Caring for the continent’s largest synthetic field

This center field logo was developed without a stencil, using just a tape measure and string lines to guide the painting of the design on the field.

Muscatine, Iowa, boasts the largest synthetic athletic field in North America—and the only one totally certified and sanctioned for rugby. The big field is a great fit for a city that is big on sports. Two of the major Muscatine Parks and Recreation Department’s sports venues are located just across the road from Muscatine High School. The Muscatine Soccer Complex, a 41-acre, eight-field facility, earned the Sports Turf Managers Association’s (STMA) Soccer Field of the Year honors in 1995 and 2001. Adjacent to it is the 66-acre Kent-Stein Park, which includes multiple softball and baseball fields among its offerings.  

Over the years, the school district and the parks and recreation department have developed an interactive program to make the best use of sports field space. The high school softball, baseball and soccer teams use the fields within the complex and park as their home fields. The school district pays an annual fee to the city for that field use.

Steve Eggers, head groundskeeper for the Muscatine School District, says, “With the city fields so accessible, we don’t have baseball or softball fields at the high school site, and we can dedicate our stadium field to football. With varsity, junior varsity and ninth-grade football teams at the high school and seventh and eighth-grade teams at both of the two middle schools, that still puts lots of play on the stadium field.”

Steve Eggers, head groundskeeper for the Muscatine (Iowa) School District.

All those teams need practice space, and so do the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams at all those grade levels. Add in the increasing participation in the community youth sports programs and their need for field time, and it’s easy to see how the idea of another field site grabbed community interest—which led to serious exploration of the possibility of adding a synthetic field and then to the fundraising drive that turned that possibility into reality.

The big field

The decision was made to go with a FieldTurf synthetic turf system in a large enough configuration to serve the rugby teams and with field layouts for soccer and football, too. Eggers says, “The total field size is 260 feet by 435 feet. That allows space for the standard rugby field with 15 feet of sideline area all the way around. Color-coded markings are inlaid to serve all three sports—rugby, soccer and football.”

The new field is on the high school site, near the building. Eggers says, “The high school uses it for PE classes, as well as for football and soccer practices. The rugby association uses it for their practices and games, and we’re starting to get requests from other groups to use it, too. There’s seldom a time someone isn’t out on that field.”

The field was constructed with the standard subsurface drainage with no infield or sideline irrigation. Work began in 2005, with the field ready for use in August 2006, just in time for the start of football practice.

“We had decided to take a ‘wait and see’ approach to adding irrigation for the synthetic field. To date, we’ve had no heat issues, in spite of the high temperatures we had this summer and early fall. We’re currently adding a scoreboard to serve the multiple sports and having Musco’s new green lighting installed at the perimeter of the field,” Eggers says.

A close-up view of the end zone logo. The design is done without a stencil, using a tape measure and string to line out the pattern.

The installer supplied the school with a grooming tool that is equipped with stiff brooms to bring up the fiber. Eggers says, “We also have a yard-type sweeper for field cleanup. Both of these are setup to pull behind our Gator. The broom drag pulls quite a bit of the black rubber and sand to the field surface, which filters back down into the fibers if left in place. So, I usually sweep the field first just to remove any debris, then go over it with the brooms. With all the rugby and football use this fall, I’ve been doing this every two weeks. I do plan to add the other grooming unit that has both brooms and tines to do a better job of standing the fibers back up.”

Natural turf athletic fields

All the school district’s other athletic fields have a heavy clay native soil profile and a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass turf. There are three football practice/game fields between the two middle schools. There’s a football practice field and a band practice field at the high school. The stadium field is surrounded by a rubberized track. Both the football practice field and stadium field are equipped with inground irrigation systems. The practice field has its own well. The older stadium field uses city water.

Construction is underway for installation of the synthetic field. Note the location in conjunction to the natural turf football practice field and stadium field.

Eggers works with Team Laboratory Chemical Corporation on the fertilization program. They conduct an annual soil test and make fertilization recommendations based on the test results. He says, “We make two granular applications a year, one in May and the second at the beginning of October. I make monthly liquid fertilizer applications from June through September using a combination of macro and micronutrients. I add liquid iron toward the end of August and September to green up the turf for football.”

He schedules core aeration just prior to the granular fertilization, using 5/8-inch hollow cores at a 3.5-inch depth, and drags in the cores. He applies an 85 percent sand, 15 percent peat topdressing material following the fall aeration. Eggers says, “I try to fit in slice aeration a couple times throughout the summer.”

This overview of the synthetic field installation shows multiple pieces of equipment at work.

All of the schools’ mowers are rotary units. Eggers uses a zero-turn mower with a 60-inch deck on the athletic fields. He starts the season at approximately a 2-inch height of cut and moves up to 2.5 inches. He generally mows three times a week, varying the schedule according to weather conditions and field use.

He says, “We overseed almost weekly during the football season, putting out about 50 pounds of an 80 percent bluegrass, 20 percent perennial ryegrass mix prior to a game or practice and letting the players cleat it in. We seed in the wear areas between the hashes and along the end zone and hit the sidelines, too, if needed.”

The synthetic field installation.

Pest control follows standard IPM procedures with control products applied only as needed. Generally, that’s one application of broadleaf weed control in the spring and grub control once every two years. Eggers monitors for disease activity and may spot-treat areas on the stadium field.

This pulled back view of the stadium field, painted and ready for homecoming, shows the practice football field just beyond the stadium.

Eggers keeps the high school football practice field and the band practice field lined throughout the season, using Primo with the paint to reduce painting time. He only lines the stadium field for home games and does not use Primo there. He says, “We purchased a used ride-on paint sprayer this year. Prior to that, I’ve walked the fields to paint.

Eggers first painted a logo on the stadium field for homecoming in 2003, when the team had a student manager who wanted to help with one. The two collaborated on the design and set it up using a tape measure and string. Eggers says, “Everyone loved it, so he comes back and we work together to come up with a new design each homecoming. We’ve done that every year but one since the first logo.”

To contact the author, e-mail suztrusty@sportsfieldmanagementmagazine.com