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Professional pitches for amateur athletes

November 20, 2015  - By

The athletes at Westerville (Ohio), Ensworth (Nashville, Tenn.) and Tualatin Hill (Beaverton, Ore.) are not professionals. There are no multi-million dollar contracts, team doctors or sideline reporters.

But they still expect the best field conditions possible.

Every line drive and every corner kick matters to these amateur athletes, from the kids learning the rules to the adults reliving past sports glory. To achieve professional-level playing fields, two things are needed: a great groundskeeping staff and support from the community.


Westerville South High School’s J.W. Sadler Field was the 2008 Sports Turf Managers Association’s national Schools and Parks Baseball Field of the Year.

The Westerville (Ohio) City School District is made up of 18 elementary schools, four middle schools and three high schools. Add up all of that and you get 400 acres of natural turf and artificial turf that Kenny Nichols, the school districts’s director of facilities, maintains.

To keep that amount of turf in top shape Nichols needs a lot of support and gets it from his staff of 20 full-time maintenance members, five full-time grounds crew members and three seasonal employees. The city of Westerville does its part as well.

“We’re on the top end of the spectrum when it comes to community support, we have money for new equipment and supplies and materials to maintain the fields very well,” Nichols says.

With community support Nichols and his team have been able to maintain their fields well enough to be recognized on a national level. In 2008, the Sport Turf Managers Association selected Westerville South High School’s J.W. Sadler Field as the national Schools and Parks Baseball Field of the Year.

More recently that support has been seen a sizeable investment in the school districts’ synthetic turf safety and new equipment.

“We recently had g-max testing completed on all of the synthetic fields to make sure the fields don’t exceed that limit,” Nichols says. “During our most recent purchasing period we bought $280,000 of new pieces of equipment, including a Bobcat track loader, three compact tractors and some other items.”


Tualatin Hill Athletic Center offers Beaverton, Ore., community members an estimated 24 acres of synthetic turf and natural turf in athletic fields.

Another major beneficiary of public support is Troy Schader, athletic facilities supervisor for the Tualatin Hill Park & Recreation District in Beaverton, Ore.

The Beaverton community showed their support during the 2008 election season when they passed a $100 million bond for the parks and recreation department. Of that bond almost $4.5 million directly went to update or create additions to Tualatin Hill’s athletic facilities.

“Our community loves us and their support has never been a concern because we are given the resources to put a nice product out,” Schader says.

Schader oversees the operation of two separate athletic facilities, the Tualatin Hill Athletic Center and PCC Rock Creek. The former offers five softball fields, three soccer fields, two full-sized baseball fields and two synthetic multi-purpose fields for soccer, lacrosse and football, that Schader estimates is 24 acres of synthetic turf and Poa annua natural grass overseeded with ryegrass.

The PCC Rock Creek facility is smaller but Schader called all of these fields “high-end” with four sand-based baseball/softball fields, two natural turf practice fields and two multi-purpose synthetic fields.


An overhead shot of Ensworth High School from May 2013. Since this photo was taken the soccer field enclosed by the track is now synthetic turf and the baseball and softball infields have been converted to dirt.

At the Ensworth School, Nashville, Tenn., the generosity of donors to the private high school and middle school is required when it’s time to purchase a new piece of equipment. But Connor Schutzman, CSFM, Ensworth’s head of grounds, knows that he can count on the school and those donors to help him keep the fields to his standards.

“I think our athletic fields are important to our institution and we have a pretty high standard when it comes to athletics as far as competition,” Schutzman says. “Our donors have certain standards for our athletic fields and know that it takes an investment to see that.”

Schutzman and two full-time crewmembers spend most of their time at the high school and one full-time employee works at the middle school seven miles away. As a team they maintain a total of 14.5 acres of bermudagrass between the two locations.

Since he took over his current role in 2012, the Ensworth School has bought some new mowers and other equipment, but money still doesn’t grow on trees even at this private school.

“I can’t buy a new mower every year,” Schutzman says. “If I can prove to my high-ups that I have to have this piece of equipment to make this field safe or maintain it at this level, they are pretty good about saying we understand.”

Although his staff is not maintaining fields that are used by professional athletes Schutzman has an extreme pride in his work and holds himself to professional standards.

“We don’t think we are any different than any NFL or MLB team whenever that season is in session,” Schutzman says. “During baseball in the spring we think we are the Atlanta Braves. We do what we can to make it just as important and just as aesthetically pleasing as you would see on TV.”

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