Skowhegan field hockey coach Paula Doughty watched the sport she loves played on artificial turf for the first time at a national futures tournament in College Park, Maryland in 1998.

Seventeen years and 13 Class A high school championships later, Doughty and her highly successful Indians are still playing field hockey on grass. The field at Skowhegan Area High School is one of the best grass fields in the state, but it’s not turf. Neither are any of the other fields in cash-strapped central Maine, save for Kents Hill and Thomas and Colby colleges.

Like golf greens and pool tables, the surface most conducive to effective field hockey needs to be smooth since the ball is on the ground 95 percent of the time.

Since field hockey was played on turf at the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal, national and international tournaments are played on artificial surfaces by mandate. Rules and equipment for the game have adapted accordingly. Stick blades became shorter and sticks lighter and made of composites instead of word. The ribbed ball became hard plastic without the ribs, the better to travel along an artificial surface. Rules concerning the ball entering and leaving 5-yard and 25-yard areas were changed to reflect the ease with which the ball traveled.

“We are playing turf rules essentially on grass,” Doughty said.

Doughty calls grass the great equalizer, a testament in many respects to her program’s overall success.

“On grass, you just hit and hope,” she said. “The best team will win on a turf field.”

Many of the players here in central Maine have played the game on turf, occasionally at Thomas or in off-season indoor and outdoor tournaments.

“I play for Majestix, so I went to four tournaments all on Astroturf,” Cony junior Delaney Keithley said. “It’s a different game. It’s a whole another level. The ball’s moving that much faster, you’re moving that much faster. They’re two different monsters.”

The Majestix are an age group field hockey club that completes in regional and national tournaments. They began eight years ago and have flourished, most recently placing high in the national tournament on teams comprised of central Maine players.

“The kids transition to turf pretty well,” said Amy Bernatchez, Majestix director and U19 coach. “Every kid that goes to turf has more success. The game has gotten more exciting to watch. You don’t have as many whistles.”

Because the ball stays along the ground and moves much more quickly, strategy on turf is much different on grass. Turf passes have to be tempered, less they go off the field of play. If might take 10 or 12 passes to travel the length of a grass field where one or two does the trick on turf. Players play wider on turf and shots are generally harder.

“You want to drive it when you’re shooting on goal,” Mt. Blue coach Jody Harmon said. “But other than that you have to have accuracy in passing.”

So why doesn’t everyone play on turf?

Well, the start-up costs are high, in some cases a million dollars or more to build a field. And there is some maintenance involved since many surfaces need to be replaced every 10 years on so, albeit at a much lower cost. Bernatchez believes in the long run artificial turf saves money when all the maintenance for grass fields is taken into account.

“It’s probably the most cost effective,” she said.

High school teams do get some experience on turf. Many play at Thomas two or three times a year, and state games have been played on turf for about 10 years now. Thomas allows teams to use the field for free — the only costs are for officials and transportation — and Bernatchez is surprised more schools don’t take advantage of it. There are two side-by-side turf fields at the Waterville school, one for field hockey and one for soccer. The “grass” on the field hockey field is shorter and the field is faster while the adjacent soccer field’s grass is a bit longer.

“The longer the turf is, the more grab it has on the ball,” Bernatchez said.

The assumption that one turf field fits all sports came to light for Doughty when her Indians played a state game at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

“It was pretty slow,” she said.

In fact, Bernatchez said the Thomas field is a little slow when preparing her Majestix for a national tournament. They benefit from slick indoor surfaces at Alfond Center and Sukee Arena during the winter, and utilize Colby’s water-based Astroturf field when they move outdoors in preparation for nationals..

“It’s just a little faster,” she said.

Several towns have explored or continue to explore installing a turf field, including Skowhegan, but money is the sticking point for a sport that is so much better on a smooth surface.

“When you play on grass field, you’re just paying your dues,” Bernatchez said. “You’ll play on a beautiful turf field in college.”

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