My disaster and how I overcame it

We asked some readers to share their stories of when a turf-related disaster strikes and how they handled it:

Rick Perruzzi, CSFM

South Portland, ME Parks and Rec

In 2007 our Recreation department was approached about hosting part of the US Youth Soccer Region 1 Soccer Championships in June of 2008. This tournament is still the largest to date we have hosted on our facility, which has six soccer fields, five softball and two baseball fields. After discussing the impacts internally, we decided to go ahead and host games during this 3-day event, which had teams from as far south as Virginia traveling to the Portland, ME area.

Wanting to put our best efforts into this event, we made it our mission to make all 6 fields have the same conditions in terms of ball roll and aesthetics. Going into spring we were able to shut all the fields down to get them prepared for the 12-hour abuse they were going to take for 3 days. The fields were mowed at 1 ¼ inches starting in mid-May once the weather got nice, did some sod work where needed, topdressed all six fields and had an aggressive fertility program to ensure its strength and recovery time.

Two weeks before the tournament we started to line the fields so we could begin the traditional soccer pattern as seen in the professional ranks. The biggest component that helped us was that the weather had been awesome, if anything a little dry, but with our irrigation system we could control moisture levels. I remember the Tuesday or Wednesday before the tournament I started to realize that we actually pulled this off and created the best fields possible for a tournament of this size, especially where we had never hosted anything like this before. When the tournament directors showed up they were extremely happy and impressed with what we were able to produce for a product, six fields all looking and playing the same.

The start of the tournament on Friday morning went off without a hitch and continued into the afternoon. Around 2 pm I started looking towards the west, as I normally do because as turf managers we are also meteorologists, and noticed what I thought looked like potential thunderheads. I went into my office and brought up the radar and noticed some small storms forming about 50 miles away, as they traditionally seem to gain some strength off a lake about 30 miles away.

I contacted the tournament director to keep him up to speed but explained to him because we sit on a peninsula on the Gulf of Maine most the of the storms seem to split and follow the river to our north and a river to our south, both within 15 miles. This may seem strange but it happens to us more than people may think. As the time approached 3:30 pm I noticed the track of the cell was still heading directly for us and not wavering. At 4 pm the situation was getting real, as I met with the tournament staff discussing contingency plans, as this storm was reported to have strong gusty winds, torrential downpours and hail. Not typical for a Maine thunderstorm in June, at least on the coast. Lastly, the last round of games started at 4 pm. By 4:30 it was evident that this was going to hit us and started clearing the fields and made it mandatory to get people to their cars because we did not have the space to house hundreds of people. All I remember thinking was, please do not let us get to much rain to flood the fields out, which has happened to us in the past.

I recall looking out the window as the storm approached and looking at the tree line about ¼ mile away and seeing a wall, yes a wall, of water coming right at us. It rained for approximately 45 minutes and deposited almost 4 inches of rain, needless to say the fields were flooded and of course the tournament directors are looking at me on how to fix the conditions. As my crew and I jumped into action my first thought was to try to get the water off the fields by using our 8 horsepower pump with 2-inch fire hose attached to it. We were able to remove the standing water on two fields in about 4 hours then solid tine aerate the playing surface to increase surface area.

By the way it was dark and we do not have lights on our fields. We then moved to the area with the other four fields and started moving (pushing) and pumping water off of those. We finished at 1 am. I sent the crew home and had them report at 5:00 am to assess the situation.

At 6 am the tournament director showed up and went over the situation and we agreed that five of the six were playable, which meant we needed to line another field for 8 am to all the games started on time. By Sunday the original 6th field was reopened and they were able to finish the tournament on time, which made the tournament staff extremely happy.

That is by far the proudest I have ever been of a crew as everyone worked together to make this happen during the best and worst conditions. We did not receive one complaint as the fields played a little soft but footing was not sacrificed. The worst parts of the fields were actually where the line officials were running up and down the sidelines. In the end, no matter how well you are prepared for the worst, it is how you respond and work together to overcome adversity.

Scott Stevens, CSFM

Elon University, Elon, NC

Let me start by saying that everyone makes mistakes and in every situation there is an opportunity for learning and growth. Being located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, we do not receive many snowstorms (usually one or two a year at most) and they typically end up mostly being ice events. When we do get snow, the snow often melts the following day.

Toward the end of last January, we had one of those rare winter storms blow through our area. All told, we had about 2 inches of snowfall (which to northern states or mountainous areas may seem insignificant, but in our area this is considered a lot). As it usually does, the snow began to melt the next day and refroze overnight on our fields. Our spring sports teams begin practice in January and start playing games in mid-February.

Before this particular storm, the softball team decided to cover their infield to protect the dirt. When they went out to practice the day after the storm they found a sheet of icy snow covering their tarp. Given that it was early in the season and their practices had been going strong, they were anxious not to let a little foul weather slow them down. So, they decided to remove the snow from the tarp themselves using steel rakes and shovels. They began by using the shovels to chip the frozen melted snow and using the rakes to pull it into piles, which they then removed from the field. The operation was quite the undertaking. They were successful in clearing the ice/snow from the field and even posted their hard work on social media for all their followers to see how committed they were to preparing for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the dedicated team, the shovels and rakes they had used to remove the ice had punctured close to 5,000 holes in the tarp.

In the end, the team learned valuable lessons about infield tarp care and post-weather event practice. Had they waited just one additional day after the storm last January, they would have saved their tarp and their trouble because the weather turned sunny and mid-50s and melted all the snow and ice (as is typical for NC that time of year). Instead, they owned up to the mistake and spent a great deal of time patching their damaged tarp to the best of their abilities. The result still vaguely resembled a large slice of Swiss cheese, needless to say the sports turf team ended up using a lot more calcined clay every time it rained throughout the season to maintain the field’s playability. This fall the softball team purchased a new tarp for the upcoming season and will be communicating directly with the sports turf team before and after any major weather events.

Murray Cook

The Brickman Group

We rebuilt the infield in Cuba in March 2016, ahead of the exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. It was in pretty rough condition and needed to be replaced. As the event approached we were informed there would be some special guests attending the game. It would mark the first time a sitting President had visited Cuba since Calvin Coolidge. President Obama and family sat in the front row with Cuban president Raul Castro.

We were told the local sod would be cut in large slabs but unfortunately it arrived in 6-inch square pieces. We had 3 weeks to turn this infield into a safe playable field using wheel barrels, shovels etc. We had daily meetings leading up to the event with Cuba’s vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel and Fidel Castro’s son, Antonio, as they wanted the field to look the best it could be for this historical event. A backup plan was in place to fly big roll sod into the country from Carolina green on US cargo planes but the grass began to grow in the final 2 weeks so we stuck with the local sod. Somehow our team of turf gurus, Chad Olsen, Cindy Unger and our Cuban turf friends, were able to establish the young turf for the game using local materials. It was short of a miracle.

Eric Harshman

Berea College, Lexington, KY

When I worked at the University of Kentucky, before a late February softball tournament, I aerated the infield skin to help aid in thawing out the playing surface. This was done to speed the process of drawing out moisture. I then added a pallet of sure dry to get the field playable, before tilling, grading and rolling.