I’ve often joked that a political science degree might serve the sports field manager better than a degree in turfgrass management. Nowadays, I sometimes wish I had dabbled in psychology during my formal education years. I can’t figure out what goes on in the minds of most folks when it comes to how they perceive highly managed turfgrass on sports fields. I want to call it ignorance, but that sounds a bit harsh. Let’s just call them honorable people completely unfamiliar with turfgrass and sports fields. This unawareness manifests itself in many ways to the sports field manager, and results in more than just aggravation.
Sports Turf Managers: Safety Agents
"Those who schedule field use and administer the facilities often do not understand turfgrass, and this can bring challenges to preparing safe and playable fields."
- We once had a steakhouse chain cater a private barbecue on the service track surrounding our stadium field. At the end of the night there were hot grease traps to clean. Instead of taking the hot grease with them like they should, where do you suppose they poured this hot, bubbling ooze? That’s right, on the grass next to the concrete with a drain.
- For our lacrosse games, we lay down flooring over the grass along one sideline. We sell premium seats and suites here, and there is food and beverages. At a recent game, a fan in this area got sick and had to throw up. He could have heaved on the flooring, it would have been an easy cleanup. Instead he leaned over the wall and hurled on the grass. Housekeeping, bless their hearts, spread some sort of gooey absorbent over it. By the time the turf managers saw it, it was too late.
- I remember a player once laying his gloves on the grass practice field and spraying Stickum on them. The next day I found the spot, two perfectly green handprints surrounded by crispy, purple death.
- Then there are the security guards for the games who seek out their 18-inch-diameter bare spot on the sidelines. If they just moved around a little like the rest of the guards, they wouldn’t be creating this dangerous hard spot on the playing surface.
- I once arrived at the practice fields on a cold morning to see a few players doing drill work on the hard-frosted grass. They were using the “Frost: please keep off the grass” signs as cones for their drills.
- Right before an Eagles concert at the stadium I was walking the floor. There was this lady encouraging her son to reach in through the fence to an open area of grass on the field and tear some out as a souvenir. I hid my badge and asked her what the turf manager would think if he saw this. She just laughed until I informed her that I was the turf manager.
These are just a few examples. It’s not everybody, and I realize this kind of unfamiliarity goes on in all walks of life. It’s just part of life and part of being a sports field manager. But there is a distinction in that grass cannot be instantly replaced like a lightbulb or broken window. Seed, sod or sprigs, it takes time. And that is one thing common to all our natural grass sports fields – they don’t have time. We don’t hold window-smashing events at city hall, but we schedule large festivals and park cars on our sports fields and expect to play on them in a week. I have to think that these turfgrass faux pas do not happen in a bed of petunias; everyone knows that they can die. Fine turfgrass is an enigma to most. I believe most folks basically put turfgrass into a category with carpeting or even concrete, thinking it’s pretty much indestructible.
Turfgrass obliviousness expresses itself more seriously than just disrespectful scars on our fields. You see, today’s sports field managers are safety agents for the athletes. A sports field manager is more akin to an athletic trainer than housekeeping, but is not often seen that way. Every decision we make, every treatment we perform is to maximize athlete performance and ensure their safety as best we can – every athlete and every game.
Field quality standards are rising, and safety standards are coming, but sometimes we are the only ones in the room that understand that fact. For example, most states now have some sort of rules or guidelines on heat stress to athletes for summertime activity. Especially in high school football, they detail practice schedules and all sorts of protocols designed to protect the players from dangerous heat stress that can (and unfortunately does) result in death. In all my reading, I cannot find any protocols or even a mention about elevated temperatures on artificial infill turf in certain conditions. Shouldn’t we inform the parents, coaches, administrators and athletes that surface temperatures can be some 80 degrees cooler on natural grass in these conditions?
I won’t even get started about errors made by the media.
Those who schedule field use and administer the facilities often do not understand turfgrass, and this can bring challenges to preparing safe and playable fields. We sports field managers have to improve our skills, communicating the vital information in a way that is simple and understandable. For example, many of the decision-makers assess field conditions and playing surface quality by simply looking at the grass. So when they see grass cover, they figure the field is good to go. Only the sports field manager really knows that while the new sod or freshly sprouted seed looks good, it will need time to mature and establish. Then we can get more games and practices on it this year.
It’s an old story in our industry, and for right now we are making subjective and qualitative arguments for field quality. Sports field safety and performance testing puts an end to this and will begin to put facts in the argument for field quality. Be a safety agent for the athletes!