our community at large and for the city of Worthington."

Dow Nelson Field should play host to around 20 varsity contests this coming fall between the football, boys soccer and girls soccer teams. Throw in the marching band's halftime performances and competitions and physical education classes using the field and it's easy to see how the grass can get worn down.

The demand on the field is nearly the same in the spring. Last year the boys and girls lacrosse teams played close to 20 games on the field.

Several area high schools that have similar demands on their fields have converted to artificial turf. Those fields consist of a long "grass" fiber carpet laid over crushed tires or sand that covers a pad, crushed stone and a drainage system.

Area schools using artificial turf include Bexley, DeSales, Dublin Coffman, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Gahanna, Grandview, Grove City Christian, Hamilton Township, Hilliard Bradley, Reynoldsburg, St. Charles, Upper Arlington and Wellington. Westerville Central is switching to artificial turf this year and Westerville North and Westerville South are expected to make the switch in the near future.

"A lot of people look at it as a luxury," said David Mordoh, the president of TWHS Cards, Inc. "It has nothing to do with grass over synthetics. It's not that we want to keep up with the Joneses. Our roof is leaking and (the move to artificial turf) is a necessity at this point."

Gordon believes the installation of artificial turf, which generally lasts about 10 years, could save the school money over the long run. He estimated the cost to fertilize, water, reseed and stripe a grass field ranges between $15,000 and $20,000 annually. By contrast, artificial turf would cost around $5,000 to maintain annually, he said.

"The savings and the increased revenue could help us replace the carpet in 10 years," Gordon said.

Girard said switching to artificial turf would give more teams the opportunity to play under the lights. Often junior varsity teams play their games on practice fields to save wear and tear on the field.

The field hockey team, which won the state championship in 2007 and has reached a state semifinal three times since 2000, has never played on Dow Nelson Field. Instead, the team plays on the school's front lawn.

With the installation of artificial turf, Girard said the field hockey team would be able to play in the stadium.

"That'd be wonderful," said senior Tierney Ford, who plays for the field hockey and girls lacrosse teams. "When I play lacrosse underneath the lights of the stadium, it makes things seem so much more important."

Ford also pointed out a new field would give the team two surfaces on which to practice. Because the state tournament games are played at Upper Arlington, the Cardinals have had to rent practice time on artificial turf to get accustomed to the surface.

But the benefits of artificial turf go far beyond the school. Girard said switching from grass would allow the school to go from playing host to around 40 events a year on its field to more than 400 events annually.

That would allow other community events, such as youth booster sports tournaments and civic activities, to be held at the field.

"I could see community picnics on the Fourth of July and alumni gatherings down there," Girard said. "Dublin hosts a youth lacrosse tournament because they have these all of those fields where they can play multiple games on them back-to-back. We don't have any area like that in Worthington. (With artificial turf) we could host large events to generate some revenue for our community."

Gordon saw that happen when he was football coach at Grandview, which switched to an artificial turf in 2007.

"Now that field is used by everyone," Gordon said. "If you were to drive by there right now, you'd see someone using that field. It's a source of pride for that community. We're perfectly set up for that here."