John Watt, CSFM, athletic field manager for North Kansas City Schools, and his crew, Brian Gaa, James Pilgrim, and Russell Gentry, won the 2010 Sports Turf Managers Association Schools/Parks Softball Field of the Year.

Award winner among 30 fields spread over 90 square miles

John Watt, CSFM, athletic field manager for North Kansas City Schools, and his crew, Brian Gaa, James Pilgrim, and Russell Gentry, won the 2010 Sports Turf Managers Association Schools/Parks Softball Field of the Year.

These four men are responsible for maintaining 30 fields spread over 90 square miles; the winning field is home to four separate high school softball teams.

Here are some of John Watt’s comments from his award entry:

“I started out the year like every other, deep into planning trying to be proactive. Then the news came about budget cuts. Next came talk about lay-offs, contracting out services, and decrease in wages. How do you get the crew motivated for the upcoming seasons of play that we were about to endure, ran through my mind. [But] with our dedication that question quickly faded as the snow melted and warmer temperatures arrived.

“The District Activities Complex (DAC) Softball field is played on in the fall by four high school girls’ softball teams. It lies on the property of one high school, so they have taken ownership of it where the team conducts camps, practices and games. When fall practice begins in August till the end of the season in October, the field is used continuously by the teams.

“This fall was the third season that the field has been in play. After reviews with coaches and players the number one complaint of the field is how hard the red shell infield becomes. Having a crew of three and taking care of 30 athletic fields over a 90 square mile area, hand watering the infield on a daily basis is not an option. To try and eliminate the problem of “bad hops” and hard pan, we started incorporating calcined clay into the top 2 inches of red shell. In theory it would help reduce the compaction and retain moisture, as it does when amended into turf.

The addition worked on firmness, but it brought up a new problem. There was foreign debris and large limestone that was mixed into the red shell from installation. This was solved by doing a “rock party cleanup,” with some assistance by players during practice.

“Spending the extra money on the infield caused a short fall in the budget, meaning less to spend on the turf. The field still received 3-4 lbs. of nitrogen and overseeding, but when the turf was invaded by dollar spot, there were no dollars for treatment. Instead some cultural maintenance was performed. Half rate of nitrogen was used in a month cycle and we reduced mowing and leaf wetness. Once the temperatures cooled down, solid tine aeration at four inch depth was completed. Before no time, there was a 98% turf recovery.

“Through a limited budget and some unpredictable weather, my main goal of keeping a safe, playable field was met. This was accomplished due to creative practices and the hard work that was put forth by the crew and coaches.”

SportsTurf: What changes have you made to your maintenance plan for 2011, if any?

Watt: During the “off-season” from field usage, we have implemented a consistent dragging program of the field to try and keep the material in the current location. The field has great surface drainage to the outfield corners, but it causes the infield material to migrate off. A consistent dragging of the infield also helps control weed infestation. As for the turf areas, aeration has been increased two extras times a year to help improve water penetration into the soil.

ST: What’s the best piece of turf management advice you have ever received?

Watt: This is a great question and through my years of being an athlete, going to school, and work experiences I still think about it. Don’t try to figure out what the head coach is thinking, go out and do your job, even you can impress yourself. On days when you come into work and see what happened to the field from the night before, don’t get discouraged, it is your time to shine. Always keep challenging yourself.

ST: How do you balance your work and personal time?

Watt: The crew is what makes things happen. I know that the work that is scheduled will be completed and that the athletes will be provided with a safe field to show their skills on. We are a small crew but we get things done. Oh, and a cell phone!

ST: How have you been dealing with reduced budget if indeed that is the case?

Watt: The public education system has seen its fair share of budget cuts. As a manager, I stress the importance of taking care of the equipment through regular maintenance and proper operating practices. We need to get many more seasons out of the equipment. There also have been some adjustments on many of the fields with only treating areas that really need it. I think of Dr. Minner’s statement about “a field within a field.”

ST: What’s your most valued piece of equipment and why?

Watt: Having 25 native soil fields, which are majority clay, the aerator is a great asset. The district has a pull-behind core roller aerator that works great. It allows us to travel around the district in a timely fashion and does the job. During the seasons of play, an AerWay with shatter tines is used to help break compaction.

ST: Are you yet involved in “sustainable” management practices? If so, what are you doing?

Watt: Working around children of various age groups, we have to be cautious of the work and products we use. For most of us, it has become second nature through common practices of proper irrigation, selection of products according to soil analysis, and timing of applications.  Majority of the products I use are 30-50% slow-release and have had great success. 


Maintenance Schedule


Softball field maintenance, North Kansas City Schools

March                                                                        August

start mowing once a week                                          mow weekly

charge irrigation/make repairs if needed                    irrigate regularly

April                                                                            September

32-0-8 at 1 lb. of N                                                      22-0-3 50% at 1/2 rate of N

mow weekly                                                                drill 9 lbs./1000 blue/fescue seed mixture

spot spray any weeds                                                 solid tine aerate

irrigate as needed                                                       launch application

mow weekly


dress up warning track                                               October

mow weekly                                                                winterize irrigation

irrigate as needed                                                       mow weekly

core aerate                                                                  32-3-8 at 1 lb. of N

June                                                                            November

0-0-7 with .067% Acelepryn                                       put field to bed

mow weekly

irrigate regularly


22-0-3 50% at 1/2 rate of N

mow weekly

irrigate regularly


Equipment used at District Activities Complex Softball Field


B&B 200-gallon sprayer

RBG-1012-C blade grinder

Graco 3900 Line Lazer IV

Graco Field Lazer

John Deere 1200A Infield Pro

John Deere 4320 Tractor

Aercore 1500

John Deere 797

John Deere backpack blower

John Deere Pro Gator

John Deere Turf TX

Kubota M4900 tractor

Lesco HPS spreader

Redexim overseeder

Quickpass topdresser

Schaben sprayer

Turfco Edge-R-Rite II

Turfco Sod cutter


Woods box blade