By Pam Sherratt
It’s Friday night and it has been raining all day. Your high school football team has just finished winning a big league game and emotions are running high. After all the high fives and congratulatory hand shakes, you turn your attention to the field. What you see is a 100-yard mud hole. You start thinking about what needs to be done to prepare the field for next week’s game. So what do you do? As a Sports Field Manager, there are three levels of field preparation that you should try to accomplish. First & foremost, is to supply the participants with a safe field to play on. Second, it’s your duty to give the players the best possible surface to perform and third, supply an attractive field.
Making the Field Safe
For any Sports Field Manager, safety is our greatest concern. As long as you make the field safe for the players, then everything else will fall into place. You should first walk the field immediately following the game and replace as many divots as possible. By replacing the divots you accomplish two things. First you increase the likelyhood of that piece of turf surviving, and secondly you are able to fill potential holes that may have occurred during the game. To help make the field safe, you will probably have to roll the field with a large roller. I know this goes against everything that you are told about field and soil management. Yes, it will add compaction to the soil, yes, it can break down the physical properties of the soil, and yes, it will mat down the remaining turf. But remember, you are trying to make the field safe. In the sports field business, sometimes you have to break the rules and do things that are not agronomically sound. Remember, by breaking these rules, you will have to work twice as hard later to repair the damage that you cause, but it is important to keep in mind that to the athletic department, the most important game is the next game.
Making the Field Playable
Once you have made the field safe, you should then try to make the playing surface as playable as possible. You do not want play to be determined by the field, but on the field.
Rolling the field will handle this nicely. Once you have rolled the field to provide a safe field, let the field dry as much as possible and then roll it again at a 45-degree angle from the first time. By rolling the field on an angle, you are able to avoid any wash boarding that may occur.
If you have a native soil field, you should avoid watering before the next game. During the fall months, the evapotranspiration rates are lower and thus native soil fields tend to retain more moisture. If you have to add water to the field, do it sparingly.
Limit the traffic on the field. By limiting the traffic on the field, you increase the likelyhood that the field will remain smooth, dry, and firm thus giving the players excellent playability. Ask the Principal and AD to help with communicating this request to the band and other teams that have access to the field.
Provide an Attractive Field
The third level of field preparation is to make the field attractive. This level is strictly for the fans and the alumni that will attend the game. There are several different ways of masking turf damage:
- The first is to put down some pre-germinated perennial rye grass seed. Apply seed before the game, give the seed all week to germinate and, if all goes well, you should have grass seedlings up for the game. Even though the grass is very young, it will give you the green color you need so the people in the stands will not notice the damage.
- A second way to mask damage is to put a logo of some kind on the field. By having an on-field logo and painting something in the end zones, you can take the fan’s focus off the turf damage.
- A third way to make a field attractive is to spread green sand across the bare areas. You can purchase green sand from different companies or you can make your own. You can make your own green sand by spreading regular sand out and spraying on a green dye, letting the sand dry and then spraying it again. Continue this method till you get the color you desire. After you get the desired color, spread the sand on the field.
- A final way to cancel turf damage from the stands is to spread grass clippings over the damaged areas. As you mow, collect the grass clippings. As game time approaches, spread the clippings on the field. This trick will give the illusion, from the stands, that there is grass on the field. With this technique, timing is key. You will have a 3-5 hour window before the clippings start to turn brown, but for most sporting events, that is enough time.
So, when the administers ask you what you are going to do to fix the field for next week, tell them some of these techniques and stress to them that what you will do is only a quick fix and that you are going to need their support when it is time to do the real repair work (i.e. aerify, top dress, and seed). Explain to them what you are going to do and why. Communicate to them that you will provide a safe field, the best possible playing surface, and then you will give them the most attractive field you can