SAFE scholarship winners

SAFE: Examining the ongoing influence of The Foundation for Safer Athletic Fields for Everyone

The Foundation for Safer Athletic Fields for Everyone (SAFE) is the charity of the Sports Field Management Association (SFMA). SAFE was founded in 2000 to fund research, educational programs and scholarships geared to the sports field profession.

SAFE’s mission is “To enrich communities through championing safe, sustainable sports and recreation fields for all athletes.”

Prior to the founding of SAFE, scholarships were awarded directly from the Sports Turf Managers Association, predecessor to SFMA. SportsField Management magazine recently asked past scholarship winners about the impact of those scholarships on their careers, as well as the overall benefits of SAFE. Their responses are as follows:

“I was a senior at Colorado State University when I received the Dr. James Watson 4-year Undergraduate Scholarship. I remember getting the phone call and being completely floored/excited/humbled. It was the first year that the Watson was being awarded, which was another honor. Dr. Watson was such an amazing person who had an incredible impact on the industry. I’m honored that I was able to meet him and be part of his legacy with this award.

“Receiving the scholarship was also impactful because I’d been an STMA member for four years and was finding it to be a family – not just a network of colleagues. To be acknowledged by such a group cemented to me that I was on the correct career path.

“The scholarships and grants that the SAFE Foundation provides are of huge benefit to the association and membership as a whole. Being able to recognize students – both graduate and undergraduate – for their hard work and dedication to the industry helps to provide motivation and supports the students financially through their schooling. The grants provide support for membership, internships and continuing education to member’s children (no matter their chosen career). By having these opportunities, we are able to honor the memory of some truly incredible humans and share their passions throughout the turfgrass industry. This financial assistance is greatly appreciated, as students and interns must cover a large amount of expenses – often including housing – in order to be able to accept the opportunities that are available.”

– Sarah K. Martin, CSFM, park supervisor, Special Operations Division, City of Phoenix (1998-99 scholarship class).

“While I was in school, I applied for whatever financial assistance I could find. Being awarded that scholarship was helpful because it set me up for a semester of books and helped me continue in school. It’s a tough industry to get into to begin with. To give somebody the opportunity to start school or finish school is amazing.”

– Justin Peloquin, parks field supervisor, Jurupa Community Services District (2001-02 SAFE scholarship class).

“SAFE scholarship was likely the nail in the coffin for me being a lifelong member to the SFMA. It was my first introduction to the conference and what it meant to be part of an ‘industry.’  I was putting myself through school, so the money was very useful; but the experience of the conference was priceless. For SAFE and what they have done for so many students who share my experience, the SFMA and past winners are very grateful.”

– Tim Van Loo, CSFM, sports turf/golf sales, D&K Products (2001-02 SAFE scholarship class).

“The scholarships awarded by the SAFE Foundation play an important role in supporting the men and women who are the future of the sports field industry. By investing in these young people, we create more accessible educational opportunities and encourage industry growth. The scholarship supported my turfgrass science degree and gave me an opportunity to meet many wonderful SFMA members. These hardworking, dedicated members are why I have enjoyed being a part of the association for many years.”

– Kristen Althouse, director of operations, Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council (2004-05 SAFE scholarship class).

“Even more than the financial piece of the scholarship, being able to attend the conference as a scholarship winner helped inspire my career. After attending that conference, I knew this was the industry I wanted to be in. I will also remember that first conference and how it impacted my career.

“What SAFE does is vital for the future of our industry. The pool of sports field managers and interns has dwindled over the years, and SAFE plays an important role in finding and inspiring future field managers. I believe SAFE can inspire others like it did me.”

– Kyle Slaton, CSFM, department manager – agronomics, SiteOne Landscape Supply (2004-05 SAFE scholarship class).

“It is a great honor to be on the list of former recipients of the Dr. James Watson Scholarship for Graduate Students through the SAFE Foundation. One aspect of Dr. Watson’s legacy, and an important role of the SAFE Foundation, has always been advocating for safe athletic fields and supporting that initiative through sport-field-specific research. Through the scholarship I received, I was able to do those things while also improving upon myself from both a professional and educational perspective. As the importance of the playing surface becomes more apparent in the health, safety and well-being of all athletes, I believe it is imperative to support the foundation so it can continue to assist in making Safer Athletic Fields for Everyone!”

– Nick McKenna, CSFM, assistant athletics director, sports fields, Texas A&M Athletics (2007-08 SAFE scholarship class).

“Being awarded the Dr. James Watson Graduate Scholarship in 2009 was a big deal for me during my graduate studies. The recognition provided validation of my hard work and potential, boosting my confidence to continue striving for excellence in my research. I vividly remember Tony Koski, who was my advisor/professor during undergrad at Colorado State, saying, ‘I’ve always thought that I can judge my value as a professor by what my students do after they graduate, and seeing you and Abby (McNeal) on that stage tonight was a great moment for me.’ His words underscored the significance of the award and the impact it had on my personal and professional growth. Abby was president of SFMA that year and Tony went on to win the Dr. WIlliam Daniel Founder’s award later that evening.

“Beyond the invaluable encouragement, the scholarship provided crucial financial support at a time when I had limited resources. The funds enabled me to focus on my studies and research without the added stress of financial burdens, ultimately allowing me to successfully complete my M.S. and Ph.D.

“SAFE has been making a significant impact in the sports field management industry since its inception. SAFE’s commitment to facilitating safe and environmentally friendly sports and recreational fields is crucial, as it directly benefits athletes of all ages and abilities. The organization’s shift from an internal focus to an externally focused one demonstrates its dedication to making a broader impact in the communities it serves. It’s inspiring for me to see it still going strong 24 years later.

“As I reflect on my career journey, I am grateful for the support and recognition I received from SAFE early on. The scholarship not only helped me achieve my academic goals but also served as a springboard for my professional success.”

– Andrew Hoiberg, Ph.D., vice president, R&D/technical sales, Calcium Products (2009-10 SAFE scholarship class).

“Winning the SFMA scholarship was very meaningful to me, both personally and academically. As a Penn State student, the award not only provided recognition for my four years of hard work, but also reinforced Penn State’s valuable contributions to the sports turf community.”

– Alexander P. Steinman, director of grounds for the University of Maryland Athletic Department (2010-11 SAFE scholarship class).

“Receiving SAFE scholarships has been a tremendous honor and a pivotal milestone in my career. As a three-time recipient, I am deeply grateful for the recognition and support provided during my undergraduate and graduate studies. The financial assistance was instrumental in helping me pay for college, allowing me to focus on my passion for turfgrass research without the burden of financial stress. The SAFE scholarship is recognized as the premier award in the country for aspiring sports field managers and researchers like me. It has significantly enhanced my credibility within the turfgrass industry. Furthermore, many past recipients, who have been equally honored, have gone on to make significant contributions to the sports field management and turfgrass industry.

“The importance of the SAFE Foundation cannot be overstated. Beyond awarding scholarships, which is vitally important for supporting students and our future industry workforce, SAFE plays a crucial role in advocating for safe sports fields for all. It is a driving force behind promoting research and educational programs that focus on proper sports field management, and raises awareness about the value of a professional sports field manager. Through these efforts, SAFE fulfills its mission of enriching communities by championing safe, sustainable sports and recreation fields for all athletes. The organization’s commitment to safety and education ensures that the fields where athletes perform are not only safe but also optimally managed for performance and longevity.”

– Chase Straw, Ph.D., assistant professor, Turfgass Science, Texas A&M University (2010-11, 2013-14 and 2017-18 SAFE scholarship classes).

“Winning the SAFE scholarship was an amazing moment in my career and educational upbringing. To me it wasn’t about trying to win any kind of money; it was about making an impact within the industry and trying to make a name for myself. I have always had a passion for this industry, starting when I was in high school in a turf management program – the very same program I am teaching now. Winning this scholarship felt as good as winning a major sporting event. You enjoy the moment, celebrate with family and friends, then you go right back to it finding new ways to improve and to make yourself better. My advice to anyone coming up in this industry is to never give up on your dreams and always stay positive. You don’t get into this industry for the money, you get into it for the passion you have for our sports teams and fields, and because you care about people.”

– Logan Horne, turf management teacher and sports turf manager at Louisa County High School (2011-12 SAFE scholarship class).

“SAFE scholarships were instrumental in providing me with financial assistance and initiating new connections in the industry. When you are able to put SAFE scholarship recipient on your resume, it sets you apart from other applicants. I truly believe that it helped me acquire some internships and jobs that I otherwise may have been overlooked. Those entry-level positions and internships were vital in getting me to where I am today as an NFL sports fields manager.

“The cost of college can be a huge burden for many students. I was fortunate enough to get most of my college paid for through academic scholarships like the SAFE scholarships. This allowed me to be more focused on school and pursuing career goals. It has also instilled the idea of giving back to students in my professional career (I currently serve Texas SFMA as the scholarship chair).”

– Kevin Hansen, sports fields manager for ASM Global at NRG Stadium and the Houston Texans practice facility (2012-13 and 2013-14 SAFE scholarship classes).

“As an industry based in science and under pressure to ‘do more with less,’ challenging the status quo is a necessity – not an option. SAFE does this, guiding the future of sports field management by funding cutting-edge research and talent cultivation in order to continue providing communities with safe green spaces.

“Receiving a SAFE undergraduate scholarship impacted my career in a much bigger way than I knew at the time I received the award. The monetary support provided financial security that allowed me to focus on my education as I paid my own way through college. It also funded travel to the national conference, which offered exposure and networking that continue to influence my success. I had the opportunity to attend the Women In Turf luncheon where, for the first time, I met and connected with other females in the industry. Those interactions were an inspiration that pushed me to pursue a research career, and they remain a source of motivation and camaraderie.”

– Devon Carroll, Ph.D., chief of staff, Envu (2015-16 SAFE scholarship class).

“Receiving a SAFE scholarship allowed me to get exposure and helped me network with others in the industry. When I received my award at the banquet, there were so many industry professionals who wanted to talk to and hear my plans for what I would do after graduation. It allowed me to get a verbal job offer as I was networking.

“SAFE is very important because it helps students continue their education in the sports field career. Every year, new concepts or ideas are being introduced in the industry, and SAFE allows sports field professionals to keep up with that.”

– Keair Edwards, director of operations, The Sports Facilities Company, Gulfport Sportsplex (2015-16 SAFE scholarship class).

“Receiving a SAFE scholarship as an undergraduate student allowed me to attend an SFMA Conference, where I connected with industry leaders who share my passion for excellence in sports field management. These opportunities are vital for future generations to enter the field with the same enthusiasm.”

Tyler Carr, Ph.D., assistant professor and turfgrass extension specialist, Ohio State University (2015-16 and 2021-22 SAFE scholarship classes).

“I was fortunate to receive the Dr. James Watson Graduate Scholarship in 2019. It put me in a small group of students who have received this prestigious award. This opportunity allowed me to become exposed to industry professionals during the annual awards banquet at the conference. The scholarship proved my graduate school efforts while earning a master’s degree, and confirmed that I have been set up for success by my advisor, Dr. John Sorochan. He provided numerous opportunities for me to interact with sports field managers, as well as industry professionals. My network has grown tremendously since I attended my first SFMA conference in 2015 in San Diego.

“SAFE is important because the foundation introduces students to educational and research projects that are involved in making sports fields safer for everyone. As a research associate at the University of Tennessee, I have been able to focus my work on making sports fields more consistent and playable for all levels of sport. SAFE is able to have a direct approach to making fields safer because the individuals on the Board of Trustees maintain turfgrass at a high level and can see potential problems from the ground up.”

Taylor Williams, research associate, University of Tennessee (2018-19 SAFE scholarship class).

“The SAFE Foundation has played a large role in my professional career dating back to my undergraduate days at UGA. I was able to compete in the 2015 Student Challenge at the annual conference in Denver that year. The opportunity to participate in the Student Challenge and attend the meeting to network with sports field managers around the country was invaluable to me in my career. I continued to stay involved with SFMA and SAFE in my graduate programs at MSU and UGA.

“The opportunity to win the Watson Graduate Student Scholarship in 2023 and 2024 as a graduate student at UGA is a tremendous honor. The funds allowed me to pursue research evaluating novel techniques to measure athletic field performance and player safety during my Ph.D. here at UGA. When discussing research possibilities for my dissertation, I knew I wanted to answer some practical questions for sports turf professionals. Dr. Henry’s lab has published multiple works surrounding the performance testing of sports fields and how field variability can affect athlete injuries. Therefore, I decided to continue this trend and conduct studies aimed at further understanding the interaction of athletes with the playing surface and how that impacts performance. By working with a kinesiologist on campus, we have developed a way to implement sensors worn by athletes to gather athlete-specific responses to various sports turf surfaces. We aspire to use these techniques to learn more about what specific factors affect the performance of sports fields and how field managers can manage them to provide safer fields for our athletes.

“The SAFE Foundation provides a great service to the sports field management industry. Not only does it support student endeavors and inspire the next generation of sports field managers, but it also supplies research to the industry. Relaying up-to-date research to current field professionals is critical in providing professionals the tools they need to maintain safe and functional playing surfaces for athletes of all ages so many others can experience the joy of sports in the future.

Erick Begitschke, graduate research assistant, Crop and Soil Science Department, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, University of Georgia (2022-23 and 2023-24 SAFE scholarship classes).

SAFE generates funding for its programs through member and industry donations, grants from other foundations, and events held at the annual SFMA Conference and Exhibition. For more information about SAFE, or to donate, visit