Last on grass: Staples’ Loeffler Field stays natural as turf fields fill FCIAC soccer

Photo of Scott Ericson
Staples’ Albie Loeffler Field is the last grass field in the FCIAC used as a school’s primary home field for soccer.

Staples’ Albie Loeffler Field is the last grass field in the FCIAC used as a school’s primary home field for soccer.

Scott Ericson / Hearst Connecticut Media

At the completion of most high school soccer games in the FCIAC, players are likely to be dumping little black rubber pellets out of their shoes rather than wiping green stains off their knees.

It has been a steady march over the last 20 years toward all soccer in the league being played on artificial surfaces, but one school has kept the tradition of playing on real, living grass intact.

Down a grass hill behind Staples High sits Albie Loeffler Field, the last grass field in the FCIAC used as a school’s primary home pitch.

“We have a very unique home field. We have the grass and the fans on the hill, it can be very intimidating,” Staples boys soccer coach Dan Woog said. “We are used to it and others are not. When we played Norwalk and Trumbull this year, we felt like we had an advantage because of the field and the people on the hill. It works great for us because other teams are not used to unpredictable bounces and the game being slower. It’s not easy to play on.”

Staples has had a lot of success playing on the field they simply refer to as “The Hill,” going 3-0-4 this season at home and only conceding two goals.

Excluding the 2020 season shortened by COVID-19, the Wreckers are 20-4-9 on Loeffler Feld since 2016.

The field was built in 1958 when the Staples campus moved to North Avenue and the school’s boys soccer program was started.

In 1998, the field was named Albie Loeffler Field in honor of the coach who founded the Staples soccer program.

Loeffler retired from coaching in 1978 with a then-national record 314 wins. His Staples teams won 13 FCIAC championships and seven CIAC state titles.

Today, his name still rings out, in part due to the pristine grass field bearing his name.

“Staples does a great job naming fields and the track after former iconic coaches who coached together at Staples,” Woog said. “Albie means so much to soccer in Connecticut. Having his name on the field keeps his memory alive for each new class of kids who play on the field.”

This past summer, the field went through the first phase of a rejuvenation process, funded by the girls and boys soccer teams at Staples.

The second part of the field rejuvenation is set to take place next summer.

Those fixes will ensure many more years of soccer on the grass at “The Hill.”

It is the first major work the field has needed since it took shape in 1958.

There have been talks of turfing the field but costs and logistics have never gotten that idea off the ground, according to Woog.

The field is hemmed in by the hill on one side, woods on the other, a field hockey field at one end and a baseball diamond on the other. In the spring, Loeffler Field becomes part of the Staples varsity baseball outfield.

While Loeffler Field is the only grass surface used as the primary field, Warde also hosts games on the grass field on its campus.

The Mustangs played three of their 2021 home games on grass with the rest being played on the artificial turf at Tetreau/Davis Field.

“We let our captains choose each season and they prefer to play on the turf so we scheduled as many games as we could on the turf. With conflicts using the turf, we ended up playing three of our eight games on the grass,” Warde coach Justin Ottavio said. “I always liked having teams come here to play on the grass. It’s the mental aspect of it for our opponents more than anything. We practice and play on it and the other teams never play on it.”

Both Woog and Ottavio said the modern players prefer playing on turf because they have grown up doing so in youth soccer and prefer the true bounces and speed of the game.

Playing on grass has advantages and disadvantages. Ottavio would rather all games be on grass, though he knows that it is never going back.

“Grass lowers the risk of joint or ACL injuries because it is malleable. It is also much cooler in the summer when we begin training,” Ottavio said. “Grass slows the game down and gives it more of a natural flow. On grass there are less games where it feels like you are playing ping pong. It is more of a tactile, technical game. I love that we have grass here.”

In past seasons, New Canaan played some of its home games on Connor Field’s grass surface but played all of its home games this season at Dunning Stadium.

While having the home games on grass, Staples practices mainly on artificial turf at Wakeman Field. First, to prepare for road contests but also to help preserve Loeffler field for the entirety of the season.

As it stands, the field has been so beat up by the boys and girls this fall that the boys will likely play any postseason games at Wakeman, according to Woog.

Staples has played a handful of home games at Wakeman Field over the last five seasons for various reason.

The Staples girls soccer team played four games on Loeffler Field this season with the rest of its home games being played on Wakeman.

Warde’s girls soccer team also played some of its home games on grass.; @EricsonSports