Mowing Patterns Contest winner discusses the winning design

STMA recently named Andrew “Drew” Miller, program advisor for the Brentsville High School (Nokesville, Va.) turfgrass management program, its seventh annual Mowing Patterns Contest winner. Miller was selected via a Facebook voting contest for his intricate design at Donald Lambert Field, home to the Brentsville High School Tigers. SportsField Management recently asked Miller about the winning design.

SFM: Please tell us a little about the turf management program at Brentsville.

Miller: The Brentsville Turfgrass Management program is a career and technical education program in the Prince William County School system with a focus on preparing young high school students for a career in all aspects of the turfgrass management industry. We have more than 200 students who participate in classes such as turfgrass, horticulture and landscape management. Our program was created to not only prepare, but also inspire the youth to gain a passion for this amazing industry. The program helps connect those students who are unaware of the turfgrass industry to what could be a career for them. It is important that we are preparing these kids to be self-efficient when they are leaving our classroom into a workplace not only in sports field management, but golf course maintenance and landscape management. We do our best to create a workplace environment in our classroom to show the students safety protocol, proper workplace ethics, and so much more. Our students have gained a passion for this amazing industry. As of right now, we have seven students who have been accepted to turfgrass management programs throughout the country. With what we do in our classroom, we are able to provide them with the narrative for what the future may hold with a career in turfgrass management. We are continuing to better our students through our turf community here in Virginia. With huge aspirations, we hope to expand our program to new lengths, including golf greens, as well as creating the first turfgrass research center in a high school in the country. Our students would be exposed to the academia sector of our industry by helping schools such as Virginia Tech run trials in our unique location in the transition zone. We are looking to create a world-class turfgrass science program that will help grow our industry with young individuals who have the skills that are lacking from the current labor force. 

SFM: What does winning the STMA Mowing Patterns Contest mean to you and your program?

Miller: Winning the STMA Mowing Patterns Contest means the world to our students, as it was a creation that they contributed to and worked hard on. These students work hard on their craft to not only improve themselves, but to show that they are able to put out a professional product that now has been nationally recognized. This part of the class is what really excites the students. We allow the students to be creative on the design pattern and collaboratively work with peers before executing the design with sound mowing skills that do not impact the field in a negative manor to impede ball roll or footing. It means the world to me to see the excitement in my students’ eyes when they saw that we had won, because I can see that we are making a positive impact in their lives. 

SFM: What was your inspiration for the winning design?

Miller: With any design, our students have an in-class discussion and collaborate with different ideas for that given game. This design was special because it was for the girl’s lacrosse regional title game.  In this design, I talked about a design that a former coworker, Billy Ellinger, did on Heinz field when Real Madrid played in the U.S. friendly match. I just remember how amazing the design turned out. The portion of the design of the split penalty boxes and the cross hatches in the circle mimicked his design. Students then decided that they wanted to make a cross shape separating the field into four different quadrants, which led to even more discussions on what should be in those areas. Some students wanted to do diamonds; but, in the end, we all concluded that it would be busy, and that the diagonals opposite each other would make a great look. It made a beautiful, safe, natural grass playing surface. It is always awesome to put the drone up in the air and see the faces of our kids light up to see their final product. The true inspiration of the winning pattern was the continued teamwork of our students and pushing their abilities as turfgrass managers.  

SFM: You have won awards in the past, especially for your artistry on the field. There is obviously a lot of foresight, planning, dedication and hard work in what you do. What would you say about the importance of artistry in the sports field management industry, and/or what is your advice to other sports field managers?

Miller: When is comes to artistry, I believe that it has become a big part of what we do as turfgrass managers. It is appealing to the untrained eye, and can bring a better outlook to our industry and more awareness to how much groundkeepers do for community fields all the way to professional sporting venues. There are a lot of people out there who see a problem with these aesthetics as not culturally sound; but, as my former boss, Chris Ecton, said, “If your field can not handle a mower or cart driving over it, how can you expect it to withstand the players who play on it?” The reason that the aesthetics are so important to me and my program is that this is a major way that I get students excited about turfgrass management. I can use these different artistic aspects of sports field management to empower my students to make the big decisions that the head groundskeepers usually make, which sparks the passion in these young individuals that we need in our industry. 

The best advice that I can give a sports field manager is that the more opportunities you give your workers, the better they will get and the more you will get out of them. Aesthetics might be a great avenue of opportunity for these individuals to shine. The more that they contribute, the more they want to be a part of the process and the harder they work. Does this mean that there is a chance that something may go wrong? Yes, but that is how you learn – from your mistakes. Those young individuals are the future of our industry, and the more you do for them now, the better our industry gets at making our world better than it is now. We must be patient and show that, as leaders, we care more about the people who work for us than the grass we care for.

About the Mowing Patterns Contest: Only STMA members could enter the contest, and only patterns made using mowing equipment exclusively were eligible. Members uploaded their most creative mowing pattern to the Facebook contest link between October 24 and November 16, 2019, and the entrant receiving the most votes won the contest.