Making Sure the Grass is Greener

Athletic turf and field manager adopts new techniques to maintain high-quality facilities.

UPDATE 2.22.2017: Our award-winning baseball field has received another prestigious honor by being selected as a winner of Pioneer Athletics’ 2016 Fields of Excellence Award. As a benefit of the award, Steward will receive a certificate of recognition and a Fields of Excellence banner that can be displayed on our field.

UPDATE 11.2.2016: Athletic Turf and Field Manager Mark Roberts has passed an exam to become a Certified Sports Field Manager (CSFM), a certification held by only 207 people in the nation and four people in the state of Virginia. Click here to read more about the CSFM program.

"I had a bucket list of things I wanted to accomplish when I came to Steward," Mr. Roberts said. "First, I wanted to win a 'Field of the Year' award. Second, I wanted to host a field day, and third, I wanted to get my CSFM accreditation. I guess I better set some new goals."

There is a lot of work involved in maintaining Steward’s athletic fields, and much of it goes unseen. With spring athletic season beginning, it’s more important than ever for Steward’s grounds to look their best.

Athletic Turf and Field Manager Mark Roberts said the process of keeping up with the fields is ever-changing and requires constant attention. Last summer, he took a big step forward by performing the act of fraze mowing on the baseball field.

While fairly new in the United States, this process has been a common practice in Europe for a while. Using a Koro Field Topmaker, the top layer of the field is removed to get rid of thatch and weed seed. This act rejuvenates the grass and allows it to grow laterally rather than vertically, which extends the life of the field.

Not only is the result of fraze mowing visually appealing, it creates a tight, smooth surface that increases playability and makes for a cleaner game.

“When the guys on the baseball team are playing, they don’t have to worry about a ball taking a bad hop on the grass and hitting them,” said Director of Athletics Bruce Secrest. “They’re confident in the quality of the field, which allows them to play more successfully.”

Fraze mowing also prevents the crew from having to “sprig” the field and do continuous renovations; thus the process eliminates months of work time and cuts down on total cost.

Steward is one of only a handful of schools in Richmond to use this practice for its athletic fields, and the results are worth the effort, which was proven when Steward won the Sports Turf Managers Association’s national baseball “Field of the Year” award in 2013. Mr. Roberts said he plans on fraze mowing Field 3 this summer in preparation for the fall field hockey season.

“We do things here that are on the cutting edge, and it’s established us as a leader in sports turf,” Mr. Roberts said. “My goal is to provide all of our athletes with a college or semi-professional level playing facility, and I’m fortunate to have the Athletic Department behind me in reaching that goal.”

Additionally, Mr. Roberts recently passed an exam to become a certified nutrient management planner, a title that only about 200 people in Virginia currently hold. Offered by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the nutrient management program encourages proper application of fertilizer so that they retain their efficient use without harming ground and surface waters.

“My certification basically gives us a feather in our cap by showing that what I use to fertilize our fields is not damaging the environment or wasting resources,” Mr. Roberts said. “I’m managing our assets as best as I can to promote sustainability while maintaining the best playing facilities possible.”

Other improvements made to the turf and fields this school year include:

  • New irrigation heads were added to the baseball field to water the skinned part of the infield. Previously, Mr. Roberts had hand-watered this area, but the new heads will be much more effective in hydrating the field and making the surface safer for play.
  • With the help of the Spartan Club, new material for the warning track (the non-grassy area that surrounds the field) has been added to the baseball field, and stencils were purchased to dress up the fields with Steward’s logo and tagline.




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