By Rich Watson
Every year I am impressed by the quality of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) Conference and Exhibition. This year is no different as I eagerly await the upcoming 2016 conference in San Diego. The amount of time spent planning really shows when you are there taking it all in. The educational sessions, vendor options and opportunity to network with your peers is a great chance to move your career forward. I always encourage anyone who has not been to the STMA national conference to try at some point in their careers to get to one. That may be easier said than done, though.
For those that cannot make it, there is another option: STMA Chapter field days also offer education, vendor participation and the opportunity to network with peers in your local area. I am the president of the Sports Field Managers Association of New Jersey (SFMANJ), the New Jersey Chapter of STMA. We hold spring and fall field days every year. It is an opportunity for our organization to provide education, pesticide and fertilizer credits, equipment demonstrations, food and a fun day away from work.
There are several things that have made our events successful (including but not limited to): a site with indoor and outdoor availability, a quality educational program; food; and a proportionate amount of attendees to vendors. It also doesn’t hurt that the event is free to attend. How is that possible? Let’s take a look at the formula that has been developed in the Garden State.
Picking the Right Site
When you think of a field day it brings to mind great weather, beautiful fields and an entire day of outdoor activities. Sometimes Mother Nature has other plans. The weather in New Jersey and throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic can be somewhat unpredictable in the spring and fall. I know that the folks attending our events are outdoor people but it is hard to concentrate when you have been in the rain for hours at a time.
In addition to having a host sports complex with a variety of sports fields, we have also made it a priority to find a site with an indoor facility for educational sessions and vendor set up if the weather turns ugly. This thinking has turned out to be a good strategy for a couple of reasons. It gives us the ability to have our event rain or shine. The other benefit is subtler; having the ability to hold some of our talks indoors makes it a little more like a classroom talk. This has been important during our talks that receive pesticide credits. The indoor setup keeps everyone in the same location and gives the entire group the opportunity to hear what the speaker is saying. It can be difficult to hear when you are listening to a speaker outside due to wind or other outdoor distractions. It also can be a good way to start the day when the morning temperatures are cold and the turf is wet. Having the right site is the foundation of a great event and should not be overlooked.
“Sports Field Managers Association of New Jersey is committed to enhancing the professionalism of athletic field managers by improving the safety, playability and appearance of athletic fields at all levels through seminars, field days, publications and networking with those in the sports turf industry.” That is the mission statement of our chapter. It is something that we take very seriously. Providing education to our members is really what we are all about.
Our Board of Directors goes through a process every year to put together topics that are timely and developed in part by a site visit to the host venue. An example of a timely topic was New Jersey’s Commercial Fertilizer Applicator’s Certification Program. The state enacted a law in 2012 that requires anyone applying fertilizer as part of their job to be certified and accrue continuing education credits to maintain your certification. As with any new program there was a lot of anxiety and confusion when it was enacted. Our Association took the lead by offering education explaining the law and awards fertilizer recertification credits at our events.
Educational programs also include NJ School IPM Category pesticide credits that are difficult to acquire. Having the ability to provide hard-to-find fertilizer and pesticide credits is a great help in attracting people from all parts of the turf industry to attend our events. In addition to the accredited talks, we also encourage our vendors to provide hands-on education through a variety of field equipment demonstrations. This provides a good balance to our classroom-type education. Everyone enjoys seeing new equipment and envisions how they might make it work on their sites. Recently we have seen a variety of new aerating equipment, fraze mowers, infield groomers, pesticide application equipment as well as the newest mowers on the market. It is a great way for our vendor members to contribute to the educational portion of the event while promoting their products.
The vendor members of our organization are the glue that holds everything together. We have a group of talented business people who really respect the industry and are a huge help in promoting the SFMANJ. This group provides the financial backing that makes it possible to hold our field days free of charge for SFMANJ members. I mentioned this earlier as a tease but holding a free event is a great way to give back to the membership. It also allows municipal and school employees, who make up the bulk of our membership, an easier way to get to the event by not having to try and find someone in their business office to go through the process of producing a purchase order for payment. In the past many of our members had complained about how difficult it was to get to our field days because of the paperwork involved. We listened and thanks to our loyal vendor members, more people are able to attend. There are many ways that a vendor can support our field day. We offer a variety of packages that can include having their literature placed in the attendee packet, a tabletop booth to display information and products, a field demonstration with equipment and sponsoring breakfast or lunch. These options allow the vendor to participate as little or as much as they want in our event. We hope that our field days provide a good return on their investment in us.
It always amazes me how much joy people get out of having food provided at an event, although it shouldn’t be a surprise. The late Dr. Henry Indyk, founding father of our association, made the point that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Henry made sure that there was food available at SFMANJ events because he reasoned that it made people feel better and think clearer. I completely agree. We offer coffee, doughnuts and sometimes bagels to get our events started. It is also an opportunity to mix and mingle with our vendors that have set up tabletop booths around the area that is serving the food. It gives the vendors direct access to the attendees and keeps everyone in the same area until the educational sessions begin.
While I am a breakfast man, lunch at a SFMANJ field day steals the show and not for an obvious reason like gourmet-type food. The food is great but there is one man that really makes it a special meal. Don Savard, CSFM, and a past president of SFMANJ, puts together a lunch that keeps everyone happy. Don is an extremely modest guy but through his dedication and mobile catering equipment we feed everyone at a very affordable price (i.e., the cost of ingredients). Everyone is given two of Don’s “dirty water dogs” with sauerkraut or homemade chili, a bag of chips and a beverage. It is as simple as it gets but most everyone loves this lunch. Don is the maestro in the kitchen but our Board of Directors serves the lunch to the members. It is our way to thank the members for their support and puts a personal touch on the event. In the past we had purchased boxed lunches from various deli operations but nothing comes close to Don’s “dirty water dogs.”
There are other things that don’t seem important but we have found make a big difference in our events. We have found that if you schedule a field day at the same time every year, it makes it easier for the membership to plan to make it to your event. The people that attend our events are very busy people with changing sports schedules but if they have the information about an event early enough, it makes it easier for them to make plans to attend. The other thing is the structure of an event. We have made a timetable for our field days that stays the same every year and all we have to do is plug in the new speakers or vendors. It saves time and makes the planning portion of the event easier.
The SFMANJ Board of Directors and Executive Secretary Debbie Savard have put a lot of time and energy developing the formula for our field days. It has taken some time to work out the details through trial and error but ultimately it has been very rewarding putting on a quality event for our members.
The STMA has great chapters all over the country. Try and get to a chapter field day near you and see for yourself what they have to offer.
Rich Watson retired this past November from the Deptford Township SD in New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.