HGTC Sports Turf Management students mentored in field prep for major sporting events

When Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish brings its rivalry with the Navy’s Midshipmen south in 2016, there will most likely be some Horry Georgetown Technical College students in Jacksonville ahead of the game prepping EverBank Field.

HGTC professor Charles Granger broke the news Saturday morning, after returning with six students who spent last week preparing the home stadium of the Jacksonville Jaguars for the annual Georgia-Florida college football game. EverBank Field, the former Gator Bowl, has been the venue for the Gators vs. Bulldogs rivalry for the last 53 years.

“My boss doesn’t even know this yet but we’ve been invited next year to the Georgia-Florida game and the Navy-Notre Dame game,” Granger said.

Granger said the invitations come from relationships developed between HGTC’s growing Sports Turf Management program and the SMG/Jacksonville Jaguars Sports Turf Mentorship program. The school offers the only associate degree in Golf and Sports Turf Management in South Carolina. The curriculum prepares students for entry-level employment with sports venues in positions as a superintendent, assistant superintendent or foreman. Additional employment areas include turf management, sod production, turf products sales positions and park management.

Granger added that being able to provide students with hands-on experience preparing fields for play at major events like the one in Jacksonville is what sets the HGTC program apart.

“In the world of education, we are asked to work on recruitment, retention and completion,” Granger said. “We can do that when we are able to take students to world class facilities like this.”

Granger said the HGTC program requires students complete internships that often result in career jobs after graduation. While the program, developed about seven years ago, focuses on training students for the local golf and sports industry market that includes TicketReturn.com field at Pelican’s Ballpark and and fields at Coastal Carolina University, it has provided opportunities for students to intern as far away as China. Graduates have also obtained interviews and jobs for teams outside the area, among them the New York Jets, the Boston Red Sox, the Cincinnati Reds and Clemson University.

“Quite frankly these are very knowledgeable [students] with some awesome experience and this (visit to Florida) just added to it,” Granger said. He said while the students would no doubt be glued to the TV watching Saturday’s game to see the results of their field prep efforts, it was hard work.

“These kids were covered in paint. There was nothing pretty about it,” Granger said, adding the students went to work at 5 a.m. and worked until 9 or 10 p.m. performing physically demanding tasks. And, while HGTC has had no females in the program to date, Granger said there are female field managers currently with the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles.

Rick McGuinnes, department chair, said the school’s turf management program developed out of the golf course management program and has continued to grow while golf has leveled out.

There are currently 60 students in the program and each performs an eight-week paid internship during the summer across the U.S. and even China.

“There is so much competition for these students. They are housed and are paid well, unlike many internships. A lot of these internships lead to future positions with the clubs that hire them back as second or first assistants to the superintendents,” McGuinnes said.

McGuinnes said the jobs market has opened up for these graduates as more schools invest in the quality of their football fields.

“It used to be the high school coach and students were out prepping the field,” Granger said. “But today they have invested a lot more in their fields and it takes a professional to take care of them.”

To help students train locally, HGTC has developed relationships with CCU to use their fields for laboratories. The school also hired Corey Russell, sports field manager for the Pelicans baseball team, as an adjunct professor and much training takes place on the baseball field.

“It’s a good relationship and we really pride ourselves in providing hands-on experience,” McGuinnes said. He noted that the school’s administration has been extremely supportive of the sometimes weeklong trips students and Granger or golf instructor Ashley Wilkinson take to work with PGA professionals at places like the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., and at Jacksonville.

“It gets them into these settings so they can see what we are teaching and students come back pumped up for class,” he said. “What separates our program from others are the opportunities. There is nothing like being there and seeing it. As they watch the game, they will be saying ‘that’s what we painted; that’s what we did.”

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