George Toma

A little reminiscing on a cold winter day. A few months back we had the World Series, and what a great series. Hats off to Tampa Bay for a great year. Congratulations to Philadelphia, the champions. The champions in my book are the members of the Phillies’ grounds crew, headed by Mike Boekholder and his assistant Chad Mulholland. What an outstanding job they did on the playing field, especially with all the rain. They kept the field playable for as long as they could. With all the TV exposure, we as grounds-keepers say “thank you” for doing a great job. Those team supporters from across the U.S. that were watching the TV coverage were proud to be Phillies fans. You made our profession look great, upholding the highest esteem.

As we look ahead, baseball spring training is here. All of the spring training groundskeepers should be appreciated for their hard work in keeping their fields in top-notch, safe conditions.

In November, I spoke at the Sports Turf Managers Association of New York in Syracuse, N.Y. What a terrific inaugural conference put on by STMANY. A special thank you goes to Joann Gruttadaurio, executive director, and to Kevin Meredith and Mike Albino, whose hard work and determination got the chapter going. They’re 1,400 members strong and growing.

Looking back to the 2008 football season, we have seen so many great fields on TV, both pro and college. Fields that received a bad rap in 2007 were turned around to be some of the best, notably the Eagles, Steelers and Bears. It will be very interesting to compare the 2006 NFL Players Association playing field rankings with the new 2008 rankings. The survey is taken every two years, with the results released at the Super Bowl.

This past November, I visited with Tony Leonard of the Philadelphia Eagles; he is one of the best. With all the games played on his field, the GrassMaster system will wears down. He can’t just sod down the center, but has to go wall to wall. He aerified heavily, sand topdressed and sodded the playing field with bluegrass sod from Tuckahoe Turf Farms. It was great looking sod that was also used to sod the Steelers and down the center for the Browns. Tony also sodded the sidelines with Patriot bermudagrass grown on plastic. In my 66 years, I have never seen any better bluegrass practice fields. Great job, Tony.

Hats off to Rodney Griffin of the Houston Texans for the magnificent job he did all year with the tray system. His field played well and always looked sharp.

People always ask me about fields that they’ve seen on TV. The Packers had a little slipping problem on their field. Outstanding groundskeeper Allen Johnson verticut and had it back to where the footing was good again. In early December, there was still a controversy in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium about the game played between the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri. Radio, TV, fans and sports talk shows were all hitting the field hard. That game was played in the rain and snow. The center of the field had been sodded with bermudagrass sod grown on plastic from Bent Oak Farms in Foley, Ala. What a job it did, just like the sod at Super Bowl XLI played in Miami in the rain. The controversy was about the grass between the new sod and the sidelines. I talked to head groundskeeper Andre Bruce (whom I started in this profession along with Chip Toma when they were toddlers). One gets heat even when his hands are tied, but following the Big 12 championship, even the Kansas City Star newspaper acknowledged the “good footing” for that game. Remember, we must give the players a good, safe playing field. Sometimes the aesthetics of a field may not look great, but the surface plays great.

A special thanks to the groundskeepers and their crews for all the great fields we see on TV. It’s heartwarming to see a terrific looking field, like Allan Sigwardt’s beautiful playing surface, bermudagrass grown on plastic from Bent Oak Farms, a tough grass for the Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes. Also, the painting of the lines and logos are, in my book, the best in the NFL. A great, safe playing field plus the painting create a beautiful picture for all of us groundskeepers to admire.

Let’s keep up the good work, and then some.

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 66 years in the profession. To contact him, e-mail tomatales@sportsfieldmanagementmagzine.com.