Saving Athletic Fields

Ronald Strahan, Koske, Thomas J., Beasley, Jeffrey S.  |  1/22/2009 8:55:52 PM

Super wear areas may require synthetic turf.

Careless equipment operation may damage or divot turf.

Conduct training clinics for those who directly do specific work, such as mound maintenance.

Your playing field may be a big investment or may not be. It is, however, where your team must perform and often reflects the level of interest that your school or club has for that sport. Therefore, we must maintain and protect the field. Safety is the primary reason for adequate field maintenance. We must consider safety regardless of budget. In order to provide a safe playing surface, you must properly maintain the field's root zone and sod surface.

Anything used to its maximum will wear out. Some fields can be highly utilized, but they were designed for that and require specific construction, materials and maintenance inputs; all that costs money. The best use and return for your sports turf dollar is to properly maintain what you have and limit its use or abuse.

Other LSU AgCenter articles talk about best management practices (BMPs) for turf and proper soil and turf management, so I won’t repeat that here. The better maintained the turfgrass is, the better it will perform and last through the season. We really grow Bermuda turf from spring through September -- not just August and September. Therefore, turf maintenance starts in spring.

To better sustain your turf surface this year (see also "Athletic Turf Worn Out?"), manage these prime considerations:

1) Wet fields on native soils will easily mess up a field. Wet soils often become "plastic" and rut. Turf will divot more easily, and you end up with a torn-up and uneven field. This condition won’t go away when it dries and becomes hard. You may roll the field while still soft to flatten the ruts and reseat the clods and divots.

Of course, a waterproof field cover can be employed to shed the rain, but this is not often found in local school facilities because cost may be prohibitive. These covers protect the infield, skinned areas and outfield edge that are crucial to the play of the game. They must be employed before the rain and removed soon after. Heat burn, scalding and disease are probable if a cover is left in place too long. Tarp runoff into the outfield should still be redirected off the outfield to avoid a soaked outfield.

Have a cancellation policy for activities, practices and games. You may schedule activity on an alternate field or practice field that is considered less valuable and may be sacrificed if another suitable time cannot be found.

2) Game fields are for games. Practice on a practice field. Limit other field activities such as cheerleading to other than the game field. Make the band practice on the practice field or parking area. Only "special," limited practices should be allowed on the game field.

3) Whatever field you use, coaches should rotate their practice areas frequently if they're able. To have ladder drills in the same place or an entire practice camp of 100-plus players drill in the same place will wear out spots, compact the soil and slow grass recovery. This is especially true if drill areas are in the center of the field or any other high-use area like goal mouths.

Try portable goals and move them frequently during practices. Don’t allow goals to remain as objects that block mowing. A couple of missed mowings under the goal will lead to a taller grass in that spot, and when it is cut, the grass will be scalped and badly thinned.

Areas that will just get worn out may best be handled with synthetic turf or a turf-like rug. This is often found in front of dugouts.

4) Train your work force. If players and coaches actually manage parts of a field like mounds, batter’s box, etc., hold clinics to ensure that those doing the work know the proper techniques of management. There is often a best way, and then there is everything else.

5) Make best use of the gift of in-season "not-in-use" time such as bye weeks. Disruptive maintenance such as core aerification, top dressing and overseeding are all important maintenance activities for a sustainable playing surface. They have timely applications and may involve substantial costs, so plan to do these when you have a good chance and the time is appropriate for the procedure.

A good sports field doesn’t just happen. Even well-constructed fields will be worn out if overused or abused.

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