In this edition of the SportsField Management Interview, we meet John Clintsman, head of grounds at Ensworth School, a K-12, coeducational independent school in Nashville, Tenn.
SportsField Management (SFM): Please tell us a bit about Ensworth, the fields and facilities you manage, and your staff/crew.
Clintsman: Ensworth is a K-12 private school in Nashville, Tenn. We have two campuses separated by eight miles. The lower school is K-8. I have one assistant who maintains two fields (multi-purpose and softball). He is responsible for keeping the campus clean, as well as all irrigation on campus and at our head master’s house.
He also helps at the high school as needed and on paint days for football games. Our high school campus sits on 91 acres, with five bermudagrass fields, one artificial turf field, along with four new fields being constructed. We begin every day by picking up trash and blowing the campus. Ensworth has extremely high standards and that begins with a clean campus and beautiful landscape. Our football stadium field was renovated for the first time in the spring of 2020. We added drainage, changed out irrigation valves and heads, and installed Tahoma 31 bermudagrass. We have four crewmembers between the two campuses (me, Chase Pentecost, Milton Valencia and Doug Wilson).
SFM: What attracted you to the sports field management industry, and what was your path into the industry?
Clintsman: My start was in golf as a groundskeeper, and I loved being outdoors and the fact that no two days are the same. I played baseball as a kid, and having the opportunity to work around baseball keeps you in the first sport you fell in love with. Being able to provide for my family while getting to do what all boys want to do as a kid makes work enjoyable.
I started in the industry at a golf course in Smyrna, Tenn. I spent just over a year there before moving into sports field management at Ensworth school as an assistant. I fell in love with the work and volunteered time with local schools, minor league teams, and anything I could do to get my hands dirty. During my time as an assistant at Ensworth, I also worked game days with the Nashville Sounds (Minor League Baseball) and Tennessee Titans (NFL). I volunteered with multiple other teams and schools, while also completing the Principles of Sports Turf Management through the University of Georgia. I became the head of grounds at Ensworth in August of 2018. Dr. Mike Goatley (Virginia Tech) reached out to me about a certificate course through Virginia Tech, which I completed in the winter of 2019.
SFM: Who were your mentors in the industry, or who has impacted your career the most?
Clintsman: Monica Lalinde (formerly at Smyrna Golf Course) was my first superintendent in the industry. She spent a lot of time answering questions I had. Monica is a big reason I wanted to stay in the industry. Dr. Goatley has been a major influence on me the last three years. He has spent time the last few years at STMA Conference, over the phone and via e-mail discussing ideas and allowing me to run ideas by him. I worked game days for the Nashville Sounds in what became my longest, hardest summer personally and professionally. Thomas Trotter helped show me the kind of boss I want to be. Thomas has been someone I trust when I need to just talk. In the last year, Michael Brownlee (Simplot) has become an important player in my life. Not only is he the hardest-working sales rep in the business, but he has also become a true friend and someone I can lean on daily.
SFM: What would you say are the biggest accomplishments of your career and/or what are you most proud to have achieved?
Clintsman: I’d say I’m most proud of the crew I’ve built in a short time. I invest a lot of time trying to be a good leader – either reading books, watching podcasts or webinars from proven leaders, then trying to be the boss I want to work for. Maintaining the grounds of Ensworth School is top priority, but building a strong, winning team has been goal number 1. My team and I continue to volunteer our time with local schools in an effort to help the community. My crew is proof I’m doing something right.
SFM: What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career, and what advice do you have for other sports field managers when it comes to facing similar challenges?
Clintsman: Being told “no” when I felt I had proven myself. Along the way, doors kept closing. At the time, I didn’t understand why; but now I see there was a reason. If I can be an influence for the next generation, I hope they see you can take the “no” and keep fighting and grinding. If you don’t give up, then one day you’ll be where you want to be.
SFM: What is the best advice you received during your career?
Clintsman: Slow down and listen. Monica had to tell me a few times to slow down and listen before jumping in. I have found as a leader that slowing down and listening before reacting will get you farther with the ones above you and with your crew.
SFM: Please tell us a bit about yourself outside of work.
Clintsman: I’m married to my wife of six years, Carrie. I have three children – Preston (age 20), Zachary (age 13), and Corbin (age 10). The biggest advantage of working at a high school is that I get to be involved at home with my wife and with my son who plays baseball and will be enrolled at Ensworth in the fall.
SFM: How has your career benefitted from being a member of the national STMA?
Clintsman: Building a strong network has been one of the biggest benefits of joining STMA. Being able to catch up at the national STMA Conference yearly. I think we all learn more just chatting with each other. Joining a few committees has helped build the network for me as well. I would encourage any member with the time to join a committee and get involved.
SFM: How do you think the profession and industry will change in the next 10 years, and/or what would you most like to see in terms of industry advancement in the future?
Clintsman: The golf course industry and its superintendents receive a lot of credit for their professionalism, but that didn’t come by mistake or happen over night. I hope the STMA members can continue to move further in that direction by presenting ourselves more professionally.