Brian Winka, CVAC park supervisor for the city of Chesterfield, Missouri, and president of the Gateway Chapter STMA
What path led you to a career in sports field management?
I played sports all my life and I enjoy the outdoors, so when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do in life these both played a factor. I had worked for two summers laying sod (pre big rolls, everything laid by hand) and somehow came away thinking, “I like this work.” I chose to get my degree in agronomy from Missouri State University and began working at a golf course. I took a job as an assistant superintendent at a The Missouri Bluffs Golf Club, and after that I took an assistant superintendent position at WingHaven Country Club. After 10 years or so in golf I was ready to take on the challenge of managing sports fields for the city of Chesterfield and have never looked back.
What types of fields and turf areas are you responsible for?
The city of Chesterfield owns and maintains the Chesterfield Valley Athletic Complex (CVAC), and I am responsible for all the maintenance. It is a 250-plus-acre sports complex that includes 18 baseball/softball fields, 12 soccer field and two football fields. We also play lacrosse, have hosted Ultimate Frisbee tournaments, 5K runs, and we have numerous practice areas and skins. Being in the transition zone we have a little bit of everything. I manage bermudagrass, ryegrass, fescue, bluegrass and even a small area of zoysia.
What are the biggest challenges in maintaining the facility?
The size of our complex is a challenge in itself, but the amount of use we get is the biggest challenge; we welcomed close to a million people to our complex last year and expect more this year. Our playing season starts March 1, and we play into December. Unless Mother Nature rains us out, we play every day. Trying to schedule a maintenance project or renovation can be tricky at times.
What field care product/piece of equipment could you not live without?
My Toro Sand Pro 3040. With 18 baseball/softball skins to maintain, it is a very valuable tool in our fleet. The versatility of the attachments helps us to be able to nail drag, cut back and edge the grass from our warning tracks and skins, brush back the edges and finish drag all with one machine. We liked it so much that we bought another one this year.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
My most memorable moment was going to the STMA national conference for the first time. I was still fairly new as a sports field manager and was able to meet so many people who were willing to give advice and share experiences. It is a great organization and I have met some great people through the STMA.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on the job?
Take a step back and enjoy the work that you and your crew do on a daily basis. Too many times as a manager we only look for the areas that need to be improved upon and miss the excellent work that our staff is doing.
How do you predict the sports field industry will evolve in the future?
Natural grass fields will continue to get better and will give the plastics a run for their money. The technology and research will only continue to improve the quality of turf that is available, and the maintenance practices that we use to maintain these fields will continue to evolve. Natural fields, when built correctly, can be playable year-round and play better than plastic grass fields. When asked, players in all professional leagues predominantly want to play on natural grass fields. They feel safer, the ball rolls truer, and their body recovers quicker the next day.
What do you wish spectators/players/coaches knew about your job?
We take pride in everything we do, and our expectations are higher than their expectations. My staff and I take ownership of the fields that we work on and are proud of the product that we produce on a daily basis. We often say around here that we work so others can play. I just wish players/coaches/spectators really knew what it takes day to day to produce a high-level playing field.
What is the most important quality required to be a successful field manager?
Good time management skills. As a field manager I tell people that growing grass is the easiest part of my job, it’s all the other stuff that gets in the way. I’m expected to be a counselor to my staff, a researcher on new products and maintenance practices and a weatherman all in one. Dealing with budgets, accounting, HR responsibilities, environmental issues, construction projects, beautification projects, facility/building maintenance, meetings and reports, fleet maintenance, etc., all take time out of each day to deal with.
What advice would you give aspiring field managers?
Be a good communicator and keep good records of everything you do, good or bad. We learn from the past, and keeping records of maintenance practices, fertilizer applications, weather patterns, etc. can all be useful tools. Along with keeping records, take pictures of everything. You can tell someone about a field renovation, but a picture can say a thousand words.
Who have been your biggest influences/mentors?
I have many people to thank for where I am today. My wife and kids who keep me focused on what really matters in life. My grandfather who taught me about hard work and taking pride in everything I do. My professors at Missouri State and all the other great people I have worked with, but the most influential one was Chris Holtey, who was the superintendent at WingHaven Country Club. I learned more about growing grass from Chris than from anyone else. He also taught me about managing people, budgets and how to be a professional in the industry. And on top of that, he was the first person I went duck hunting with.
Complete this sentence: “If I weren’t a field care pro, I would be .”
A high school science teacher. A couple of years after graduating I went back to school and started taking classes to become a teacher,but that’s on hold for now.