Maryland Soccer Foundation establishes Sports Turf Institute
The Maryland Soccer Foundation is hoping its new Sports Turf Institute will take root and grow the next generation of specialists in the area of sports field management.
The Maryland SoccerPlex Sports Turf Institute launched this summer, with an apprenticeship program leading the way. Four apprentices plus four existing staff members enrolled in the training program, which offers both on-site and classroom education. When finished, the apprentices will leave with a total of 160 hours of instruction over the one-year program and an Apprenticeship Certificate that will be recognized by Major League Soccer teams across the league.
“This industry has dozens of high-paying jobs, and there are no people to fill them,” said Jerad Minnick, director of grounds and environmental management for the Maryland SoccerPlex. “So, for our own survival, we have taken action to hire and train people to become skilled sports turf professionals. Once they finish the apprenticeship program, they can stay and work with us at SoccerPlex. Or we have the connections to get them jobs in soccer all over the country. It’s a win-win.”
The Maryland SoccerPlex has 24 fields, and is known for its high-quality playing services. Recently the Sports Turf Institute team completed a total renovation of the SoccerPlex’s main stadium field to transition from Kentucky bluegrass to bermudagrass to improve drainage, sustainability and playability. Another major undertaking at the SoccerPlex this summer has been the renovation of three fields to install drainage that will limit rain cancellations and improve sustainability.
“Part of our mission of the SoccerPlex is to provide the best fields and playing experience for the youth sports community. This requires the best trained grounds staff, so it only made sense for us to develop our own training and education program in sports turf management,” said Matt Libber, executive director of the Maryland SoccerPlex.
“We have the industry’s cutting-edge equipment, so our apprentices can learn through doing and we have the land to conduct on-field research in controlled plots. The apprentices get to learn, practice, and do research to prepare them to lead their own sports turf maintenance team and their career in the industry,” Minnick said.
Minnick leads the program with guest lectures that include top-level worldwide sports field managers, college professors and turf industry consultants. Classes include virtual learning, as well as a lab component and on-field research at the SoccerPlex. Apprentices will get their hands dirty learning about everything from grass and weed identification to advanced playing surface data collection and analysis.
Minnick said he hopes the Sports Turf Institute spreads with more apprentices joining the field next year.