The art of sports turf management

Stephen Crockett, CSFM, the director of Union City Sports Turf, Union City, TN looks like a fun guy, and he certainly has a big personality. You wouldn’t know by seeing him that’s he’s a thief.

Crockett admitted as much in front of a full meeting room at January’s STMA Conference, saying he “steals like an artist” and has a “swipe file” that includes thousands of photos of other people’s fields.

“Early on in college, I was working at the local park complex, and really getting into turf, so I would go to the library, and color copy pictures, articles and anything that was useful,” he shared with us in an email. “When I started, before the advent of the Internet, I had four huge folders with pictures and notes. When I took over as a director in Dresden, TN those folders were on the shelf. As the Internet became prevalent, I eventually got rid of the actual folders, and started putting everything on computer files; as I’ve upgraded computers I keep moving them to the next step up by whatever means was used at the time. Currently everything is backed up on zip drives. I have amassed more than 3,500 pictures and have numerous yellow legal pads full of ideas and information.”

Crockett’s presentation included many examples of his thievery, as he showed photos of what others had done side by side with how he copied it on his fields in Union City. “We all do the same things, no matter what level we are on,” he told the audience. “If you attend a game or event at another person’s facility, let them know you’re coming and meet them. Don’t be intimidated.”

We asked Crockett if he’d ever had a disaster trying to recreate a paint scheme or mowing pattern. “We have never had any problems trying to recreate something, because any mistakes are usually covered up easily, re-mowing or changing the pattern, or covering up any major problems,” he replied. “Once one of the staff accidentally spilled an entire 5-gallon bucket of paint on the field; we made it into a large circle and put the graduation date of a class reunion inside the circle. Fortunately there were two reunions that weekend, so we matched the location on the other side of the field and put the other date on it. Everyone, especially the alumni thought it was the greatest thing we could have done, with no clue that it was a huge mistake.

“The only problem we have had that could not be fixed was switching pinks during our annual ‘Pink Out’ game; we had never used the particular shade before, and on Friday we realized that it had dried maroon instead of dark pink. Only a few people noticed, and it was too late to paint over it with purple.”

During the Q&A session Crockett was asked how he paid for all the costs associated with his copying. “In 2008, we started painting full color end zones as well as multiple on-field logos; the budget did not account for this that year. I had the paint company do mockups of end zone designs for regular home games, military appreciation night, and Pink Out on their stencil design proofs. I believed that if we could get this done through game day sponsorships for paint that it would become the standard expectation for the field. I used the mockups to directly solicit sponsors for each home game before the season. We gave sponsors fence signs and announced them as the “Game Day Field Sponsor” and it worked out great. Most sponsors did a full game sponsorship, while others went in together to cover a game. The sponsors had signage, and were announced as the game night field sponsor throughout their specific game. Following the sponsorship year, fully painted end zones, mid-field and special logos were included in the standard operating budget.

“Our superintendent was so happy with the field, and the positive feedback from the community was so good that in 2009 all paint was covered in the actual budget. I felt that if we started doing full field painting, it would become part of the budget and it did, and is now just an expected part of football operating expense.”

Words of wisdom

Stephen Crockett, CSFM, shared some pearls from his experience painting and striping fields at the STMA Conference:

  • Share the process, not just the results
  • Do good work, and share it
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect
  • Teach what you know
  • Have fun with it