Would you doubt advice from the Dalai Lama?
We’re all given unwanted advice at times. Think about how often you receive advice you don’t want, or need, in a year.
Heck, how about in a week?
But if the Dalai Lama – the globally revered Tibetan Buddhist monk – gave you advice, would you not at least take it under advisement?
Let’s give it a try. When dealing with a crisis situation, the Dalai Lama wants you to remember that a “calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence.”
Now, let’s apply this to sports fields. Sometimes, bad things happen – like floods, vandalism and natural disasters. These bad things can certainly wreak havoc on your fields. So, what do you do? How do you handle situations where emergency renovations are needed quickly and efficiently?
Start by listening to your old pal, the Dalai Lama: The first step (which happens to be the most important) is taking action with a clear, calm mind.
The rest flows from there.
Flooding in Michigan
Flooding events caused by excessive rainfall can be extremely detrimental to sports fields – just ask Jim Green, head groundskeeper at Homer Stryker Field in Kalamazoo, Michigan, home of the Kalamazoo Growlers, a summer collegiate baseball team.
On Saturday, June 27, the Kalamazoo River flooded out of its banks, almost completely saturating Homer Stryker Field and drowning its dugouts – the water was about 2 feet deep. The flood prompted the Kalamazoo Growlers to reschedule games slated for that weekend.
Green says the flood was the second-worst in his 14-year tenure at the ballpark.
“Even though the water receded in two days, this was the first time we had a flood during the [Growlers] season,” Green recalls. “But, if you have a good strategy in place, you can deal with it. We just bought a brand-new pump and had the field pumped out in a day.”
“I was there witnessing [the water] coming in, and the feeling I had was, ‘Oh, here it comes again.’ The water was rushing in, like a river, down the warning track.”
A report titled “Flooding on Sports Fields” by the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) acknowledges the “extremely detrimental” effect of excessive rainfall and flooding on sports fields. “Flooding saturates a rootzone and creates an unfavorable soil environment for root growth by displacing oxygen in the soil pores with water,” the report explains.
As Green recalls of the flood at Homer Stryker Field, the objective is to remove standing water as quickly as possible. Turfgrass plants that are submerged for long periods are more likely to suffer damage or die. Stagnant water allows sediment to coat leaf blades, increasing turfgrass injury.
Before pumping out the water, Green followed his emergency flood protocol, to the letter. As he saw the water coming in, he promptly called city utility workers to shut off power to the stadium, to avoid the possibility of electrocution and property damage. Then, Green alerted the stadium’s security company.
“After that, you have to wait until the water goes down. Once the water recedes, then it becomes a cleaning process,” Green says. “Everything has to be cleaned and sterilized. You have to power wash the fences, concourse…everything that water gets into. I also go through the facility and put up anything that is worth money that I don’t want to get damaged.
“We had carp swimming all over the place. It was a mess.”
Green says he was fortunate that both the pitcher’s mound and the home plate areas didn’t have to be rebuilt. But, once the water was removed, he did have to nail and mat drag the infield multiple times, do some minor lip control, mat drag the outfield (to get air inside the grass, so it doesn’t suffocate) and then irrigate it continuously. “River soot is actually very beneficial to the grass,” Green advises. “There are a lot of micronutrients in that river soot.”
The field was repaired and put back together in time for the Growlers’ much-anticipated home series during the July 4 weekend. Green credits preparedness, his helpful support staff and a cool, calm head.
“Have common sense and don’t panic,” Green says of dealing with large floods. “You always learn from your mistakes. Don’t jump into something without doing your research. It’s so important to stay calm and not overreact.”
The STMA also encourages field managers to “ensure the field is prepared to handle large amounts of water…. Make sure storm drains are clear to help expedite drainage of the field. Have a plan in place for field cleanup and be prepared to communicate with your crew, supervisors and users. Preparing your field and facility for the worst can often reduce flood damage and cleanup efforts.”
Vandals and destruction
As a sports field manager, you have three main considerations: First, supply participants with a safe field. Second, give athletes the best-possible surface on which to perform. And third, supply an attractive field.
These three pillars of the industry are difficult after your field is the victim of event like vandalism, which is not uncommon at many municipal and even scholastic fields. But, just like handling a flood, engaging in emergency renovations after your field is vandalized requires a calm, collected approach.
In February 2013, SportsField Management told the story of unfortunate acts of vandalism committed at the Chattanooga, Tennessee, Redoubt Soccer Association. Someone vandalized the eight-field soccer complex on a four-wheeler or an ATV, which hit the fields hard by making long, deep ruts and huge divots everywhere. Graffiti was spray-painted on several playing surfaces.
With the season set to open soon after these incidents, the association’s primary focus was repairing the damage quickly. They scheduled a workday and put out the call for volunteers. “We hoped for at least a half-dozen,” Greg Love, president of the association, told SportsField Management. “Forty-five showed up. There were coaches and parents and some of the older players.
“They came ready to work, with their own shovels and rakes and wheelbarrows. We filled sand into the ruts, leveled the surface, overseeded with fescue and rye and put down fertilizer. We were able to put it back into play for our annual Memorial Day weekend tournament.”
Another instance of shocking field damage (pictured in this article) occurred in Austintown, Ohio, at a municipal softball field. On a very rainy weekend last year, apparently people played – without a permit – on the wet and muddy field, causing damage to the infield, where it looked like a mud fight took place, according to WKBN 27 First News.
“There were footprints as deep as 6 to 10 inches into this dirt. That is not easy to fix,” Austintown Township park supervisor Todd Shaffer told WKBN 27. The Austintown Girl’s Softball League spent over four hours the following week to repair the damage, at a cost of about $1,000.
Whether it’s repairing divots or cleaning spray paint, a strategy is necessary. This also helps when your administrators ask you what you’re going to do to fix the field following such a catastrophe. It’s important to tell them – calmly, and in an organized fashion – that, along with quick fixes, you’ll need support to do the heavy repair work, like aerification, topdressing and seeding/sodding. Explain to them – calmly – your plans and how you will take action. Communicate – calmly – that you want to first provide a safe field, then the best-possible playing surface, and finally that you will provide the most attractive field you can after the cleanup and emergency renovations.
An extreme case
Sometimes, emergency field renovations are necessary after unique events.
Take a situation that occurred in August at Beverly Hills High School in California. An athletic field on the grounds was closed on the first day of school in August – not due to a flood or vandalism, but to elevated levels of arsenic.
As reported by ABC 7 Eyewitness News in Los Angeles, the arsenic – a naturally occurring element that can be extremely toxic – was found 5 feet below the school’s lacrosse field. Officials said arsenic can be found across the Los Angeles Basin, but the level at the school was higher than acceptable.
Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education president Brian David Goldberg told ABC 7 that practice space on campus is at a premium, so the athletic programs would be be impacted by the closure of the field. The lacrosse field soil was to be replaced with new soil by sometime last month. Total soil replacement was the only option to fix this type of problem.
Becoming an emergency
Sometimes, emergency renovations come about not from a specific event, but from a continued lack of care for a field.
In other words, a field gets so bad that a renovation is necessary as soon as humanly possible. For example, it becomes an emergency situation because residents desperately need a place for their kids to play. Take this situation in Marietta, Georgia, in July. An area park – Fair Oaks Park – was in dire need of renovation to make the park’s athletic fields usable.
Project EverGreen’s “Healthy Turf, Healthy Kids” is a nationwide initiative to renovate and revitalize parks and athletic fields to ensure children have access to safe green spaces on which to play and exercise.
Working in partnership with the Cobb County Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, Project EverGreen and ValleyCrest Landscape Cos. delivered much-needed turf management services to restore and renew 22,000 square feet of turf at the ball diamonds at Fair Oaks Park.
“Our mission is to preserve and enhance green spaces where we live, work and play,” says Cindy Code, executive director of Project EverGreen. “Parks, sports fields and recreational play areas are vital to healthy, thriving communities.”
COVER PHOTO: GEORGE CLERK/ISTOCK