This Toma Tales in SportsField Management will be my last. To all of you – to the good groundskeepers – keep on doing the job. If no one cares, don’t let that shut you down. If the people who you work for don’t care, please keep on doing your best, “and then some,” for the athletes and for yourself. For those who don’t care and don’t have the right attitude or who lack integrity and are involved in dishonesty, please look in the mirror and try to turn it around for yourself and your family.
I have tried to help people and am proud of my role in the start of getting groundskeep- ers recognized for what we do. We are not just a bunch of grass cutters. We have an excellent occupation to help our athletes show the public how well they can perform.
I have been ripped at times, but I could tell stories on the people ripping me. Just like one groundskeeper who did not do the job right and the son of the team’s owner had to escort him out of the stadium early, before the game was over, so the press would not have a chance to throw him under the bus. So, let’s change this. Look in the mirror before you rip someone.
To all the groundskeepers who love me – or who hate me – I’ve always tried to tell it as it is, pulling no punches. People think I give them hell, but I just tell the truth.
I once received a call from Tony Leonard of the Philadelphia Eagles. He thought that I was ripping him. No way. I have seen Tony work. His practice fields look like artificial turf they’re in such good shape. The press in newspapers, radio and TV, and the team players were all ripping him. I tried to protect him for he, and everyone else, considered the look of the field his trademark. But I tried to tell them how it wasn’t his, it was the trademark of the turf system that he has in that field. We must all stand up to tell it as it is, and tell everyone who will listen. Tell the fans, the players, the print press, the radio and TV commentators and other groundskeepers that with so many events, the grass will look bad. Tell them that he can’t just take a sod cutter down the field and resod. He must wait until the bad turf levels off, and everyone should know that he has to resod on top of the existing turf to protect that turf system. I just wanted to tell it like it is to get the monkey off his back. Tony and I are good friends now.
I am very happy to see the groundskeeper and sod grower relationship improving. We are getting better sod. Front office people must realize that good sod is needed for the team owners have millions of dollars invested in their players. Remember, the cheapest insurance for an athlete is a good, safe field. Sometimes, in today’s world, there is too much hanky-panky in writing specs for sod, such as putting in clauses like “that sod farm has to be X amount of distance from the stadium.” At one bidding, one of the sod growers asked the people looking at the bids if they went to the same church or had the same zip code. I see that, through politics, bad sod is laid after bad sod each year. The groundskeeper suffers when that happens, along with the players and taxpayers.
My hat goes off to the artificial turf people. There are so many good artificial turf fields out there today. I am so proud of them. Still, as a groundskeeper, one must maintain them, just as Kris Harris and Russell Coe did at SMU (Southern Methodist University). Eight years old and looking great, but the sun has taken its toll on the fibers.
In today’s economic situation, with budget cuts and layoffs, we just try to do our best to maintain both artificial and natural turf. In Kansas City, we got 13 years out of 3-M Tartan Turf at both the Royals and Arrowhead stadiums, and we had a lot of concerts, tractor pulls and other events. We did all the artificial turf repairs with our own crew using mostly high school and college students. It can be done. At Super Bowl XLV, I received a call from an NLF groundskeeper, in my book one of the very best. He was called into the office by the team’s owner who told him that he wanted his NFL artificial turf field to look like George Toma and the Chiefs crew’s Arrowhead Stadium. I told him to do just a little bit more “and then some.” I know in 2011 he will do his best; in my book he is one of the best.
To the companies that install artificial turf: Do a good job. You knocked on people’s doors day in and day out to sell your product. You sold it. They bought it. Now problems arise with the base or seams and you are neglecting fixing them. As one school board member told me the other day, “They sure knocked, but they are so slow on fixing our problem.” Please do it for the safety of the players.
We have come a long way, yet some of the new sophisticated turf systems have problems. On bids, give the customer the product that was specified. This past year I heard an athletic field designer speak. I was about to stand up and say, “Please tell the truth.” On one of his fields, the groundskeeper saved his fanny. Another one fell apart during the season, and he wanted to use washed sod to replace it with a game six days away.
Lately, another sophisticated system has had problems – one that is supposed to need no surface irrigation, just be watered from below. They had to put in regular irrigation and still can’t keep enough water on it at times. Plus, if it rains, the field floods all the way to the track. I believe there’s just one 4-inch outlet drain. Let’s give the people a good field.
In my early years, I was a pioneer, but I would not be where I am today if it was not for my wagon master, Dr. James R. Watson. To Dr. Watson, and to all those people from all over the world who have helped me, I say thank you, and may all of you be rewarded a thousandfold for your kind deeds.
To SportsField Management, thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell stories about the life of a groundskeeper in Toma Tales; tales that go back 69 years.
To all of the groundskeepers, this 82-year-old man, 69 years in the game, will be riding off into the sunset. It’s now your time to take over, to give our athletes the best fields “and then some.” The right work ethic, attitude and knowledge, plus sweat and sacrifice equals success. That will get you where you want, and need, to go, and this profession will get the recognition it deserves. To each and every one of you, may your good fortune be as numerous as blades of grass “and then some.”
Yours in turf, George P. Toma.
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 69 years in the profession. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.