October 2014

SportsTurf provides current, practical and technical content on issues relevant to sports turf managers, including facilities managers. Most readers are athletic field managers from the professional level through parks and recreation, universities.

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44 SportsTurf | October 2014 Field oF the Year Why should our field win Field of the Year? Other than the fact that we have been truly blessed with a beautiful facility and a true playing surface, I have been given the oppor- tunity to teach the art of grounds keeping to students who otherwise would not be exposed to all of the aspects involved in the profession, thus helping to ensure the future of the "art" of sports turf management. SportsTurf: What channels of communi- cation do you use to reach coaches, adminis- trators, and users of your facility? Any tips for communicating well? Roberts: I make my rounds every morn- ing visiting with the director of athletics as well as all of the coaches that are in season. If there is an issue with a field, face to face is the best way to communicate that. I find email messages are sometimes misinterpret- ed or misunderstood. I feel that face to face takes that out of the equation, leaving little chance for error. I believe that an important part of being a good turf manager is having open communication and developing good relationships with your coaches. Email has its place and works well for outside user groups, but I still try to make time to speak with those contacts face to face, or at least by phone. I usually reserve email as a back-up for closed field notifications. I guess I am just "old school!" ST: What are your specific responsibili- ties? What is your favorite task? Least favor- ite? Roberts: My title is Athletic Field and Turf Manager. I manage and maintain 11 acres of bermudagrass, which consists of three rectangular fields and a baseball field. I have full responsibility for all of these fields, both agronomically and their play- ability. Our athletic facilities manager, Gar- rett Compton, and I work very closely on the rectangles. Garrett does most of the painting of the fields as well as game setup. I help with this when time allows. On the flip side, I do everything on the baseball field, and Gar- rett helps me when his time allows. In both spring and fall, we can have anywhere from two to five games a day. With only two of us, things can be a bit crazy at times. I could not do this without him! We also have a great ad- ministration team in our director of athletics and our coaches. ey trust my judgment and adhere to my call of closing a field due to the weather and playability issues. I find game days most enjoyable, espe- cially baseball in late April when the ryegrass is striping nicely. It is quite a thrill to see op- posing teams that visit our facilities for the first time. We are blessed with a very nice field, and some of the teams are more than impressed by what we have. My least favorite task is a tie between canceling games and edging. I hate to can- cel games due to bad weather that we ex- perienced prior to game day, not at game time. I pride myself on getting games in when other teams have to cancel. (Did I mention we do not have an infield tarp?) Edging is very time consuming and a lot of work for a one-man crew, but the results are great, so it's worth it. ST: How did you get your start in turf management? What was your first job? Roberts: I received a General Agriculture degree in college and was working for a local co-op when Luck Stone, a Virginia-based, crushed stone producer, created a topsoil division. I was brought on as their salesman for this division. It didn't take long before we were mixing high quality infield mix, which is what brought me to the sports turf industry in the late 90s. From there, I went on to work as a salesman for a turf products supplier. e best part of that job was that I continued to work with the same athletic directors and coaches that I already knew. In 2006, Rodney Hopkins, (a friend and a customer) started up a company, ITAC (In- novative Turf Applications and Consulting). I was asked to join him to perform sales and hands-on turf maintenance, making ITAC my first true sports turf position. In 2010, I moved on to e Steward School. It's been a learning experience to get here, and I am very appreciative of those who mentored me along the way. ST: What practices do you use to keep your infield skin in peak condition? Roberts: e biggest challenge for the skinned area is getting the teams on the field in early February. In Virginia we can have freezing and frost until early April, as well as rain and snow. I spend a lot of my time drying dirt. I use a lot of Turface and a 500- pound roller. I add two tons of Turface (I like the Heritage Red) to the top of my skin in late January or early February and nail drag it into the top half inch. I continue to add Turface as needed throughout the season. I also roll the infield at least once a day in early season. I always keep the infield tight; it helps hard rains to sheet off and gets us back on the field sooner. I also add 20 tons of in- field mix and have my skin laser graded every August. After a particularly tough weather season, especially like the one we had in the spring of 2014, it really helps get things back in shape. ST: What changes if any are you consid- ering or implementing for the winning field in 2014? Roberts: e Lord blessed our baseball program this past year. Along with Field of the Year, our baseball team won the state championship for our division. With that, our baseball parents and sports boosters (e Spartan Club) are providing us with a new logo-covered windscreen that will enclose the field and add to the overall aesthetics. I am also painting our school logo behind home plate and plan to do more for the up- coming season. I am field testing a new high clay infield mix for Luck Stone. It has only been down for a week at this point, but I am very excited about what I have seen so far. I constantly strive to add new things and tweak old ones. I do not ever want to be- come complacent. ST: How do you see the Sports Turf Manager's job changing in the future? Roberts: I feel we need to be advocates for our industry. It is our responsibility to let anyone who will listen know what we do and how technical and challenging a job it truly is. Educating the public should be ongoing. We need to stay on the cutting edge and not be afraid to try new techniques. I hosted the VSTMA Field Day in June and had fraze mowing demos done in the outfield. It was great for the industry to see. I have been monitoring it all summer and tweeting pic- tures. I can't wait to do the entire field next summer. I also feel we need to implement as many green practices as possible. We live in a time when everyone is more environmen- tally conscious, so staying on the front end of that is good for our industry. I would also like to add that no one wins one of these awards alone. I would like to thank my wife, Sherry, and my sons, Wyatt and Jack, for understanding why Dad is at the ball field so much. I would also like to thank Bruce Secrest, Steward's head baseball coach and my friend. I could not keep this field this nice without him and his team's help and co- operation. I am a truly blessed man to be able to do what I love every day! STMA would like to thank Carolina Green, Ewing, Hunter Industries and World Class Athletic Surfaces for their continued support of the Field of the Year Awards Program.

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