Rick Robitaille keeping athletic fields in top shape

Rick Robitaille is the Shenendehowa (NY) Athletics groundskeeper, appointed last year specifically assigned to the Athletic Department after 24 years on staff as a groundskeeper.

 How did you first become a groundskeeper at Shenendehowa?

I’ve always worked outdoors. I did tree service work for many years before I came here and I used to get laid off in the wintertime. The old director told me that we’re going to have a couple of guys retiring, put your application in and that’s how I got in.

I love it, I love being outside, I love my job. It’s great, where else can you go out and mow lawns, I enjoy it, I really do. I enjoy talking to the coaches and making them happy.

2. What are some of the challenges of keeping the fields in top shape?

Once you start working on a field you want to make sure that you crabgrass and make sure that’s not coming up through. We have it treated and the treatment program along with the irrigation program and staying on top of it, mowing it, keeps the field looking the way it does. It’s constant care.

You’re mowing a field at an inch and a-half, at least twice a week, I try to get it before the games and some of the fields have irrigation and some don’t. The ones that have irrigation obviously look better. It’s a lot of work and you have to stay on top of it.

3. How many fields are you maintaining this fall and how long do they take to mow and paint?

I have eight soccer fields, seven football fields and two field hockey fields in the fall. I mow the field hockey field to a one-inch height, the soccer fields 1 and a-half inches and the football field I keep a little higher, about 2 and a-half to three inches because it’s easier on the ground because they have a tendency to dig their cleats in the ground a little bit more when they do their drills.

My mower is 15-feet wide, so it takes 20 minutes to a half hour to mow one field. When we first layout a field to mark it before we paint it, that takes about 60 to 90 minutes, I can do it by myself in two hours.

The painting part of it only takes about 25 minutes, we have a rider we can ride on.

4. Do you miss the grass football field and do you have a favorite fall field?

“Before the turf you had the upkeep of the grass, the mowing, watering it, everything. If you had a bad summer you have to keep it irrigated all the time, the turf is great. I have to go out and recondition it a couple of times a year, it take me about two hours, other than that there is not a lot I really have to worry about other than checking it and making sure that it’s playable.

My favorite fields might be the soccer field and the main field hockey field because that is down to an inch and I just like the way they look. When they look good, that makes me look good and when I look good I get interviewed by the newspaper.

5. What does your lawn look like at your own home?

My yard at my house is around an acre that we mow and I do not mow, my wife mows it. My wife will fight me to mow the lawn. I do the trimming and for what our yard is, it does look this good.

She said one day, it’s a riding mower and she said ‘Can you show me how to run the lawnmower,’ and I said ‘Sure.’ Since then she runs the lawnmower, I take the blades off and sharpen them. She takes care of it and I have no problems with that, I’ll actually sit on the back deck and drink a beer and smoke a cigar and watch her.- By STAN HUDY shudy@digitalfirstmedia.com