Managing field use

Sports are big in Fargo, N.D.—there were 225 teams competing in just the adult slow-pitch softball this year. There’s a lot to pack in during a relatively short playing season, and Fargo is definitely cool-season country.

The Anderson Softball Complex has eight lighted fields.

Like many communities with active sports participation in league and community groups, the Fargo Park Department, for a time, allowed field users to handle the bulk of field care. That changed in 2000 when the park district took over field care to provide consistent playing conditions across the city.

Field overview

Rene Smith stepped up to the position of athletic field coordinator at that time to develop and manage the program. She is responsible for scheduling the outdoor sports complexes or facilities. She says, “Basically, I create a master schedule of site use—who is on what site and when they are there. In addition, I develop and manage the field maintenance program. When I first started, all I had was a part-time staff. Our program has grown, and we now have two other full-time personnel. David Suda oversees all the soccer facilities, and Chad Walthers all the softball and baseball facilities. Together, we oversee a part-time maintenance staff of 30.”

The Mickelson Fastpitch Complex main field with seating for 1,000.
The Tharaldson Baseball Complex has four grass and lighted fields.

Those facilities are contained within 22 park and school sites spread throughout Fargo. There are 58 softball/baseball fields. Tharaldson Baseball Park includes four fields with grassed infields and clay mounds, which are all lighted for night games. Adjacent to it is the eight-field Anderson Softball Complex, and an additional four fields are clustered in the Southwest Softball Complex. Mickelson Park is the site of the seven fast-pitch ball fields. Baseball fields at North High School and Bennett Middle School are used for recreational baseball after the high school baseball season ends. All these fields are lighted for night games. The remainder of the softball/baseball fields are within multiuse parks.

The Pepsi Soccer Complex with 11 fields, two of them lighted.

Two sites contain the soccer game fields. Twelve game fields are within the Pepsi Soccer Complex and four are located at Johnson Park. The 30 soccer practice fields are within multiuse neighborhood parks and on some school sites. A youth flag football league uses the outfields of the baseball complex in the fall.

Smith says, “Chad Walthers makes sure all 58 softball/baseball fields are prepared as needed. All but two of those fields are used regularly from Monday through Thursday for games, and on weekends when tournaments are scheduled. Our crews do all the game setup. Two fields aren’t used for games on a regular basis and are available for practices on a first-come, first-served basis. The other park fields are open for weekend practices when they’re not in use for tournaments. Field use within the complex sites is all prescheduled.

“The majority of our softball fields have agrilime skinned areas. The remaining field base paths are clay. We use Smithco field rakes with the attachments and pulled drag mats to groom all of them. They are dragged daily, and the diamonds are laser-leveled weekly. The baseball fields have packed clay home plate areas. We’ve installed jock boxes on most of the agrilime fields. It’s basically a frame about the size of a batter’s box that keeps the players from digging down. We level and water those, and the pitching circles, daily. The only clay mounds are at the Tharaldson complex. They are reshaped, packed and watered daily during the playing season. We take care of maintaining the infield area and do the game setup for the two school baseball fields. They do the mowing for those two sites.”

The daily soccer maintenance is under the supervision of Suda. He makes sure all the game fields are game-ready and checks on the field conditions and soccer goal placement and anchoring in all the neighborhood parks. Smith says, “He has one crew member assigned to mowing at the Pepsi Soccer Complex and one assigned to painting the fields and setting up the goals.

“Two staff members focus on special projects, which covers everything from field setups for private rentals to fence mending, aeration and troubleshooting field problems. We also have the resources of the other divisions of the park district when we need them, including two other maintenance hubs and a forestry division. There’s an irrigation specialist and a landscape specialist who does all of the flowerbed work. We also have three golf course superintendents within the park district. They are a tremendous benefit to our program, sharing equipment, as well as their expertise.”

Field management program

All of the athletic fields are native soil, the heavy black clay of the Red River Valley. The turf is a sports blend developed locally contain approximately 80 percent Kentucky bluegrasses with the remainder turf-type tall fescues and perennial ryegrasses.

The fields of the baseball complexes are currently mowed at a 1.5-inch height with ride-on reel mowers. The other fields are mowed at a 2-inch height with ride-on rotary mowers equipped with rollers to create striping patterns.

The fields within the Tharaldson, South-west, Mickelson and Pepsi Complexes and the baseball fields at the Bennett and North school sites are equipped with inground irrigation systems. Each has an on-site controller that serves its system. All the systems use city water except Mickelson’s, which taps into the Red River.

This shows the flooding at Mickelson Field in 2006.
Flood stage was 19 feet, crested at 34 feet.

Field quality is consistent throughout the district with the basic management program that Smith has implemented. Granular fertilizers are applied three times a year. The first application of 32-3-8 is made in early May, with a second, using the same fertilizer, timed for late June before the summer heat hits. The fall application using 24-4-20 is made during the two weeks following Labor Day.

The soccer fields are sliced in early spring and again in conjunction with the fall fertilization. Spike aeration is used on the baseball fields with the same timing. Turf conditions are the determining factor on fall overseeding.

Standard IPM procedures are used for any pest problems. Generally, the only applications are for broadleaf weed control, where needed, once in the spring and once in the fall.

Managing field use

Smith sends out facility use agreements in February to the groups involved in spring sports. Each group returns the form with the list of its wants and needs. Smith enters that input into the computer to develop a master schedule, making adjustments as necessary based on field availability. She follows a similar procedure in August for the fall sports.

“We start each playing season with all the field use schedules in place and the maintenance program planned around it,” she says. “Then we deal with the adjustments based on what Mother Nature decides to do.”

She implemented a new policy this year. All facility agreements note that a five-day cancellation notice is required and written notification of rescheduling (by letter, fax or e-mail) must be received 48 hours in advance of the start time. Without the advance written notification, the city does not guarantee that the site will be game-ready. The policy has greatly increased the number of e-mail messages Smith handles each day, but the last-minute change requests have been drastically reduced, which makes the overall program flow more smoothly.

“Communication is really the key,” she says. “My phone and e-mail contact from field users is growing each year, and I encourage it. When I meet with our user groups, I always remind them that if they make any changes in their field use plans, I’m the first person they need to contact.”

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