Meet Sarah K. Martin, CSFM, new STMA President

Sarah K. Martin, CSFM, graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in Landscape Horticulture and Turfgrass Management. She has worked in A, AA and AAA minor league baseball as well as at the home of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Spring Training in Phoenix. For the past 16 years Sarah has been employed with the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. Martin has been a member of the National STMA since 1998 as well as being active in her local chapters. She currently holds the position of Vice-President of the Arizona STMA.

Vision for STMA
“My vision for the STMA is to continue to increase professionalism and awareness of the jobs that sports turf managers do through education, community outreach and networking. It is important that we promote our profession as a respectable and highly educated group of individuals. To do this we need to attract membership and participation from all levels of sports turf workers, management and supervisors. Not only this, but to impress upon general managers, administrators, coaches and others who hire and work directly with sports turf staff know how important it is to have knowledgeable sports turf managers and crews working for the safety and playability of all surfaces.”

When we emailed Sarah from the home office in Pennsylvania one day last December around 9 am, we were surprised to hear from her a few moments later. Turns out Sarah works from 5:30 am to 2 pm in Arizona. Here are her responses to our questions:

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SportsTurf: Where did you grow up and what were your interests then?

Martin: I grew up in Wichita, KS (mostly) with a couple of years in Buffalo, NY while I was in elementary school. I loved everything outdoors from swimming to bicycle riding. I’ve always been an avid reader, and have had a love for music and art.

SportsTurf: What things did you learn from your parents that still stick with you?

Martin: My parents have taught me to do all things with love and persistence. Kindness above all.

SportsTurf: How did you decide where to go to college and what your major would be?

Martin: In high school I was watching a football game and thought “someone has to take care of that.” I told my folks, and my dad came home from work shortly thereafter with the huge book of colleges by major. We looked up Turfgrass Management, and that was it. My dad grew up on a farm and says that the ag gene just skipped a generation, as he was a math major in college. We started looking at colleges, and the second I stepped on campus at Colorado State I knew that is where I wanted to go.

SportsTurf: Now that you’ve been working in turf management for awhile, are there any changes you’d like to see in how the major is taught at the collegiate level?

Martin: I think we do our students a disservice by not requiring more management classes. Budgeting and people management is what I spend most my work time on.

SportsTurf: What was your first job out of college, and what were the most memorable things you learned from that job?

Martin: My first job out of college was as the Head Groundskeeper for the Kane County Cougars, Single A baseball in Geneva, IL. I learned quite a few things there, mainly what it takes to do the job, do it well, but also to take care of myself in the process.

After my three seasons in Kane County, I moved to Phoenix to take a job as the Assistant Groundskeeper for the Milwaukee Brewers Spring Training Facility with the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. This position taught me a lot about managing a crew, and working with bermudagrass; in Chicago I had Kentucky bluegrass. I also learned how further manage my work time and my personal life together.

SportsTurf: What role have mentors played in your career?

Martin: Mentors played a HUGE part in my development as a turfgrass professional. I should say they still play a huge part. Having mentors was a huge help for my confidence and learning. Knowing that there were folks in the industry, outside of my immediate university community that I could talk to, visit, and learn from, was a very large part of my lasting love for the career.

SportsTurf: What’s your philosophy on hiring and training in your current position?

Martin: Working for a municipality has its own set of rules for hiring, which I cannot change. However, once someone is hired, I believe that teaching becomes extremely important. There are many ways to get a job done, but it is important to be hands on when teaching new crew members how you have found things work best.

SportsTurf: What are your current job responsibilities?

Martin: At Reach 11 Sports Complex I am responsible for the maintenance of 17 bermudagrass/overseeded with ryegrass soccer fields, one synthetic soccer field, two Little League natural grass baseball fields, two tot-turf synthetic little league baseball fields, 20+ miles of natural trail system and all the landscaping around the soccer/baseball facilities. I have a crew of six that do a magnificent job.

Within this I handle purchasing of materials, work-orders (light repairs or plumbing issues for example), scheduling of the crew for daily tasks and projects, as well as tournament set-up and cleanup. I am fortunate that there is another group of recreation staff that works during events and does a fabulous job of facilitating and working with the tournaments to keep the facility running at top speed.

SportsTurf: What qualities do you think a successful sports turf manager must possess today to be successful?

Martin: A willingness to start low, get dirty, put in the time and work your way up the ladder.

SportsTurf: How do you think the profession will change in the coming decade?

Martin: As technology continues to take a firmer grip in all areas, I see the Turfgrass manager’s job becoming more about utilizing those resources.

SportsTurf: When and why did you join STMA?

Martin: I joined the STMA more than 20 years ago as a student at Colorado State. I wanted to expand my learning about the industry, and was also looking for scholarships from the national organization as well as our local Colorado chapter. This is one of the best decisions I have ever made, as it resulted not only in a couple of those scholarships, but more importantly introduced me to mentors and life-long friends.

SportsTurf: In your experience, what are the benefits of being an STMA member?

Martin: Networking is the biggest benefit. Sports Turf Managers are amazingly open and willing to talk to other turf professionals. Membership gives you an icebreaker for starting a conversation with any turf manager out there.

SportsTurf: What are most important issues facing STMA members today?

Martin: Managing new technology, keeping the hands-on skills of the industry while doing so. Another is maintaining a work/life balance; many sports turf professionals face extreme work schedules that require them to spend more time at work than with families. We need to balance our lives to avoid burnout and dissatisfaction with work.

SportsTurf: And how do you think the Board can best address those issues?

Martin: The STMA Board is working to make sure that we are staying at the forefront of the industry. We continue to push the professionalism of sports turf managers, through programs such as the Certified Sports Field Manager and Environmental Certification programs.

We also are promoting the sports turf professional as the expert that he/she is, helping show the value that we bring to the table, and that this value should be reflected in paychecks as well as in terms of respect. This is a process, however, and not one that we can achieve overnight.