March 19, 2009

Sports are big business in Kentucky. Each year, hundreds of sports turf managers prepare countless ball fields for everything from Little League through college sports events. It takes many skilled people to get those fields ready for safe competition.

University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agents in Campbell, Boone and Kenton counties recently hosted more than 70 sports turf managers from the Greater Cincinnati area during the Northern Kentucky Sports Turf Workshop held at the Campbell County extension office.

"There's a big sports market here in the northern Kentucky and Cincinnati area," said A.J. Powell, UK turf specialist. "We're targeting the folks who maintain, mow and fertilize the fields. We're covering not just the natural grass fields we promote, but the synthetic ones as well. About 20 to 25 high schools use synthetic fields in the Cincinnati area.

"We're also trying to give these managers some tips on how to survive these economic times," Powell continued. "Budgets are cut; it's harder to hire workers, so if we can help them find more efficient and less expensive ways to do their jobs, that is what we like to do."

Sports turf managers who attended the workshop heard presentations from Doug Vescio of Vescio Sports Fields about "The Fit for Synthetic Infills" and also from Cincinnati Bengals turf manager James Hlavaty about "Maintaining the Bengals Practice Fields" before heading out to Northern Kentucky University's softball and baseball fields to discuss management there.

Bucky Trotter, former UK turf manager, was on hand in his current role as director of sports turf for Midwest Golf and Turf. He said he's always had an interest in supporting other turf managers through extension programming and workshops.

"There's just a huge number of municipal, parks and recreation, K-12 school fields throughout the state," he said. "If you think about the number of participants in those sports, it's a really large part of what goes on in Kentucky from spring through fall."

Workshop organizers invited representatives from several equipment companies to come and demonstrate their products at the workshop.

"We try to expose them to several companies with competing equipment and give them a chance to look at it without pressure to buy one or the other," Powell said. "It gives us a chance to talk to them about cheaper equipment that might be just as efficient for their situations."

Trotter said there is a trend among turf managers to look at pre-owned equipment more and more. He said it's just another way turf managers are learning to adapt to the current economy.

Marcus Deane, UK's assistant turf manager, was on hand to talk about programming field maintenance and also to answer questions in his role as president of the Kentucky Sports Turf Managers Association.

"These workshops are really valuable for this time period, this economic crisis we are in," he said. "But also, it's a regional, localized thing where extension and the Kentucky Sports Turf Managers Association can come together and offer expertise to these managers where they are, so they don't have to take too much time off work."

Boone County Extension Agent for Horticulture Mike Klahr said, ultimately, the field day is a good way to introduce turf managers to Cooperative Extension and show them what resources are available through their county agents.

"It's very valuable for those taking care of ball fields," he said. "This gives us an opportunity to let them know what we can do for them in extension. They bring in soil samples and also plant and insect samples throughout the year for us to identify."

Other workshops are planned for May 21 at the Marshall County High School in Benton (contact Lincoln Martin, 270-527-3285) and a hands-on workshop hosted by the Kentucky Sports Turf Managers Association at the University of Louisville June 16 and 17 (contact Marcus Deane, marcus.dean@uky.edu). The 2009 UK Turf Field Day is set for July 9 at Spindletop Research Farm in Lexington. Contact Powell at 859-257-5606 for more information.