Volunteers rally for local homecoming

PHOTOS BY WAYNE E. RIVET/BRIDGTON NEWS.
Lance Tibbetts, grounds manager for the Universityof New England in Biddeford, Maine, orchestrated the makeover project.
With a steady hand, Jason Chisholm outlines a yard line number.
Jason Chisholm, sports turf manager at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, served on the makeover team.

Imagine a full front page of your newspaper’s regional sports section featuring a group of sports field managers as true professionals creating a pro-style look for a high school football field. That’s just part of the impact surrounding what staff writer Wayne E. Rivet of The Bridgton News headlined as “A Gridiron Extreme Makeover.”

The project was orchestrated by Lance Tibbetts, CSFM, grounds manager for the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. Partnering in the efforts were: Jason Chisholm, sports turf manager at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine; Alan Kratzsch, sports field manager for the city of Westbrook, Maine; and Mike Didonato, grounds coordinator for the Windham School Department.

The target was the football field of the Art Kilborn Athletic Complex, home field for the Lake Region High School team. “The team had been working hard, but struggling during the 2008 season without a single win,” noted Tibbetts.

He said, “With the October 17 homecoming game approaching, I figured the players could use a little boost in morale and thought a field makeover would do it.”

Making it happen

The typical game field prep was trimming the mix of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass turf to a 2-inch height with a rotary mower and painting the basic grid and numbers in white. The makeover would involve cutting in the striping pattern, adding the sideline hash marks in white and enhancing the aesthetics with blue and gold paint—the school colors.

Tibbetts had also contacted Matt Tobin, sales manager for Pioneer Manufacturing, suppliers of athletic field paint. While the company is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, Tobin is based in Saco, Maine. He worked out the arrangements to donate the blue and yellow field paint, and also pitched in to help with the painting.

The makeover team converged on the field on Thursday, bringing equipment as well as supplies. Tibbetts says, “Jason brought their Toro reel mower; Mike the paint machine and stencils; Alan supplied the layover. Pioneer Paint donated six pails each of yellow and blue paint, and UNE provided about four pails of white.”

Using the reel mower, they dropped the mowing height to 1.25 inches and burned in the pattern. They painted a grid all the way around the field, painted the hash marks between the 5-yard lines, outlined the numbers in yellow and blue, added the letters L and R in yellow outlined in blue and did the coaches’ boxes in yellow and blue.

Tibbetts says, “We out there until 10 p.m. on Thursday night, then back at 9 a.m. on Friday, wrapping it up at 3 p.m. It was a total team effort, with everyone knowing what needed to be done and tackling each task as though it was for the most important game of their own field.”

Homecoming

Though initially the project was planned as a surprise, they determined that spreading the word would draw a bigger crowd to the game. When Paul True, Lake Region athletic director, stopped by Thursday night as the group was mowing and putting down the grid, he was so excited he called the coaches. The buzz spread through the school and out into the community. So many people came to the homecoming game that it was standing room only.

Tibbetts managed to be back at the site when the football team came out for pregame prep and saw the field for the first time. He says, “It was great to see how excited they were. It seemed to create extra energy that continued throughout the game and spread through the crowd.”

The team and the field shine under the lights on homecoming night.
Mike Didonato tackled part of the painting for the makeover project.

The outcome of the game was in question down to the last 10 seconds, when the opposing team, Gray-New Gloucester, pulled off a 34 to 28 win. “The home team gave the crowd lots to cheer for, scoring more touchdowns in that game than they did all year,” noted Tibbetts. “Even though they didn’t get a win that night, they have a memory to treasure.”

The bigger picture

Sports field managers frequently spend hours advising and training the volunteers of community sports programs on field maintenance. They share expertise and ideas through informal networking. At times that extends to sharing equipment or pitching in to help another field manager prepare for a special event or tackle a field problem.

Tibbetts noted that the high school’s head of facilities management shadowed the group as they worked. “We passed along pointers, as well as compliments,” he said. “He and the AD have my cell phone number and e-mail address to connect if they need assistance, and they know I’m just 10 miles away. They have good support from their booster club, with both funding and volunteers, so they’re excited about what the next season will bring.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.