If the grass had to go, at least it’s going out on top.
The football field at Memorial Stadium was selected as 2014 National Field of the Year by the Sports Turf Managers Association. It also garnered state Field of the Year for the fourth time in the past five years.
“It’s a big honor to be up with the universities,” said Jim Funderburk, director of maintenance the past five years. “The University of Florida won for the colleges. That makes my guys feel real good.”
The 2,600-member group selects top fields in schools/parks, colleges/universities and professional divisions. The group picks top turf managers. It even has a mowing pattern contests.
“The Field of the Year Award is a testament to the personal and professional contributions by a select group of sports turf industry leaders,” said Kim Heck, CEO of the national organization.
Contestants sent photos of fields, maintenance information and the amount of fertilizers used to the association. Fields were scored by 11 judges on “playability, appearance of surfaces, utilization of innovative solutions, effective use of budget and implementation of a comprehensive agronomic program.”
“The process of selecting winners each year becomes more difficult as the candidate pool grows and the industry continues to progress with innovative technologies, state-of-the-art equipment and best practices,” Heck said.
Will Rogers, a landscaper and sports turf manager for the Clover team, is president of the South Carolina Sports Turf Managers Association in Rock Hill. Other team members are Lee Clinton, Tony “TC” McCarter, Frank Falls, Jamie Sciba, Dean McCarter and Robbie Wiggins.
“When visiting the stadium, it is evident there is a crew of hard-working and very dedicated individuals behind the scenes who maintain the playing surface,” said Mychal Frost, school district spokesman.
The recent honor is a high one, workers say, but a bittersweet one, too. The grass field of 66 years will be replaced with a synthetic surface approved in a bond earlier this year. The artificial surface should be in place by next football season.
“They’re about to tear up the national field of the year and put down field turf,” Funderburk said.
Funderburk understands why the decision was made. Field turf allows more year-round use at a lower maintenance cost, both for school and community event use. Keeping the field maintained with growing use has been a challenge.
“It makes it a little difficult,” Funderburk said.
Keeping the grass in shape and painted takes several staff members and the occasional coach. Rogers and Funderburk credit all of them with the latest success. The school softball field won state field of the year, too. That field is a multi-award winner as well.
“Their efforts and commitment to providing outstanding fields for our student-athletes and the community are very much appreciated and deserve congratulations,” Frost said.
The national award will be presented at a Jan. 13-16 convention in Denver, Colo. The field also will be featured in a 2015 issue of Sports Turf Magazine.