1. What does your job entail?

I’m grounds manager for the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. My staff of four and I are responsible for all the outside grounds: the landscape turf, trees and flowers; the hardscape areas including some streets, the street signs, parking lots, walkways, steps and patios; campus beautification projects; snow and ice removal; as well as the athletic fields.

2. What attracted you most to your current career?

I loved working outdoors and seeing the results my work accomplished.

Inset, Lance Tibbetts, center, is shown here with two of his staff members, Richard Burgess (left) and Alan Kratzsch (right). Above, The aestheticsb of the campus are a strong part of the overall image in today’s competitive marketplace. The turf, trees and flowerbeds maintained by Tibbetts and his team are a key component of the big picture.

3. What was your first job in the turf industry?

I started working summers at the age of 14, first mowing and trimming the turf in cemeteries and, after two years, working on tree maintenance for the city forestry department.

4. What are the soil profiles of your fields?

Our native soil is a clay-loam. We have one native soil field that is used for lacrosse in the spring and soccer in the fall and a native soil softball field. The softball infield material is a loam-silt-clay mix from Sports Fields of Maine. We have a sand-based field that is used for lacrosse and field hockey.

Directly across from the mid-campus competition fields is an open, native soil commons area used by the students for intramural and club level competition and recreational sports.

Staff member Alan Kratzsch had his first opportunity to work with patterns using a reel mower to create this effect for the alumni weekend campus visits.

5. What types of turf do you have on your fields?

The athletic fields were primarily a blend of Kentucky bluegrasses when I arrived. We’re incorporating more perennial ryegrasses to keep a stronger, denser turf longer into the season.

The common areas are a mix of perennial ryegrasses, bluegrasses, fescues and even some bentgrasses.

6. How do you lay out the typical annual field maintenance program?

The commons area, now used for recreational sports, is actually harder to maintain than the fields. Like the ball fields, it has an inground irrigation system. We use it during the summers, but stop irrigating just before the students return in the fall.

Lacrosse would like to start using the field in February, because their game season begins in March. Last year, the staff used snowblowers to clear the ball fields for early use. I anticipate we’ll need to do that again to put down the lines. We’ll spread calcined clay as needed in the goal areas for lacrosse.

Lance Tibbetts mows in the pattern as part of the field preparation for the alumni weekend campus visits. The parking lot in the background is just one of the many combinations of hardscape and landscape areas Tibbetts and his team manage.

In April, there’s still little we can do to the turf because active growth won’t begin until late in the month or early May. We’ll focus on the playing conditions, applying calcined clay as needed to provide stable footing. Weather permitting, we’ll apply a preemergent weed control in late April.

We implement an aggressive renovation program when the students aren’t around. We fertilize every five weeks at the rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. We maintain that cycle from the start of active growth until the final fertilization in late October.

We aerate monthly, alternating coring and spiking, and covering the fields in two or three directions each time. We’ll make even more passes in the goalmouths and worn areas. We’ll overseed monthly with a mix of 50-50 Kentucky bluegrasses and perennial ryegrasses. We’ll topdress following the overseeding.

When practices begin in mid-August, we’ll stop coring, using a combination of spiking and the Aera-vator to relieve compaction. We’ll broadcast seed and allow the players to spike it in. As temperatures cool, we’ll switch to a blend of perennial ryegrasses for the overseeding.

We follow a strict IPM program, using control products only when absolutely necessary. Last summer, I contracted for a boom spray application of broadleaf weed control on the sports fields with good results. This year, I’ll be able to spot treat any weeds that do appear. We do apply Round-Up around the fence lines of the ball fields and along walkways and the borders of the parking areas.

Previously, they mowed the ball fields with a 15-foot, three-wing, tow-behind, rotary mower. I switched to a Toro, 72-inch, zero-turn, rotary mower. We raise the mowing height to 3 inches once the students leave in May. We start reducing the height of cut in mid-July, reaching the 2-inch level by mid-August and maintaining it during the rest of the year.

Extensive off-season sports field renovation, combined with a strong in-season maintenance program, keep the playing surfaces in top shape.

7. What’s the most important piece of equipment or product in your program?

My digital camera is most important. I use it to document our work, taking before and after photos. I also bring photos of my staff at work to our managers meetings. The photos provide a visual record to support our written documentation of projects accomplished that I can share with our athletic director and our management team.

8. What are the biggest challenges on your fields?

The greatest challenge for us is minimizing turf damage during the extensive field use that takes place in the early spring prior to active turf growth.

9. How do you communicate with people?

I report directly to the Sodexho general manager on-site, David Callins, working with him weekly. John Fik is the Sodexho district grounds manager. He makes a campus visit every four to six weeks. I’ll meet with Kim Allen, UNE athletic director, prior to each sports season to work out the master field use schedule, and as often as needed throughout the year. I’m also encouraging the coaches to come to me directly with any field issues they may have.

10. How do you see the sports field management profession changing in the future?

I see the sports field manager taking on more duties beyond the ball fields. The industry is experiencing continually tightening budgets and rising expectations for quality sports fields and general turf and landscape areas. I anticipate we’ll see more supervisory positions that move us beyond being field specialists to overseeing larger crews covering more of the common grounds. The need for networking and continuing education through associations and conferences will become even more critical to professional success.