Sun Roesslein CSFM SFMA President

Advocating for the Profession: New SFMA President Sun Roesslein, CSFM

By John Kmitta

“When I first started in the industry, there was an underlying theme that if nobody knew your name, you were doing your job properly, because there were no issues, and they didn’t have to come find you,” said new Sports Field Management Association (SFMA) President Sun Roesslein, CSFM. “But now, with the growth in public focus on field safety, it’s important as field managers that we are able to step up and let people know that we put a lot of work into this; there is a lot of research and science that goes into turfgrass management; and it doesn’t just magically exist so that you can come in to play a game.”

As Sports Stadium Manager at the North Area Athletic Complex (NAAC), Jeffco Public Schools, Golden, Colo., Roesslein deals with that issue a lot because her facility is off site from the individual schools in the district. Roesslein and co-manager Christi Clay, CSFM, are responsible for overseeing and maintaining the football and soccer stadiums at the NAAC, which serve as home field for six of the high schools in the Jefferson County School District.

According to Roesslein, teams and parents typically don’t see the work that goes into preparing a safe playing surface. As a result, it’s important to advocate for the work that goes into the field and understand what owners, managers, athletic directors and others need to know.

Sun Roesslein CSFM

“It’s about being an advocate, speaking out, making sure people know who you are and what you do, and the science and research that goes into everything you do,” said Roesslein. “It’s not just showing up and mowing the grass. There is so much more that goes into what we do, that really needs a qualified expert who is knowledgeable and is continuing to educate themselves.”

As SFMA President, Roesslein looks forward to helping other sports field managers put their best foot forward. Whether it is on SFMA committees, the SFMA Board of Directors or other industry service, Roesslein has been instrumental in promoting the sports field management industry and its members, and has especially been an example to women in the profession.

She has been involved with task groups and panels promoting women in turf, and has been part of the inaugural all-female grounds crew at the Little League Softball World Series, as well as the all-female crew at the U.S. Women’s open.

Roesslein said she hopes women know that sports field management is a wonderful career option. “It makes me so happy to see young women involved, excited, interested and opening the door a bit for the next people to come through and push the door open even further for the people behind them,” she said. “And that goes for emerging professionals no matter the gender. I’m just hoping to get the word out, increase awareness and open up the possibilities.”

Roesslein said she is thrilled to see the progress that has been made in the sports field management profession with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion; knows there is more progress to be made; and is excited that it’s something to which SFMA is dedicated.

“For anyone who is interested in working outside, regardless of gender, background or ethnicity, it’s a fantastic profession,” she said. “I love going to work every day, and I think I’m one of the lucky ones that gets to say that.”

Foundational roots

Roesslein grew up in Prescott, Ariz., and began playing softball at the age of 8 – a playing career that spanned all the way through college. According to Roesslein, softball was a wonderful part of her life.

“I learned some incredible lessons on the field that I still think about to this day,” she said.

Sun Roesslein and the Little League Softball World Series crew
Little League Softball World Series crew

Despite Roesslein’s love of sports, her interest in sports field management as a career did not start early.

“Prescott is not really agricultural,” she said. “I think there was a 4-H Club in high school, but it wasn’t something I was involved in, so I didn’t know that anything in agriculture was an option. I definitely didn’t know anything about turfgrass then – or that it was even a job.”

Roesslein, however, did spend summers with her Godparents in Illinois. “Where I grew up, it’s rocky, and we didn’t have grass lawns,” she said. “One of my summer jobs at my Godparents’ was to mow the grass. I love the smell of fresh-cut grass.”

Following high school, Roesslein went to junior college at Arizona Western, in Yuma, Ariz. From there, she attended school in Tennessee for a year before transferring to Eastern Kentucky University, where she studied Sports Administration. She stayed on at Eastern Kentucky for her Master’s in Sports Administration with the understanding that she would be the graduate assistant softball coach.

“It was an incredible experience and a whole different world there with Division I athletics,” she said. “I learned a lot about the administrative side. I had a semester left on my master’s and lucked into a job on the grounds crew with the Lexington Legends. That was my first taste of turfgrass management.”

According to Roesslein, sports field management was a natural fit, and it wasn’t long before she was hooked.

“I got connected with Tom Nielsen early on and learned a lot from him in a roundabout way because our head groundskeeper had been a head baseball coach – he wasn’t a turfgrass guy either – but he was learning as he went because of his connection with Tom,” she said. “Tom mentored Erik Hagen and our crew.”

Roesslein then heard about the STMA (now SFMA) and sent herself to San Antonio for her first conference.

“Some of the people who reached out to me early on made it such a welcoming group,” she said. “I figured out very early on that this was the career path I wanted to take. I finished my master’s, but decided to change my career path.”

She added that what drew her to the industry was the combination of the hands-on experience, being outdoors, the science involved with the profession, and the problem-solving aspects of the job.

Sun Roesslein CSFM

Life at the NAAC

Now, Roesslein and Clay co-manage the NAAC, a 14-acre facility that features a football stadium and soccer stadium, hosting football and boys soccer in the fall, and girls soccer and boys and girls lacrosse in the spring. Other than some occasional seasonal help, Roesslein and Clay are a crew of two.

“We manage everything from the turfgrass management, field layout, painting, putting goals together, stadium cleanup, field setup for games, and then we switch hats in the evening and we are event managers,” said Roesslein. “We manage the staffing, making sure we have ticket sellers/takers, announcers, people to run the clock, etc. Our jobs are kind of two-in-one during our sports seasons.”

Roesslein said she enjoys the multifaceted aspect of the job and the variety it brings.

“Even though we get into a pattern within each season, it’s never boring or repetitive. I like interacting with the folks who are our game workers,” she said. “Most of them have been doing it for as long as I have been here – if not longer (I have been here 17 years – it will be 18 in April). We have people who are like family. That really is special to me.”

According to Roesslein, her skill sets mesh well with Clay’s. “There are a lot of times where I need to aerate the football field and she does whatever else needs to be done,” said Roesslein. “She does not like to aerate or be on a tractor for hours, and I don’t mind it. She would rather do a bunch of other tasks than something that makes her sit on a tractor for too long. When it comes to painting the football field, she runs string lines and I push the paint machine. She often paints the soccer field by herself, while I’m doing some other task. We have it worked out over the years as to our strengths compared to what needs to get done. We also have to pick up trash and clean restrooms from the event the night before, so we usually start with that stuff to get it out of the way, and then get going on whatever needs to be done for the day or to set us up for the week.”

Sun Rosslein, CSFM, (right) and Christi Clay, CSFM
Sun Roesslein, CSFM, (right) and Christi Clay, CSFM

Roesslein said she and Clay don’t handle the scheduling for any of the sports except for football.

“For football we have a big scheduling meeting with the athletic directors, football coaches and stadium managers because there are so many schools and everybody would like to play Friday night at 7:00,” she said. “When we have two to five home football games in a week, that’s obviously not possible. Sometimes we have to play mediator.”

According to Roesslein, other personnel in the athletic office handle the scheduling for soccer and lacrosse.

“We have had a little more input lately in terms of scheduling a maintenance day on our soccer field because typically our soccer schedule is double headers five nights a week, so sometimes it’s hard to get some of our agronomic practices done when we have games on the field that night,” she said. “Sometimes we have weather and that takes away the maintenance day, so we have to adjust on the fly. We have a great program going in, but we always have to have a Plan A, B, C and D.”

The NAAC primarily hosts varsity games only – no practices. Each school in the district has its own fields on site. Noel Harryman, CSFM, and his crew handle all landscape and site maintenance of the school facilities – including practice fields and fields on which lower-level sports are played.

Finding success

According to Roesslein, the strengths she brings to her job are her problem-solving skills and her creativity.

“I’m willing to try something new, because if you are not trying, you are not growing and you are not getting better,” she said. “Hopefully we have some fun along the way. I’m pretty passionate about what I get to do, and I love my job, so hopefully that comes across in my interactions with other people.”

Perseverance is the most important quality in a sports field manager, Roesslein added.

“We have to deal with a lot of things at the same time – often coming at us from different angles,” she said. “Trying to get a game in with weather, coaches who want to get going, officials who don’t, administrators who don’t want to reschedule and only two of us to manage it all. It’s not the easiest thing to balance everything and come back in the next day and do it again.

“I certainly don’t have all the answers,” she added. “I have a good base knowledge of what works well for us, but there is always room to improve. So, it’s important to be willing to try something new. Whether that means success or failure, I’m still going to learn something from it one way or the other.”

Sun Roesslein, CSFM and wife Tracie
Sun Roesslein, CSFM, (left) with her wife, Tracie.

Roesslein also knows that a key part of her success are the people to whom she turns for advice – first and foremost being her wife of seven years, Tracie.

“She is my go-to with anything I’m kicking around in my head, and she’s always honest and has the best intentions,” said Roesslein.

“My parents are super supportive and play an integral role in who I am,” she added.

Roesslein also relies on her continuously growing network of industry contacts and friends.

“The women in turf network has impacted my life and career,” said Roesslein. “Of course, Christi and I bounce ideas off each other and come up with our plans together on a daily basis. I also think back to Tom Nielsen. Darrian Daily was one of the first people who made me feel welcome in San Antonio that first year. Pam Sherratt is always a wonderful person to reach out to. Paula Sliefert has been an incredible resource. There are so many people…Abby McNeal, CSFM; Sarah Martin, CSFM; Nick McKenna, CSFM; Jimmy Simpson, CSFM; James Bergdoll, CSFM; I could go on and on. Locally, Josh DeJong, CSFM, and Evan Fowler are like brothers to me and have become great resources. Nina Oldenkamp is an incredible person to work with, and she’s become an even better friend. She and I started organizing the Little League Softball World Series crew this past summer, then with Kelly Lynch and Amy Fouty, CSFM, worked hard with Chris Ball, CSFM, to get that all going. I didn’t really know Chris Ball leading up to the Little League Softball World Series, and he has become a close friend. With every interaction your network grows.”

Serving others

With each of those interactions and learning experiences, Roesslein was drawn more to industry service, and wanted to have an impact on the association that had so much impact on her career.

“Early on in my career I looked at the people on the board as leaders in the industry and people who are there to serve and help the membership,” said Roesslein. “I always want to pitch in, help out and hopefully make things better. The K-12 segment faces unique sets of challenges, so that is always forefront in my mind.”

Now, for Roesslein, taking on the role as SFMA President is a career highlight.

Sun Roesslein at US Women's Open
U.S. Women’s Open

“It’s humbling. It’s exciting. It’s a little nerve wracking,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to working closely with [SFMA CEO Laura Simmons, CAE] to help her learn our industry and hopefully achieve our goals together. We have a very bright future ahead of us. I’m really excited for what Laura brings to the table, and I think we are on the road to really great things.”

Key focus areas for Roesslein in 2023 are SFMA’s strategic plan and helping ensure that Simmons is set up for success. Roesslein has also stated that SFMA’s collaboration with other groups in related industries is an area for growth, and it is important for SFMA to promote the value the association offers. For example, groups such as the National Recreation and Park Association have members who manage sports fields and who are not members of SFMA, but could benefit from the resources and knowledge SFMA and its members have to offer, she said.

“We need to spread the word, get our name out there, share our expertise and make others aware that we are here to help.”

Added Roesslein, “I’m really appreciative to have the chance this year to sit in the president’s chair. We all want to do really great things for our industry and our membership. I certainly didn’t get here alone. There are so many people who have helped along the way. A lot of people have impacted me, and I hope to be able to turn around and do that for someone else.”

John Kmitta is associate publisher and editorial brand director of SportsField Management magazine.

Getting to know Sun Roesslein, CSFM

When not busy with work at the NAAC or her duties to the association, new SFMA President Sun Roesslein, CSFM, enjoys music and the outdoors.

After college she continued to play softball on a coed slo-pitch team, but, as she says, “I hung up the cleats a couple years ago.”

Now you can usually find her enjoying live music – especially at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo.

“If there is something good going on there, you can find me tailgating for a couple hours before the show,” she said. “I have a whole system.

“I enjoy all types of music,” she added. “I grew up on classic rock, so Fleetwood Mac is one of my all-time favorite bands. But really anything that hits the spot – from Tom Petty and Paul Simon to Gregory Alan Isakov and Watchhouse.”

Sun Roesslein and friends at Red Rocks

Roesslein added that Brandi Carlile is her favorite over the last 15 years, as well as the best concert she has seen.

“I’ve been a Brandi Carlile fan for a long time, and had seen her in small venues in Boulder and Denver. But to see her the first time she headlined Red Rocks was special.”

Roesslein added that although she loved working in Minor League Baseball, she was drawn to  the rectangle sports played in fall and spring, in part because she likes to enjoy her summers – especially camping and paddle boarding.

“When we aren’t paddling, camping or going to concerts, you can most likely find us on a golf

course or hanging with our pets,” she said. “We have a 14-year-old Persian cat named Fred, a

Goldendoodle named Ethel (12) and a Border Collie named Izzy (10) who bring us a lot of laughs. We also like to travel and enjoy trying out new foods – shout out to the #Foodiesofturf! Ice cream is one of my favorite things, so trying new shops or visiting favorites is always a source of joy.”