March 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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18 SportsTurf | March 2014 Facility & Operations sports turf management instead of golf. And, I'm not sure but it still might be. The program's roots date back to 1989 when the owner of the Detroit area Toro dealer at the time, who had also done quite well operating the Barefoot Lawn franchises in Michigan, donated money. The program was christened the Lawn Care Technology Program and the idea was that lawn care companies would send their employees to MSU for education and training. Its coordinators, in quick succession, were Drs. Roch Gaussoin (now at Nebraska), Eric Miltner (formerly at Washington State and now with Agrium Advanced Technologies) and Paul Rieke, who changed the program's name to Lawn Care/Athletic Field Maintenance. I took over in 1993 and quickly realized that the only hope for the program was to shift its focus to sports. The only lawn care students were those who already had their own small lawn cutting businesses going and wanted to learn more about turf, mainly applying fertilizers and spraying herbicides. That's been the case over the years with the last person having interest in lawn care having graduated about 5 years ago. As far as the original plan for this program, no lawn care com- pany ever sent an employee to MSU. As part of my vision to put athletic fields in the program's fore- front, its name became Sports and Commercial Turf Management in 1996. Enrollment grew over the years to about half what was in the 2- year golf program, whose numbers were declining since its heyday during my first several years at MSU. ST: How did this favorable work environment develop? Gilstrap: There are several reasons for this. The first is that being a sports turf manager has become recognized as a profession rather than a vocation. The second is the success of minor league baseball, espe- cially when ownership realized that there were college graduates (and interns) who had specialized in taking care of their fields. And, they could be hired for not that much more than they were paying former lawn care employees or school janitors on summer break. What they didn't know is that it would cost much more to retain the good ones. Another reason is that field conditions, especially when they were poor, were getting more attention at the MLB and NFL levels. Dis- gruntled owners wanted things fixed, and GMs figured out they needed to hire college educated, experienced professionals. This led to favorable publicity for sports turf managers who were successful and who usually credited their education as being a key asset. Consequently, more people began considering sports turf as a pos- sible career. And as the number of students increased, the more interns there were, the more graduates, the more resumes being circulated, etc. This has caused upward pressure to hire those with college educations. Routinely, job postings specify such among the qualifications needed, particularly at the upper echelons of our industry. Now I have many good friends who came up through the ranks without having formal turf educations, and I value their opinions and appreciate all the good they have done. However, they are contrary to what I have tried to accomplish, and I've told many of them exactly that, hopefully in a good-natured way. I can especially tell if they agree with me when they ask how much it would cost for their son or daughter to go through my program. If they're from out of state, the conversation moves to another topic. ST: What role has STMA played? Gilstrap: Students are of course interested in scholarships, but we have much fewer available than does the golf program. In state, the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation has a big one designated for sports turf students, and MISTMA does the best they can. Over the years, my program's students have done well with the SAFE scholarships, and that recognition and support is greatly appreciated. Also, the Annual Conference and trade show is a great benefit to the students. And while the Student Challenge contest seems to be im- portant to some attendees, I've never tutored the students beforehand, and I certainly haven't wanted them studying in their hotel rooms, when they could be out networking and generally having fun in the manner that many college students enjoy. ST: What are some of the biggest challenges facing sports turf man- agers today? Gilstrap: Besides traffic and Poa, I would say it's keeping up with all of the regulations and associated paperwork so that you and/or your or- ganization doesn't get cited or sued. ST: Can you speak to internships and how they have evolved? Gilstrap: Internships are the cornerstone of any turf management program. Our golf program already had the model in place, which was that our spring semester courses were shortened so that our student could be on their internships at the end of March. This has and still gives us an advantage in that they get to be there before the season begins, as in professional baseball. Then, typically by the time any interns from other programs show up, our intern already has 5 weeks of training. At first, there really weren't any internship in sports turf, so I had to procure them one by one. All along, I knew that most of the best ones would be in professional baseball since the dirt work was an art and not something we could teach them in classes. Also, there would be long hours that they needed to experience to know if they really Left: Dr. Gilstrap with his family in 2012; from L to R: Madeline, Paula, Katy, and Harry. Middle: Slappy Gilstrap performing at Willie Nelson's Fourth of July picnic in 1978. Right: Preparing for a calibration lab class circa 2003.

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