Murray State PGMS Green Star awards

How SSC and Murray State achieve fields and grounds success

Murray State University (Murray, Ky.) and the SSC Services for Education grounds department were honored as a 2022 Grand Award Winner for a Green Star Award by the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) in the Athletic Complex – University category. The award highlights the work done on the natural and synthetic playing surfaces at Murray State for baseball, softball, soccer, football, track and field, and tennis.

SSC has partnered with Murray State since 2020, and provides grounds management and custodial services for its campus. Prior to 2020, those duties were handled in house by Murray State staff.

“With the addition of SSC in 2020, we have been able to put more expertise into our management of athletic turfs and playing surfaces,” stated Jason Youngblood, director of facilities management at Murray State. “The resources that SSC brings to Murray State allow us to provide the safest and most visually appealing playing fields for our athletes and their competitors.”

Peter Reimnitz, grounds manager, SSC Services for Education at Murray State University, said the relationship between SSC and Murray State works extremely well, is open and integrated, and boasts strong communication.

According to Reimnitz, the SSC team features 21 crew members handling just the grounds, and another 80 handling custodial services throughout campus. For grounds management, SSC has a landscaping crew, athletic crew and mowing crew on site. For the athletic fields and facilities, SSC manages the natural grass soccer, softball, baseball and intramural fields, as well as the synthetic turf football field, track and field surface, and hard-court tennis facility.

Murray State PGMS Green Star awards

Murray State athletic surfaces

The Murray State softball field, Racer Field, sits on what used to be the football practice field. To help the turf, the field was core and shatter tine aerated four times throughout the summer to give the 419 bermudagrass base the best chance to form a dense turf for the playing season. When the field is overseeded, the entire field is seeded with a higher rate because of its small size. This helps with wear, and gives a uniform appearance from the stands.

According to SSC, Racer Field drains well – sometimes too well. This leads to localized dry spots on the field that have to be treated differently. Wetting agents are applied to the field to help hold water in the rootzone, and different retention agents are applied to the localized dry spots that remain. The SSC team also uses organic fertilizer and other carbon and biochar products to help increase the moisture-holding capacity of the soil.

Cutchen Field is home to the Racers soccer team. Preseason meetings with the coach led to a goal of a tightly cut, firm, and fast field for Murray State’s extremely fast soccer team. The field is used for games and practice and sees an enormous amount of wear. According to SSC, the amount of water dictates the aerification, fertilization and irrigation programs. The field is mown with a reel mower at 0.5 inches for most of the year. Combinations of different growth regulators are applied every other week to keep the field as tight as possible and reduce clippings. All clippings are recycled into the canopy to increase organic matter in the rootzone and reduce reliance on fertilizers.

Soccer games are free for the public to attend, and fans can just find a seat on the surrounding hill to watch. To keep the surrounding turf as healthy as possible, this hill is aerated multiple times a year and receives a similar cultural program as the field. This provides a quick recovery after spectator use. The surrounds of the fields are mown using electric zero-turns and electric handheld equipment is used for detailing.

Reagan Field, home to the Murray State baseball team, is a 419 bermudagrass base, but all scheduled games are played on overseeded ryegrass. According to Reimnitz, the baseball field is built on top of the old county landfill and also sits in the bottom of a valley. This has resulted in a field with varying drainage or moisture-retention challenges. One standard practice is to apply penetrant wetting agents to help force water through the soil.

“The field is not the best-draining field,” said Reimnitz. “But since I’ve taken over, we have not had a single game cancelled due to field conditions.”

Providing a smooth, true surface on infield skins is an extremely important part of daily field preparations. An ABI Force infield machine is used with varying attachments to keep a uniform surface free of debris and imperfections.

Every one of Murray State’s athletic fields serves as both practice and game field for the respective sport. The university also hosts all camps and tryouts on those fields, as well as community events and camps for kids.

The football stadium is also home to track and field events, and the grounds team is responsible for all of the hardscapes and structures, which includes cleaning the stadium after each event. The current football field surface is FieldTurf that was installed in 2015. According to Reimnitz, the plan is to replace the field within the next two playing seasons. In addition to grooming, the team also conducts annual GMAX tests on the field to ensure field compaction is within NCAA guidelines for field safety. Reports are shared internally and with the school with recommendations to make the field safer.

Murray State’s eight tennis courts are kept clean from debris daily and are ready for events at a moment’s notice.

“We are grateful for the incredible partnership and for the hard work of each of our dedicated SSC teammates,” stated Murray State Athletics Director Nico Yantko. “Their hard work and dedication help create a transformational experience for our Murray State student-athletes.”

The SSC grounds team also maintains Murray State’s landscape grounds, planting beds, tree care and mowing. Landscape and flower color designs are rotated four times per year, and include mums for fall homecoming and spring bulbs spring sports season.

Sustainable practices

The Murray State University grounds team considers sustainability a core component of its program. Relieving compaction is a major part of their water management and conservation program. They also complete weekly inspections of the irrigation system to ensure water is not wasted. Strategies such as cycle soak and efficient nozzles and heads help reduce water use wherever possible. The team also applies wetting agents and uses natural, organic carbon sources for water capacity regulation.

The entire department is zero green waste. Any organic debris created by their work is either recycled directly into the soil or composted on campus for further use. The fertility program is heavy on organic fertilizer to reduce reliance on synthetic products. All pesticides are applied on an IPM program that is reviewed annually internally and with stakeholders.

For all athletic surrounds, electric zero-turns are used to reduce fuel consumption and carbon footprint. Electric Gators and handheld equipment further reduce the team’s reliance on fossil fuels. For hedge clippers, chain saws, and hydraulic oil, a plant-based oil with zero petroleum is used. For any ice-control applications, a locally produced brine is utilized to limit salt usage. All non-selective weed control is conducted without the use of glyphosate, instead relying on OMRI-listed non-selective herbicides.

Overall, when it comes to winning the PGMS Green Star Award, Reimnitz said the recognition is good for SSC and for Murray State, because it demonstrates their ability to consistently produce high-level grounds. “There’s nothing wrong with winning,” Reimnitz added with a smile.

Murray State PGMS Green Star awards

Murray State grounds program summary


  • The Murray State agronomic plans start with soil tests, including particle and bulk density analysis and are adjusted annually and as needed throughout the season. The fields are a bermudagrass base, overseeded with perennial rye at 9 lbs. PLS. Two applications of organic fertilizer are applied spring and fall. The summer application is a custom blend of polymer-coated slow release blended with ammonium sulfate to kickstart the turf.
  • Bi-weekly sprays of growth regulator combinations (at reduced rates), micronutrients, and stabilized nitrogen keep a lush look to the grass. Different wetting agents are used depending on each field’s needs. Some fields need a penetrant to help with drainage, while others need help holding moisture.

Cultural program

  • During the summer months, the fields are aerified four times to help alleviate soil compaction. Each field is scheduled at different times based on the use needs of the teams and fields.
  • Irrigation is adjusted to keep fields dry, with deeper roots. Each field is adjusted separately depending on its needs.
  • Fields are topdressed annually with a compatible sand to smooth the playing surface.
  • Fields are mown three times per week. Patterns vary based on the season and coach’s wishes.
Murray State PGMS Green Star awards