AstroTurf, the synthetic sod that makes it possible to play football, baseball and other sports where grass doesn't grow, had a 25th birthday party at the private school where it all began.

AstroTurf's silver anniversary was observed Friday at Moses Brown School, the Quaker school where the prototype was installed 25 years ago as part of an effort to help city kids become more physically fit."We had an idea that it would develop into something big," recalled the school's athletic director and football coach, Jerry A. Zeoli, who oversaw the installation and was among the 20 to 30 people at Friday's celebration.

AstroTurf has been installed in more than 500 locations in 32 countries, said AstroTurf Industries Inc. President Ed M. Milner.

It wound up at Moses Brown because of a Ford Foundation study showing urban children were less fit than their suburban counterparts. In 1964, the foundation gave the school a grant to test the artificial grass in its new field house.

In developing the turf, Monsanto Co. studied traction, shock absorbance, weather resistance, how balls rolled and bounced, and a host of other factors, Milner said.

Moses Brown used its nylon field for baseball, tennis, soccer and lacrosse, Zeoli said. It also saw service in graduation ceremonies and dances.

"You can clean it so easily, all you need is a vacuum cleaner," Zeoli said.

Zeoli figured AstroTurf might have some potential when in 1965 some officials from the Houston Astrodome journeyed north to have a look at the nylon carpet because they just couldn't get real grass to grow in their new domed stadium.

The Texans decided on an improved version, and the synthetic turf was named for the Astrodome.