Happy new year to everyone! I am hoping that every one of you had a very successful year. We can now look back at 2008, and if you had a successful year, congratulations! If you had some field problems, now is the time to look back and analyze what went wrong, and why it went wrong, and see what you can do to correct it in 2009.

Things are getting tough on the economic side. A lot of changes will have to be made and new ideas put to work on the budget side. Some of us may have tried new ideas that may not have worked, but don’t get down on yourself. Remember when we were just little children learning how to walk? Many times we’d fall down on our fanny, and we got up, took a step backwards and then started moving forward again. So, we can do many things, even if we have taken a step backward, to move forward in 2009.

One big step is furthering our education in turf management. The most important part of management is the “man.” I have been in this game 66 years, I’m 79 years old, and I’m still learning.

A terrific place to keep learning and getting new ideas is at a turf show. There’s none better than the Sports Turf Managers Association Conference. All of the educational programs are about things you deal with, work with and need to know about. You get to meet so many people, and everyone there is involved in sports fields in one way or another.

You have an opportunity to talk about your problems to people with fields like your own, and budgets much like yours, and find out how they have handled those problems. You’ll be able to find out what things worked for them and, just as important, what things didn’t work. And, you can give advice to those in need of solutions to their problems. One can learn a lot from plain old shoptalk.

One of the highlights for me at the conference is the trade show. I sincerely love to go through the trade show. It is a must for me, and I hope it is for you, too. Where else can you look at so many different companies’ equipment in one spot and be able to ask each exhibitor why they think their product does the best job? Where else can you compare so many different brands of artificial turf? And, where else can you ask the suppliers what other sports field managers are using their products, and then talk to that person directly about how the product is working for them?

When you really take advantage of all the opportunities available to you at the conference, you’ll leave with a book full of knowledge and a list of people you can connect with throughout the year.

In 2008 I have seen so many great fields on TV: baseball, football and soccer fields. When I see great fields, I pick up the phone and call those groundskeepers and congratulate them. And, some of the fields in this past year have not looked so good, but some of them have recently improved. That deserves a call of congratulations, too.

Sometimes when a field isn’t in the best shape, it’s the fault of management, not the groundskeeper. I talked to a professional field groundskeeper who told me that management does not give him the money to buy good sod. And, yes, this is a dedicated groundskeeper. At his field they have around $100 million in players’ salaries, yet they aren’t willing to invest in their fields. We all need to keep reminding those we work for, and work with, that the cheapest insurance for an athlete is a good, safe playing field.

I will say again and again that the “man” in manager needs to have honesty and integrity. My wish for 2009 is that any groundskeeper that has slipped up on honesty and integrity will look in the mirror, recognize that step backwards, and step forward to come into the fold of giving the players, management, owners and their own crew, a safe playing field … 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.