SFMA Mowing Patterns Contest

SFMA Mowing Patterns Contest Winning Design

The Sports Field Management Association (SFMA) announced the winner of the 2023 SFMA Mowing Patterns Contest. The winning design was submitted by Dakota Steele, district groundskeeper at Fairfield Community Schools in Goshen, Indiana. The winning “V pattern” was created for the opening round of Indiana high school football sectionals at Fairfield Community Schools. SportsField Management magazine recently asked Steele about the winning design.

SportsField Management (SFM): Please tell us about yourself, your crew and the fields/facilities you manage.

Dakota Steele: I was a Sport Management student-athlete at Manchester University from 2014-2018. After graduation I became assistant track and field/cross country coach at the university for two years until January 2020. I noticed the Fort Wayne Tincaps opened up their internships for the season, and I was intrigued by the grounds crew opportunity that was available. As a fan going to Tincaps games in the past, the fieldwork was always what I admired when going to Parkview Field. Not long after I started in Fort Wayne, COVID shut down the Minor League Baseball season and I was no longer needed for the grounds internship due to the circumstances. I was determined to be in Fort Wayne, so I stayed on as a general intern for the summer assisting in odd jobs. That fall I was offered the cleaning supervisor position, and took on that role through the 2021 season. At the end of that year one of the full-time grounds assistants left, and I was offered the position – thus starting my time in groundskeeping. While I was there, Keith Winter and Jake Sperry passed along a lot of knowledge – not just about groundskeeping but life as well. They are both great people, and I am more than grateful for the knowledge and memories I made while I was there with them. In June of 2023, I became the district groundskeeper here at Fairfield Community Schools in Goshen, Indiana. Since then, I have continued to educate myself about the industry, and have tried to attain the best facilities possible.

I do general grounds work throughout the district and, outside of painting, I am the only one who mows, irrigates and performs cultural practices on the football fields. Eric Smoker is the coordinator of district grounds and maintenance and assists me with the painting of the football fields and helps with general grounds work when not working on the schools and equipment. Tim Leer (director of facilities and maintenance) and Matthew Morgan (maintenance assistant) were a big part of clearing, prepping and seeding the ground for our new cross country course this summer.

Fairfield Community schools is made up of the JR/SR High school and three elementary schools, which totals 130 acres of grounds with 90 of those acres being at the high school.

Our athletic facilities include a natural game and practice football field comprised of a bluegrass/ryegrass mix that I started to seed with Barenbrug HGT 80/20. We have synthetic turf baseball and softball facilities, which I will spend more time on in the coming season. We also have a new cross country course.

SFM: Please detail for us the winning design and your inspiration for the design.

Steele: This design was created for the opening round of the postseason for the Indiana high school football playoffs. Fairfield had not beaten its first-round opponent, Jimtown, in 44 years, so I wanted to create a V pattern to symbolize an upcoming victory. Fairfield ended up winning this game in a downpour that came through that night. Inspiration for my designs derive from baseball patterns that I have seen with tweaks to fit the shape of the football field. I was very proud of this pattern despite the simplicity of it and had it captured via drone. I wanted to enter the design in the contest not only for myself but for the school district to have an opportunity to be recognized.

SFM: There is a lot of foresight, planning, dedication and hard work in what you do. What is your overall approach with regard to mowing patterns and on-field artistry, and what is your advice to other sports field managers when it comes to the creative aspects of the role?

Steele: When I took over at Fairfield, I immediately took extreme pride in the care of the football field. As the season approached, I took it upon myself to come up with a different pattern for each of the six home games. For the contest design I had a digital template of the field, which I used to find the best angle of the lines to make the pattern look the best. I have a Hustler Hyperdrive zero-turn with a stripe kit that really helped make patterns pop. Some patterns I did were unconventional for football fields, but I wanted to give the players and community something that they can take pride in as well. My advice for other sport field managers is to continue to educate yourself to create the best version of yourself, and to just enjoy what you’re doing. The pride you have in your work will have you continually improving your facilities.

SFM: What does winning the SFMA Mowing Patterns Contest mean to you?

Steele: Winning this contest was a big accomplishment for us. I was very proud of the work put in this year, and believed this would be a good opportunity for us. As a small district in rural Indiana, being in a contest with some incredibly maintained fields was already a challenge in itself. The other field managers in the contest deserve credit for the amount of work and detail they put in – not only for their contest design but throughout the year. I was unsure how the contest would go, but I was fortunate to have huge support from not only the community within the district but from outside as well. They wanted to win as much as I did, and were a big reason for Fairfield to come out with a win.