St. Thomas Aquinas High School’s Brian Piccolo Memorial Stadium: Honoring a Fallen Alum

This is one in a series of posts showcasing the most outstanding high school football stadiums with artificial turf. Every field has its own story. See the full list Here.


Football (and even non-football) fans of a certain age may remember the story of Brian Piccolo: The All-American halfback out of Wake Forest University signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears in 1965 and died of testicular cancer in 1970 at age 26. His relationship with Bears tailback Gale Sayers was captured in the 1971 Emmy-winning movie, Brian’s Song, which also straightforwardly addressed race relations in America.


Thanks to Brian Piccolo Memorial Stadium at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — Piccolo’s alma mater when it was known as Central Catholic High — new generations of students are reminded of the man’s short but impactful life. After every home football game, the school’s marching band plays “The Hands of Time,” the theme music from Brian’s Song.


(Worth noting: More than 30 famous football alums from the perennial powerhouse have gone to the NFL, including former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin.)


Aquinas, previously recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the top high school athletic programs in the country and with a nationally ranked football team this season, went nearly 30 years without a stadium, playing offsite in a location that originally didn’t even have bleachers, athletic director George Smith remembers. But when a new stadium with a natural grass field opened on campus in 1975, named after Piccolo, soil issues led to “years upon years of re-sodding,” he says. “The maintenance issues became outrageous.”


Fine sugar sand beneath the field’s surface did not make the site conducive to growing grass and rendered practicing at the stadium difficult. FieldTurf was installed in 2007, and other improvements such as a resurfaced rubberized track, concessions stands, restrooms and a grass practice field were added. Learn more on St. Thomas Aquinas High School’s surface Here.




The stadium can seat up to 4,500 spectators, and three football, four soccer and four lacrosse teams, track and field participants and physical education students all use the field.


“Turf fields are just like grass fields, and you need to understand how they work,” says Smith, who was the school’s football coach for 34 years, retiring in 2010 with 361 wins and six state championships. The school’s football coaches don’t overuse any particular area of the field. For example, if defensive linemen are doing drills on the hash marks between the 10-yard-line and the goal line one day, the squad will move to a different part of the field the next day. Even though it’s unlikely the turf would wear as a result of repeat action in the same area, Smith and his staff are conserving the field for as long as they can.

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