Feature Article - March 2004
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Grass-Roots Communication

For sports turf maintenance, there’s a lot of handy information for those in the field

By Stacy St. Clair

The National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, for example, created a task force dedicated solely to turf management issues. The committee—which consists of both administrators and maintenance industry representatives—aims to provide information on new products and improving field safety.

"There's a whole lot more to the profession than mowing grass."

The information is critical to athletic directors, the majority of whom have education and coaching backgrounds but find themselves with field maintenance responsibilities. The association helps make the job easier with committee recommendations and an Internet site with an "Ask the Experts" section. Most importantly, the panel offers advice on how to maintain an attractive, safe field without breaking the bank.

"The people on the committee are aware of the tight budgets that most school districts face," says Bruce Whitehead, a former athletic director who now works for the NIAAA. "They're always trying to show them what they can do."

Other turf managers share their expertise through associations and professional societies. The national organizations' local chapters offer an opportunity to meet other groundskeepers and swap advice. There also are annual conferences where managers can discuss their problems and share their concerns with colleagues from across the country.

The recent Sports Turf Managers Association conference, for example, had a variety of seminars, ranging from weeds to cold weather care to dealing with the media. Attendees also tackled subjects such as working smarter, using reclaimed water and managing native soil.

"The activity that takes place on the playing field is so abusive, it takes a great deal of knowledge and expertise to take care of fields," Trusty says. "That's why our members are always willing to help each other out."

More and more, they're helping each other out on the Internet on a daily basis. Most associations—including STMA and NIAAA—have Web site forums where turf managers can post questions and make recommendations. There are also weed databases and other field maintenance studies available online.

The vast electronic resources have made life much easier for the professionals. There's no more waiting until the morning to research a newly sprouted weed at the local library or calling for a reference on the latest mowing equipment.

"The new generation of turf managers rely on it a lot more than the veterans," Karcher says. "It helps me keep abreast of what's going on in the field."

While some have criticized the Internet for the erosion of personal relationships, industry experts say it has only strengthened the already tight bond among turf managers.

"There's still a lot of phone calls back and forth," Trusty says. "The Internet isn't lessening the relationships. It's making them stronger."