George Toma

Another year and another phase of our athletic field turf management programs are here again. Now is the time to keep football and soccer fields in great shape. Fall is the best time to fertilize. If someone only had enough money in the budget to fertilize once a year, fall would be that time. Check out the field after each game. Use pregerminated seed in your divot mix, seed down the center of the field between the hash marks, and seed in the goalmouths of the soccer fields. I like to use a pin spiker or aerify down only an inch or two in order to have good soil and seed contact. If you don’t have the time or the equipment to do that, seed down the center of the field and let the players cleat it in.

At the Minnesota Vikings Field, Grant Davisson and I would seed down the center of the field using a pin spiker or a Toro aerifier. Then, we’d even ask the coaches to have their players do their wind sprints down the center to cleat in the seed, too. We had excellent results by doubling up on the efforts to get that seed into good contact with the soil and protected a bit for a really good start. Seed is one of the least expensive items in the field manager’s budget, so be sure there is seed in place and ready to grow whenever the turf is wearing thin or play is going to tear up some of the grass.

On warm-season grasses, it is overseeding time, getting the cool-season grasses down and actively growing as the bermudagrass goes dormant. With so many new turfgrasses now available, there is a good fit for nearly any field.

There are still athletic fields around that have no groundskeepers. Many of these are maintained by the coaches, players and volunteers. Lately, I have seen baseball coaches, along with players and volunteers, not just preparing their fields for daily play, but taking the extra steps to get their fields ready for the 2009 season. My hat goes off to these hardworking, dedicated people who are devoted to making their fields better. They realize that the best insurance for any athlete is a safe playing field.

Many of these coaches and volunteers have learned the basics of field care from local sports field managers who have taken the time to put on a training session or have visited the team’s field. I’m seeing more of the STMA chapters inviting these people to their meetings when on-field demonstrations are part of the program. If you really like the look of someone else’s field, ask them about their management program. If you’re having a problem, seek the advice of other sports field managers.

In the ’60s, Old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City was home of the Kansas City Athletics and Kansas City Chiefs. Back in those days, many football and baseball teams were sharing a stadium, and some of the teams did not get along. The A’s and Chiefs were two of those teams. When this happened, neither team made an effort to look out for the other one, even on the playing field, which made it harder for the groundskeepers to keep the field in top shape for both sports. Yet, there were others that really made an effort to make the situation the best it could be. The Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Lions worked together as a championship team.

In the ’60s, I had just one man helping me. We were the entire grounds crew for the stadium serving both teams, and we had a very small budget. We would ask the concessions people to save all the cardboard for us, and the stadium maintenance people saved the scrap iron and broken metal seats for us. We took everything to Cohen’s junkyard and received money for it. Then we went to Standard Seed or Rudy Patrick Seed Company and used that money to buy our grass seed. And, you know what, The visiting baseball and football teams said we had the best playing fields in the league.

These days, things are getting a little tough for budgets, especially with the price of gas and fertilizer going up. We still have to seek out ways to get the job done. Some places that I have visited have so much used equipment lying around, and with the price of scrap iron today, this could be a good time to sell it and get something they need that is not in the budget.

George Toma is an NFL Hall of Fame inductee, one of the founders of the Sports Turf Managers Association and mentor to hundreds of sports field managers over his 66 years in the profession.