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Luther College Chips

In opposition of blue turf in Oneota Valley

David Faldet (‘79), Professor of English

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I felt conflicting emotions when I saw the front page of the [Chips] April 6 issue: the leading headline “College rejects elementary school in victory for environmental proponents” and below it “College to upgrade to blue turf football field.”

I felt happy and proud about the first story, a piece about the college reaching a decision after comments from over 700 people that aligns with Luther’s land stewardship plan of “nurturing connections to and caring for our natural surroundings; and acting as stewards of the natural areas placed in our care.”  Author Danny May (‘17) points out that the land stewardship plan connects to the college mission of “‘joyful stewardship’ of natural areas.”

I felt ill about the second: a story announcing a decision, newly made public, of replacing perhaps the college’s most visible “natural area” with a 1.3 acre mat of brilliant blue plastic to “boost … the college’s visual appeal,” work as a “recruiting tool,” and offer “unique marketing implications.”

“Blue turf” is an oxymoron.

I understand the reasons for artificial turf: reducing the risk of impact injury, using less fertilizer and herbicide, and putting us on a par with the schools in our conference with artificial turf. 

I also know that the nation’s first blue field, at Boise State, heralded a sizable boost in applications, increased donations from boosters, and a home field advantage against schools not used to reading the blue on blue action of the home team.

I disagree, however, with the logic offered by Luther’s athletic director, that with a green field we would at best be “catching up” with other conference colleges, while with a blue field we have a great new answer to the question, why choose Luther?

If I wore a dayglow orange suit to a job interview I would no doubt stand out from my competitors in their modest business color, but that doesn’t mean I would necessarily be more likely to be hired. 

I realize that any artificial turf field, regardless of its color, is not natural.  Blue, however, is the color of sky, of the water in a tropical coral reef.  That is the nature of blue. Natural turf —grass — is not and never has been blue.

I am skeptical of the Boise State comparison for recruiting and marketing.  I have spent lots of time in Boise. The turf of Albertsons Stadium is only seen by players, by ticket-purchasing fans, or by people watching football games on television.  The steep bowl of the stadium screens the field from the rest of the city and campus.  If you see blue, it’s because you came to see it. And the designer of the field had the good taste to leave the surrounding track cinder brown.

Carlson Stadium could not be more different. The view of the Oneota Valley is shared daily by every person on the Luther College campus at two or three meals and in passing to and from the Union.  It would be added to the bright blue roof of Regents and the track: the loudest voice in a gaudy chorus.

I proudly show off the campus to visitors and have yet to hear one say they are sorry about the view to our west and north.  The college has purchased hundreds of acres to preserve that view, and the city of Decorah has in its wisdom and deference planned its expansion to the south and east to preserve the pastoral view from the college.

Placing an electric blue field as the massive foreground of that view is like the Louvre Museum putting down a yellow shag carpet in the gallery housing da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”

The college hired Jens Jensen to develop a landscape plan for the college on its 50th anniversary. Jensen’s philosophy was to create a shaped landscape that echoed the natural landscape around it.  He included a long, hilltop drive that allowed many views of the river.  And whereas most of his projects included building in a water feature, he left that off Luther’s plan because we already had one: the river.  The construction of buildings like the Union (and many others) have continued to build on Jensen’s wisdom by orienting the main view toward the Oneota Valley.

The color of a turf field doesn’t go away or change.  The river valley, the prairie, the hills will change from spring pastels, to the deep green riot of July, to fall orange, to brown, and to white.  Only the white phase of the seasons will grant us a reprieve from 1.3 acres of Luther blue, brazenly glaring up at us morning, noon, and dinner time from one end of the year to the other, in each season twice as electric as the landscape it eclipses.

While blue turf might be a recruiting tool for the dozens of athletes on the varsity teams who will use the field, I question whether it will be a plus for the hundreds who choose Luther for its view, for its environment, for its deliberate work of “nurturing connections to our natural surroundings,” and who will only be able to avoid seeing it every day if they shade their eyes.

Signed,

David Faldet (‘79)

Professor of English

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