By John Kmitta
Since 2019, the Sports Field Management Association (SFMA) and Project EverGreen have teamed up for field renovation projects during the annual SFMA Conference. The Volunteer Field Rebuild projects leave each of the local communities with a greener, healthier park using the skills and knowledge of sports field professionals from across the country.
Together with financial and in-kind contributions and support from professional volunteers, park renovations create healthy, safe green spaces, and also establish healthy community hubs that promote future improvements in and around the park.
In 2019, SFMA and Project EverGreen teamed up to renovate Lindo Park in South Phoenix, Ariz. In 2020, it was Howard Park in West Palm Beach, Fla., that was rebuilt. There was no SFMA Conference – and thus no Volunteer Field Rebuild – in 2021 due to the pandemic. But volunteers came together once again in January, 2022, to renovate Mother Mathilda Beasley Park in Savannah, Ga.
“The partnership between Project EverGreen and SFMA/SAFE has resulted in incredible field rebuilds in under-resourced communities,” said Cindy Code, executive director, Project EverGreen. “South Phoenix, West Palm Beach and Savannah were examples of sports field professionals sharing their skills to provide a healthy and safe playing environment for youth and adults. Working side by side with city/county employees, the knowledge exchange leaves a lasting impact on the team responsible for sustaining the newly renovated field.
“There’s nothing like seeing nearly 100 SFMA members get off a bus, break into teams, get to work on the field, and, less than four hours later, see a completely renovated infield,” Code added.
The Volunteer Field Rebuild projects have had a lasting impact on the communities in which they took place.
“The field that was improved and the addition of new sports field lighting have had a tremendous impact on the park,” said Joe Diaz, deputy director, south division, City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. “The facility now supports reservations for softball and soccer practice; and the community center utilizes the fields to support neighborhood sports programs.”
“Cindy Code and her team did a wonderful job on our baseball field,” said Muriel Smith, a community leader in Phoenix who nominated Lindo Park for the inaugural Volunteer Field Rebuild. Smith added that community members also came together around the rebuild effort, with volunteers from the local high school and a local church, as well as area youth, helping to paint the bleachers, plant new trees and more. “Everyone was very pleased with the improvements,” she said.
According to Todd Snyder, CPRP, CPSI, assistant director, department of Parks and Recreation, City of West Palm Beach, one of the biggest impacts of the Volunteer Field Rebuild is that, “It demonstrated that we needed to invest more time training our staff on how to properly maintain athletic fields.
“We knew we would need to develop a plan to train staff and to provide them with the knowledge and experience on how to maintain safe and playable fields for the residents of the City of West Palm Beach,” Snyder added. “The volunteer project at Howard Park demonstrated our need to provide more training on the following areas: infield skin and lip maintenance; fertilizing, topdressing, core aeration, and soil testing; irrigation coverage and testing the irrigation water; fencing and warning track maintenance; and properly chalking baselines.”
Said Holly Holdsworth, deputy director, Chatham County Parks & Recreation, Savannah, Ga., “For a department with a large, really aging inventory of fields and a long list of priorities to improve them, having SFMA/Project EverGreen come in and revive this field – that would have likely taken us years to get to – was hugely beneficial. The expertise was so welcomed, and actual boots on the ground to complete the work. Everyone was so professional and easy to work with! Our Little League baseball teams were able to use the field for practices and our local Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club regularly uses this field for their programming.”
“The generosity of SFMA members in donating time, materials, labor, etc., leaves a lasting impact on the city in which the annual conference is held, and is a fulfilling way to give back,” said Code.
Following the Volunteer Field Rebuild, each rebuilt field is maintained to certain standards.
“The City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department has maintenance standards that if follows,” said Diaz. “Those standards vary based on the temperatures. The department has staff dedicated to Lindo Park, and the area is monitored every day. Required mowing practices are followed, and infield dragging and improvements are done once a week.”
According to Snyder, after the Volunteer Field Rebuild was completed, the West Palm Beach Department of Parks and Recreation started to work on its athletic field management plan.
“During the renovation, we met and spoke in depth with Scott Bills, who volunteered at the event, about training staff and developing a maintenance plan,” said Snyder. “Scott owns Sports Field Solutions, and we have been working with him since 2020. Scott is helping us develop customized maintenance plans for all our athletic fields. He has also spent time with our staff doing hands-on training on how to properly rebuild infields and on how to maintain Celebration bermudagrass.”
Holdsworth said that the field at Mother Mathilda Beasley Park is dragged and weeded two or three times a week; the area that was re-sodded during the project has been fertilized since the project; and the grass is cut once a week.
“The best part about having other turf professionals help out with the project was seeing their work ethic and attention to detail on all aspects of the project,” Holdsworth added. “Our maintenance staff learned a few new tricks of the trade, and gathered some new knowledge on how to do our jobs better.”
Snyder added, “The best part of the process was to see the finished project completed and to see how the field should always look. It was amazing to watch the professionals who volunteered their time, assumed a role, and seamlessly worked together as a team in order to renovate the field in one day.”
According to Diaz, the improvements to the fields at Lindo Park have encouraged community members and user groups to come back to the park to enjoy outdoor activities. As a result, the park now sees consistent use.
“Sometimes, projects like these are the only improvements in a park and can change the perception of a park entirely,” said Diaz. “Projects like this one can change and build communities.”
Snyder added that meeting the vendors and volunteers who participate in the event can lead to new connections in the industry that can help down the road.
Said Holdsworth, “This level of expertise, equipment, and hands-on work is invaluable for a local parks and recreation department to experience and a longtime benefit to the community that uses the field. We appreciate so much meeting everyone, being able to improve something that would have taken us years to get to. And, with our significant staffing shortages, having professional volunteers come out was a great reprieve for our staff that work so hard day in and day out keeping our fields and facilities in play-ready status.”
Code encourages all SFMA members to consider participating in future Volunteer Field Rebuild projects. “It’s rewarding, particularly when professionals know the benefits of their work,” she said. “While SFMA’s meeting in Salt Lake City doesn’t lend itself to a field rebuild project, we’ve already begun work on locating a project in Daytona Beach, Fla., in conjunction with the 2024 conference.”
John Kmitta is associate publisher and editorial brand director of SportsField Management magazine.