Field of Excellence: Turfgrass matters in sports

Linda Benedict, Strahan, Ronald E., Beasley, Jeffrey S.  |  2/21/2012 3:04:45 AM

Vermilion Catholic schools in Abbeville participated in the Field of Excellence program in 2010. County agent Stuart Gauthier helped guide their improvements. (Photo by Steven Trahan)

Field manager Snook Sorrel displays a Field of Excellence banner and sign at New Iberia’s Porter Stadium. (Photo by Ron Strahan)

Ron Strahan and Jeff Beasley

Friday nights in the fall find football stadiums filled with excited fans cheering on their local heroes. Few things unite communities like the local high school football team. Louisiana high school football has great tradition, and it’s played at an extremely high level. Unfortunately, the football fields don’t always match the quality of the athletes on the field. After working several years with high school coaches and field managers, it became obvious that many Louisiana high school football fields were in deplorable shape causing unsafe playing conditions that can lead to potentially serious head and spinal injuries. These poor field conditions included severely compacted soils, excessive weeds, uneven surfaces and overall poor turf coverage. To address these problems, the LSU AgCenter Field of Excellence program was initiated in 2010 and made available to selected high schools across the state. The goal of the program was to provide guidance to improve the condition and overall quality of the participating high school’s football field.

In 2010, LSU AgCenter experts and parish agents worked with six schools, and in 2011, five schools completed the program. Schools that participate in the Field of Excellence program receive visits from AgCenter experts usually every two to three weeks throughout the spring and summer growing season to assess the field. Recommendations are made to improve the overall agronomic conditions such as fertility and weed management. Practices such as core aerification are implemented to reduce dangerous soil compaction problems that can potentially cause serious injuries. Following the AgCenter recommendations dramatically improves the aesthetic appearance of the fields and allows them to recover from excessive use. The program begins in late winter and ends after the final home game.

Most football fields are improved when turf managers follow simple agronomic practices. However, some fields need more than just improved agronomic practices to get them in playing shape. For example, the program assisted Winnfield High School with its complete renovation in 2010. By the following year, the field was so improved that the Louisiana Turfgrass Association named Winnfield High School as its 2011 High School Football Field of the Year, and the school received a $500 award for field maintenance. In 2011, the LSU AgCenter Field of Excellence Program assisted Vidalia High School in the complete renovation of its field.

High schools that follow the LSU AgCenter recommendations and implement the best management practices are certified as an LSU AgCenter Field of Excellence before the beginning of the football season. The schools receive a banner and sign to display near the field that indicate the school has participated and achieved Field of Excellence status. Additionally, the schools are required to make a public address announcement at each game signifying that the football field is an LSU AgCenter Field of Excellence under the direction of the participating county agent.

The Field of Excellence program has allowed the LSU AgCenter to reach new audiences and has improved the overall appearance and the safety and playability of the football fields. Requirements for participation in the program include the following:

  • Commitment to follow through with the recommendations of the LSU AgCenter.
  • Funding to pay for fertilizers, chemicals, etc. needed to maintain the field.
  • Access to pesticide application equipment such as sprayers and spreaders.
  • Commitment to correctly apply fertilizers and herbicides when recommended.
  • Access to core or spike aerifiers to relieve soil compaction periodically during the growing season.
  • Ability to irrigate the field.

2010 schools and agents:
New Roads schools, Pointe Coupee Parish, Miles Brashier
Ferriday High School, Concordia Parish, Glen Daniels
Ville Platte High School, Evangeline Parish, Keith Fontenot
Bastrop High School, Morehouse Parish, Richard Letlow
Abbeville High and Vermilion Catholic, Vermilion Parish, Stuart Gauthier

2011 schools and agents:
Wossman High School, Ouachita Parish, Richard Letlow
Vidalia High School, Concordia Parish, Nan Huff and Dennis Burns
Winnfield High School, Winn Parish, Donny Moon
Franklinton High School, Washington Parish, Henry Harrison
New Iberia high schools, Iberia Parish, Blair Hebert and Chris Robicheaux

Ron Strahan
, Associate Professor, and Jeff Beasley, Associate Professor, Department of Soil, Plant & Environmental Sciences, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article was published in the winter 2012 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

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