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The Last Word - April 2016

The Last Word with…
…John Stewart

By Deborah L. Vence


John Stewart, head groundskeeper for New York's Syracuse Chiefs, a Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, always has been interested in baseball, the outdoors and learning about the environment.

"Therefore, becoming a professional baseball groundskeeper was a natural fit for me," said Stewart, who is in his ninth season with the minor league team, which plays in the International League.

"My first position was with the Syracuse Chiefs. Wes Ganobcik, who is currently the head groundskeeper with the Columbus Clippers, offered me my first job when I was 22 years old. He taught me everything I know and is a great mentor," he said.

Clearly, Stewart learned a lot from his mentor, and being hired by the Syracuse Chiefs at such a young age was an exciting opportunity to work in Triple-A and closely with Ganobcik, whom Stewart said taught him how to prepare.

"He would think about all of the possibilities and anticipate the things he could not control. We were always prepared under his leadership," he said. "Early on, he taught me the magnitude of decision-making in the sports turf management industry and how important it is to 'go with your gut'."

He added, "I was a sponge and soaked up all of the information I could."

Stewart took that experience and mentoring to heart, and maintains a steadfast work ethic as head groundskeeper, a role he was promoted to in 2010.

"Working hard and setting goals is rewarding," he said. "After a long homestand has finished, I feel accomplished."

His passion and dedication to the job as head groundskeeper has paid off given that Stewart was honored in 2015 with the Sports Turf Manager's Association's (STMA) "Sports Turf Manager of the Year" award, which recognizes outstanding effort and excellence in maintenance of a baseball playing surface. Stewart is the first Chiefs' groundskeeper to earn the prestigious award since it started 24 years ago.

To earn this top-notch honor, the chosen recipient is selected by an awards committee made up of 16 members, compiled by the STMA. Each nominee is scored independently on cultural practices, game-day routine, resource utilization, staff management, and the groundskeeper's in- volvement and support of the sports turf industry, according to information from the STMA website.

Joining the STMA, Stewart suggested, is an excellent way for people just starting out in the industry to network, share ideas with others and search for new opportunities.

Moreover, Stewart said his advice for those who are just starting out in the business is to: "Get out on the fields or courses and commit to your tasks, make mistakes and learn the most you can out of the classroom (as well as in the classroom). This industry takes years of hard work, and commitment and hands-on experience with trusted mentors is invaluable."

When he's not hard at work looking after and maintaining the team's playing field, Stewart loves to play golf in his free time.

"Golf course superintendents have significantly more land to manage than I do, and I am always impressed with the exceptional work they produce," he said. "Although spending time on the golf course is fun, I also enjoy taking my dog on a walk at the local municipal parks."

As far as trends in parks and recreation right now, Stewart said that "Unfortunately, I would say budget cuts have been more prevalent in parks and recreation recently. These cuts force groundskeepers to be creative on how to maximize your results with fewer resources. This new way of thinking is really helping the industry develop innovative ways to answer age-old problems."

The STMA, based in Lawrence, Kan., is the not-for-profit, professional association for men and women who manage sports fields worldwide. Since 1981, the association and its 34 local chapters have been providing education, information and sharing practical knowledge in the art and science of sports field management. The association's more than 2,600 members oversee sports fields and facilities at schools, colleges and universities, parks and recreational facilities, and professional sports stadiums.

The STMA has more than 2,500 members who are sports turf managers, academics, students and those in the commercial sector.

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