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“We set the stage for greatness”: Michigan State’s sports turf manager discusses her work

August 16, 2019  - By

As the college football season quickly approaches, athletic directors and turf managers at universities across the country are busy prepping for one of the busiest times of the year. Amid all the hustle and bustle, we sat down with Amy Fouty, CSFM, assistant athletic director and sports turf manager at Michigan State University (MSU) to talk about her position at one of the Big 10’s more turf-centric universities.

Spartan Stadium is one of the primary fields looked after by Amy Fouty and her team. Photo: Paul Richter

Spartan Stadium is one of the primary fields looked after by Amy Fouty and her team. Photo: Paul Richter

Athletic Turf: What sparked your interest in this industry?

Amy Fouty: I have had a love of sports my whole life. I grew up in Wisconsin. I am a huge Packers and Brewers fan. A lot of our social activities as a family were centered around sporting events. All types of sports have been a big part of my life since I was really small.

AT: Could you share your career path?

AF: From a career stand point, I started working on a golf course when I was 16 years old and worked on a course until I decided to come to college at MSU. I went to MSU, getting my Golf Turf Management degree, and then was out in the field in the professional world of golf course superintendents for about three years. So, I was in golf, primarily, for about eight years of my life. An opportunity opened up at the University of Michigan and I was doing the daily operations for football and soccer there — their field management. Then, a job opened up at my alma mater and I was excited to come back. I’ve been here for 16 years. Overall, I’ve been in the turf business for 29 years.

AT: What’s your favorite part of your job?

AF: Actually, my favorite part of my job is the people that I work with. I very much enjoy mentoring students and staff. I work alongside some really talented and wonderful professionals in facilities, coaching, event management, athletic training.

AT: What’s the most interesting part of your job?

AF: Oh gosh, I think that one of the things that I like most about my job that’s interesting is that it’s never the same every day. People would often think that it could be monotonous in some way, but I do project management, field operations and a lot of other things that aren’t turf related. My day could be anything, really. I also got my Bachelors in psychology while I’ve been working here at Michigan State.

AT: How are you prepping for the upcoming season?

AF: We just put a brand-new field in so we are hyper-focused this year on the quality of the surface since it’s so young. We’re just making sure it stays playable and meets our standards. Player safety is always our primary concern and then having the best quality playability — based on the weather. And then we worry about how it looks after that.

AT: How do you see the turf management industry changing in the future?

AF: I’ve been in it for more than 20 years now and it’s changed a lot. I think that expectations are a great deal higher now than they were even 10 years ago, and resources and staffing have not caught up to those expectations. To be a turf manager today and have the multi-faceted skillset you need to be good at this job is more challenging because of those higher expectations.

AT: Tell me about your team.

AF: I have three full time staff that work year-round. Then we have students and student athletes that work part time (during the school year), full-time in the summer. And we have a couple retired guys who mow. We take care of all the football practice areas and Spartan Stadium. Then we take care of old college field area which supports two soccer programs, a softball and a baseball program. We also have the track and field hockey field and a field that is artificial where the band practices and also practice golf space. It’s a very small staff for a lot of different facilities.

AT: How do you get everything done with such a small staff?

AF: We’ve invested in a lot different technologies to make us more efficient and productive because of the challenges of having a small staff. We are such a successful team because we’ve been able to use technology to streamline our operations. For example, we use Toro’s fleet management system that tracks our hours and lets us know when the equipment is due for preventative maintenance. We also use the Toro Turf Guard soil monitoring system with wireless sensors in all of our fields. It keeps track of soil moisture content for use as well as soil temperature so we can use that data to determine irrigation needs, fertility, plant protectant sprays — which gives us really good, quick foundational information.

ATWhat have you learned about working with the younger generation?

AF: I love their energy. It keeps me charged up to work with young people who are excited and passionate and just coming into turfgrass management. I have kids who have golf interest or they have sports-specific interest. They ask a lot of questions. When it comes to the student athletes that work with us in the summer, we enjoy having them around. They are good workers and a lot of times we will have them taking care of their own facilities. Baseball players will take care of the baseball field. And they’re like, “Wow, I never knew this was so much work.” Of course, that’s always the first response. Then they have a new appreciation — and they share it with their teammates — that a lot of people put a lot of time, effort and passion into preparing areas for them.

AT: What’s something you say to your team all the time?

AF: We set the stage for greatness. Everything we do, being detailed and doing things as if our kids were playing out here, how we would want it to be for them. Trying to make that personal touch. It’s our little group motto.

AT: What’s your favorite thing to read?

AF: I am passionate about reading about leadership. John Maxwell or other people who write about leadership. Trying to self-improve and be a good leader and example for the people that I mentor and that I work with.

Read more: MSU sports turf manager discusses Spartan Stadium renovation

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