Werner Park Head Groundskeeper Mitch McClary (left) and Assistant Noah Diercks (center) confer with Andrew Miller, one of the two salaried seasonal employees that fill a crew position similar to an internship.

Most sports field managers rely on seasonal personnel to assist with field maintenance and the extra practice, game, clinic and tournament activities that escalate during the fair weather months. Hiring the right personnel to fit seasonal needs and schedules can be the key to success. The process, and the sports field manager’s part in it, will vary according to the ownership of the facility and the role of the major field users.

Hiring at the Sportscore Complexes

The Rockford Illinois Park District owns and operates its sports venues, with all full-time and seasonal personnel park district employees. The district’s two Sportscore Complexes are multisport facilities with a wide range of venues at each site. Both sites have earned national recognition for the quality of their outdoor playing fields. Sportscore One features eight baseball/softball diamonds and 17 full-size soccer fields; Sportscore Two has 25 full-size soccer fields. Jointly, these fields draw regional and national tournaments, with one of the largest annual events a 600-plus team soccer tournament spread over two weekends in April.

All hiring is coordinated through the district’s human resources (HR) specialists, with much of the process handled online. Designated employment specialists at the district’s central HR office handle phone inquiries and walk-in applicants. Glenn V. Smith, superintendent of grounds for the Sportscore Complexes, says, “I set up a virtual job fair for potential seasonal employees with the job requirements for maintenance personnel that we’ve developed over the years posted online. It covers the minimum age requirement; the length of the season; the hours, noting that days and times will vary and evening, weekend and holiday work may be required; along with an abbreviated listing of examples of responsibilities; [and] education/training and safety requirements.”

The website (www.rockfordparkdistrict.org) has a “Career/Volunteer” heading with “Summer Jobs” one of the drop-down listings. The information page has a link to current opportunities. After Smith has reviewed the application materials, he contacts the applicant to set up a phone interview. He says, “I review the job requirements with them, ask questions where I want more details, and tell them the pay level for the position.

“If I’m interested in an applicant, and they seem interested in the position, I’ll set up an interview at my office. The on-site interview is more in-depth and gives them an overview of the complexes.”

Those Smith is interested in hiring receive a “new hire” packet, which contains more detailed forms that must be completed and processed by HR. Smith says, “This is the point [where] the background and reference checking take place. All maintenance employees also must have a physical, which includes testing for substance abuse. If they pass all this, they’re issued an employee number and I’m notified they’re available to start work.”

Once they’re hired, Smith reviews the Seasonal Employee Handbook with them and has them watch a new hire DVD. He also answers any questions they may have. Additional in-service training is ongoing, with equipment-specific training prior to operation.

Proper watering techniques are just part of the many sports field management skills learned through hands-on experience. Finding seasonal employees that are eager to learn is a big part of the hiring process.

Smith does a performance appraisal for seasonal employees at the end of their work period. He says, “During that interview, I review their strengths and weaknesses. I also file a formal appraisal with HR for processing. Those eligible for rehire the following year are sent a letter prior to the season checking on their availability. Those that wish to return receive a ‘rehire packet’ with forms to fill out, submit and be processed by HR. I’m notified when they’re available to start work. That takes place every year, whether it’s their second or fifteenth.”

“We have a good mix of seasonal personnel each year, from high school and college students, to teachers and retirees, some experienced and some new hires. Some will work a 40-hour week, others limited hours or just evenings and weekends. Scheduling is a juggling process. I cross train when possible for increased flexibility. Though the initial hiring process is time-consuming, it’s efficient, and the results have been excellent.”

Be Aware of Legal Liabilities

In today’s era of rampant litigation, employers have become a target and must be aware of the legal liabilities they face. Below, Tamara Devitt, managing partner of employment law firm Fisher & Phillips’ Los Angeles office, shares tips on some of the issues associated with hiring temporary help.

Be clear about the position from the start. Job advertisements and job descriptions should state that the position is a temporary one, and employers should not guarantee a specific length of employment. List the range of dates and hours you expect the staff to be available to work, noting that some early morning, late night, weekend and holiday work hours will be required. Also, clearly spell out that reliable attendance is required, and that the employee needs to be able to work a flexible schedule due to the organization’s demands. State that staff members will be performing physical labor in outdoor weather conditions. Explain the physical requirements and any other qualification requirements (such as a valid driver’s license and acceptable driving record).

Obey all break requirements and know the child labor issues. Even during hectic times, employers must obey all overtime, meal and rest period requirements for their nonexempt employees. With many high school students working as summer seasonal employees, in-depth knowledge of and adherence to the state’s child labor laws, which prohibit hiring minors for certain occupations and/or tasks, can safeguard employers against costly legal actions.

Ensure the employee handbook addresses compensation issues for those who work holidays. Employers are under no obligation to provide any additional compensation to employees that work on holidays such as the Fourth of July. The hiring entity’s employee handbooks and other written policies should specify expectations and communicate them clearly to employees. In fact, employers may implement handbooks and policies specifically for their temporary staff.

Plan ahead for possible vacation requests. Employee vacations (paid or unpaid) could potentially leave an unprepared employer understaffed. To avoid this, ensure the employee handbook and vacation policy clearly indicate that all vacation requests must be made in advance, must be approved by management, and may be denied if granting the request would create a hardship on the company.

Don’t overlook the importance of background checks. Conduct at least a criminal background check on all viable job applicants. Background screening firms will work with employers to comply with federal and state laws, and make recommendations as to the types of background checks necessary based upon the job’s requirements and duties.

Notify employees if surveillance cameras are on the property. Ensure that staff members are aware their actions may be recorded.

Be aware of necessary religious accommodations for staff. Some employees may not be available to work certain days due to their religious beliefs or may require other accommodations in the workplace. Should the employer decide not to provide reasonable accommodation, the employer must show that it would pose undue hardship.

Hiring for the Storm Chasers

Through a complex funding arrangement between Sarpy County Nebraska and the city of Papillion, a new facility, Werner Park, was built for the Triple A Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, the Omaha Storm Chasers (previously named the Omaha Royals). Head Groundskeeper Mitch McClary joined the team in mid-September of 2010, over- seeing the field installation. He filled a similar startup role in his previous position with the Single A TinCaps in Fort Wayne, Ind., earning Midwest League Field of the Year for that facility in 2010.

McClary says, “Storm Chasers Vice President and General Manager Martie Cordaro and Assistant General Manager Rob Crain and I share the same expectations. We want top-quality playing conditions and aesthetics. They’ve allowed me to develop the program to make that happen, including establishing the personnel requirements.”

McClary put together a spreadsheet, tracking personnel needs by hours per event to develop budgeting and scheduling parameters. As well as the playing field and bullpens, his staff will maintain the 30,000 square feet of the McDonalds Berm, the Borsheims Diamond whiffle ball field and the other turf and landscape areas outside the stadium.

With well-defined job descriptions in place, McClary coordinated his role in the hiring process with the team’s HR personnel. He says, “The team set up a job fair for seasonal personnel from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on January 29 and promoted it across the metro area. Grounds crew was one of the many opportunities listed. I talked with around 85 potential seasonal personnel during that event, establishing a good group of candidates.”

McClary hired a full-time assistant, Noah Diercks, who interned with the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park and worked two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, gaining hands-on experience and earning top recommendations for his abilities and attitude.

McClary ranks his two salaried seasonal positions as similar to paid internships. One of those hired completed an internship in baseball in Buffalo and worked on the seasonal staff at the Minnesota Viking’s practice field. The remaining seasonal positions are for the game day crew. McClary says, “They’ll start before batting practice, working from then through the game and post-game work. For these positions, I was looking more for a positive attitude about working at the ballpark and on the field, and their willingness to learn, rather than experience. I want to build a cohesive staff that works together as a team.”

McClary hired five people for these positions, ranging from a high school student to a retiree. He says, “We’ll have eight or nine people on game days, pulling in four or all five of the seasonal personnel. I prefer working with a smaller staff and cross training them so they all get in a decent number of hours during the home stands.”

With a new facility and a new staff, McClary knows there will be a learning curve. “We’ll need to go through some trial and error getting everyone to the level of competence I’m after here,” he says, “But I anticipate that happening very quickly.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.