Feature Article - February 2013
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Sports Fields in Context

Making the Right Choices in Synthetic & Natural Turf

By Joseph Bush

McNeal said she looks for any window to aerify and top-dress, and for the best fertilizer programs. Aerification can be core or what she calls "a knifing aerification," just to keep the surface loose and promote more dense turf. She evaluates the fertility program on a yearly basis and tries to balance sprayable products and granular products.

Because Wake Forest's soccer teams are annual standouts, McNeal has to keep soccer fields playable pretty late into November for NCAA postseason play. For this, she overseeds with rye for longevity, playability and aesthetics.

"Each year, I look at what's the latest rye grasses that are out there that give us the best overseed to get us what we're looking for," she said.

The trickiest synthetic field problem facing McNeal is how to care for the synthetic baseball field, which is much different from the football team's two synthetic fields because of the nature of the sports' rules and action. Baseball fields include clay for mounds and basepaths and on-deck and foul areas. That clay, as well as a wide variety of other natural debris, litter the synthetic areas, sometimes staying on top, sometimes working its way deeper.

McNeal deep-cleans the field before the season's start and then tries to find any other windows for the two-day process. For regular maintenance of surface debris, like maple tree helicopters or sunflower seeds or leaves or pine needles, a groomer behind a tractor suffices. At times a blowing implement is necessary to bring debris to the surface before grooming.

Also, McNeal has begun using a process akin to steam cleaning a carpet. Water is mixed with the clay to form a solution, and the slurry is vacuumed up. She said there is some rubber displacement but not as much as they guessed there would be. McNeal believes that constant care will extend the life of the field, an extension made necessary by the demands put on her by the athletic administration to get 10 years out of her synthetic fields.

"There's my pressure point, and if we're not going to make it how close to it are we going to get?" McNeal said. "I'm trying to do as much as we can from a maintenance standpoint to keep our coaches happy, and make sure the players are safe. There's no perfect field. You've just got to make the best that you can out of the situation that you're in at that time and do the best you can to think outside your normal box. We don't work in a bubble, you have to be adaptable to it all. I feel like we're very open-minded and try to learn new things."