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Friday, Oct. 10, 2014: Artificial turf safety concerns back in the news

   Leading off today: There are more than 11,000 synthetic turf sports fields in use in the United States according to figures from the Synthetic Turf Council, and crumb rubber fill is also used in playgrounds across the country.

   That's why a report from NBC News has raised a new round of concerns about possible links between those fields and serious health issues. It was the subject of lengthy discussion on many radio talk shows Thursday and triggered a fresh wave of newspaper reporting as well.

   The NBC investigation into artificial turf links it to cancers, especially those of the blood, although health officials are being cautious and industry spokesmen cite extensive research that has not uncovered a link. The network reported on data compiled by Amy Griffin, associate head coach for the University of Washington's women's soccer team, whose list of 38 U.S. soccer players who have been diagnosed with cancer includes 34 goalies who've played frequently on artificial turf. Though no research has said the material causes the disease, Griffin believes the black crumbs made of synthetic fibers and old tire bits beneath some newer brands of fields may be carcinogenic.

   "I've coached for 26, 27 years," Griffin said. "My first 15 years, I never heard anything about this. All of a sudden it seems to be a stream of kids (getting sick)."

   Griffin's compilation is by no means authoritative or scientific, but the ratio of goalkeepers afflicted with serious illnesses compared to field players is at once eye-catching and puzzling. The suspicion is that goalies are in more frequent contact with the turf as they make numerous dives at loose balls or opponents' shots. If that theory proves accurate, then the implications for football linemen and lacrosse faceoff midfielders is obvious.

   The Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission performed studies last decade, but both agencies recently backtracked on their assurances the material was safe, calling their studies "limited," NBC reported. While the EPA said in a statement that "more testing needs to be done," the agency also said it considered artificial turf to be a "state and local decision," and would not be commissioning further research.

   The EPA refused requests from NBC News for an interview. It said in a statement that the agency "does not believe that the field monitoring data collected provides evidence of an elevated health risk resulting from the use of recycled tire crumb in playgrounds or in synthetic turf athletic fields."

   Coach assaulted: A Gates Chili junior is facing a second-degree assault charge, a felony, for allegedly punching varsity football coach Jason Benham on Thursday, Rochester media reported.

   The Gates Police Department said Davarcea J. Fort, 17, who is not a football layer, entered a locker room with three other students around 2:50 p.m. and got into a verbal confrontation with some players and Benham. Benham was struck in the right eye by Fort during the incident, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.

   Police Chief James VanBrederode said he believed Fort was the only student who hit the coach, and police are still trying to locate one suspect. District Superintendent Kimberle Ward said at least two of the suspects are juveniles. She said that disciplinary hearings will be held for all students involved.

   Fort is scheduled to appear at Gates Town Court on Wednesday. He is being held on $5,000 cash bail, WHAM-TV reported.

   Change made: Bill Roos resigned as coach of the winless Roy C. Ketcham football team Thursday, assistant athletics coordinator Joe Luzzi told the Poughkeepsie Journal.

   Luzzi said defensive coordinator Ed Coviello will serve as interim coach for the remainder of the season. The Indians football site

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(0-5) play at Arlington on Friday.

   Roos did not immediately respond to a phone call from the paper. He coached Ketcham from 1992 to 2000 and was approved as the new head coach in July. He has worked at numerous colleges, including Marist, as well as high schools and the NFL.

   Ketcham was 7-2 in 2013 under coach Pat Keevins, who resigned in January and was named a Poughkeepsie assistant coach in April.

   Milestone: I had to hold off on this while Western New York reporters sorted out the numbers (here and here), but you can now credit Stephen Pierce with being the winningest girls volleyball coach in state history.

   Tuesday's 25-6, 25-4, 25-11 win vs. Holland was Pierce's 803rd at Eden and 913th overall, surpassing Sally Kus' total at Sweet Home and Cuba-Rushford.

   A smart man: I officially propose that the Buffalo Bills remove media responsibilities from seven-brands-of-bland Doug Marrone and let assistant coach Tyrone Wheatley Sr. deal with reporters.

   Wheatley, who's been a prized recruit, a University of Michigan star, an NFL player and recruiter/coach through the years, gave a great interview to, discussing turmoil at his old college and the implications for his oldest son, Canisius High star Tyrone Wheatley Jr.

   Papa Wheatley has been very active in his son's recruitment, and his insight is outstanding. A couple of nuggets:

    • "First and foremost we told him we're not looking for a place for a head coach. We're looking at bricks and mortar and internal. The landscape of college football is three and out. Three and out, you lose and you're gone OR three and out, you're hot and you're gone. Either way, whether the coach is doing well or doing badly, coaches are gone."

    • "You're going to curse them, but every coach is going to be a jerk. They'll flash their pearly white smiles in recruitment, tell you everything you want to hear, but as soon as you sign your name on the dotted line, they have you. Now it is time to get to work. That's the part that the kids don't see. It goes from 'Wheatley, I love you' to 'Damn it, Wheatley, you suck!' I told him to look at all coaches as jerks and then look at the bricks and mortar, the internal, meaning the academic people. Who is going to support you? Those are things that matter most."

    Reading between the lines, dad sounds as though he's telling son that Michigan would be a fine choice whether coach Brady Hoke somehow saves his job or not.

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