The SportsTurf Interview: Lynda Wightman

Lynda Wightman, industry relations manager for Hunter Industries, has long-standing relationships, including Board and committee service, with many organizations, including the Sports Turf Managers Association, and she received the association’s highest honor when she was named the 2004 Harry C. Gill Memorial Award winner.

SportsTurf: How did you first become involved in sports turf management and how did you first become involved with STMA?

Wightman: I am obviously not a sports field manager, but attended my first conference with Steve Wightman, who was with the Denver Broncos at the time. I started working for Hunter Industries in February 1984 and met Steve in the following years. He was a guest speaker at that conference, and I immediately fell in love with the people involved with this profession.

SportsTurf: What are your responsibilities with Hunter Industries?

Wightman: My title is “Industry Relations Manager,” which I think means that I’ll wear any hat that is available and needed. I am constantly looking for new, innovative ways to teach people about the value of water conservation and working together as professionals in our industry. I oversee quite a few of our association participation and sit on a number of Boards of Directors, including STMA many years ago. Another passion is dealing with instructors, programs and students who normally don’t have dedicated irrigation courses at their schools. Thus, I’m always volunteering my time to teach (and “train the trainer”) for turf, horticulture, and landscape architect programs around the world. How can someone even think about maintaining an athletic field without understanding basic irrigation hydraulics?!

SportsTurf: No member has more passion for the STMA than you; why are you such a believer in the association?

Wightman: Well, there are SO many others who equally share my passion, it’s unbelievable. That is one reason why I love this group of professionals so much. There is pride and humbleness exuding from everyone I have dealt with. STMA is still a small group and the egos are left at the front door, if there are any at all. From the senior to the student members, STMA has developed a group of dedicated people who realize the importance of working together and believing in what they do. I’m also a HUGE proponent of the staff that STMA has employed. Kim Heck and her unbelievable team are awesome. They are the glue that binds the association together.

SportsTurf: What are the most important changes you’ve seen in sports turf management in the past 20 years?

Wightman: Women in the industry. No doubt. We all know there were very few many years ago, but now we have so many women who attend our annual Women’s Forum at conference, it’s fantastic. We are equal. Period. It shows through the ongoing networking I hear about from peer to peer, not gender to gender. I’m very proud to be a part of this today.

And technology, no doubt. I wish I could say “irrigation curriculum in schools,” but I’m still working on that! With the advent of computers and Internet, it’s amazing what can be done to assist with the job of the sports turf manager. As a manufacturer of equipment, I have also seen many new technical changes to water efficient products, but it still goes as it’s said: “it is only as good as it is installed and managed.” Again, education is the base of all changes in our industry. The ONE thing that has not changed is the fantastic and in-depth networking that takes place amongst these professionals. This includes not only sports turf managers, but also other entities of STMA: researchers, instructors, students, commercial partners, allied associations . . . the list goes on.

SportsTurf: You know a lot of sports turf managers. What are they saying are the biggest obstacles to overcome for them to be successful today?

Wightman: I still believe that owners of stadiums and teams, along with school superintendents and athletic directors don’t believe that the sports turf manager is the “go-to” person for items that pertain to the field; the PROFESSIONAL, knowledgeable employee. The tagline for STMA, “Experts on the Field; Partners in the Game” couldn’t be more true for our members. Their bosses just need to appreciate that and not second-guess decisions made. Respect, honor and belief have to be included in these relationships. Budget, of course, will always be at the top of the list. STMA members need to be more creative with funds for equipment repair, field materials, and education/attendance to the local and national conferences.

SportsTurf: You are personally associated with the successful Student Challenge that is part of the STMA Conference. Why is that competition so important to you?

Wightman: As mentioned quite a few times before, students are our next generation of employment and we MUST empower them to learn and experience every part of management, including irrigation, while preparing for the careers. The Student Challenge is an event that gives the students this opportunity. In many cases, it is also a learning experience and not just competition. I love seeing so many types of schools, small to large, take this challenge and thoroughly prepare AS A TEAM, in order to win for the school. I can’t believe how many students personally come up to me, either at Conference or during the following years, to say thanks for the sponsorship and assistance. How cool is that?!

SportsTurf: What are your passions and interests outside of work?

Wightman: Ha! Anyone who knows me would say that I don’t have much of a life outside of irrigation and Hunter, but I am a very lucky woman to live in Missoula, MT (eat your heart out!) and be close to family. I love to fly fish, garden, preserve and cook the goods I grow, and share everything with everybody I can! I invite industry friends to join me in the relaxation of being on the water, tossing a line, and not talking about sprinklers, water conservation and jobs! By doing this, we all go away with a refreshed mind and soul, ready to tackle our daily challenges once again.