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Under the Turf

How pipe plays a role in sports

As seen in the Tried & True Fall 2021 issue

From youth athletics to big-league events, game day is the best day for participants and fans. Not every weekend in the stands is filled with sunshine. Rain delays happen, but canceled events due to water-logged fields don’t have to. From iconic stadiums to Little League baseball diamonds, having the right pipe in place means standing water, torn turf and Mother Nature won’t dominate on the field.

Poor drainage is a problem that stretches beyond fanfare and rivalry. Field operations is a business. Filling stadium seats, merchandise sales and concession lines are part of the bottom dollar. From college football championship games to soccer’s World Cup, sporting events generate revenue beyond the ticket office. Canceled game days mean fewer fans in seats and unhappy vendors with products not moving off shelves. That’s never a win, no matter how you play the game. 

Protecting turf also means protecting players. Unplayable, uneven surfaces affect the quality of play and can lead to injury. According to The American Journal of Sports Medicine, playing on well-drained turf means fewer stressors to the body, meaning fewer injuries occur on dry, well-drained fields. Concussions, muscle strains and tears, ligament sprains and broken bones see a sharp decrease as does recurrent or repetitive trauma to players. Pooled water, mud and ice can contribute to unsafe or aged-out field conditions causing unstable ground. Soil and sports turf need sound footing and traction to keep athletes healthy and competing at their best. 

When it comes to athletic field performance, there are three key components to successful drainage: surface drainage, internal drainage and the system installed subsurface. Surface drainage is the water that runs off onto the field. Internal drainage is the water moving through the levels of soil. The subsurface drainage system is the pipe installed under the field that directs excess moisture away from the root system and towards a designated drainage area, leaving engineers and groundskeepers to create spaces for water retention. Not all facilities can tap into natural waterway systems to assist pipe in that last drainage step. That’s why maximizing surface and internal drainage ensures turf health and safety on the field. No matter the level of play, no one wants to see players sidelined by preventable injuries due to compacted soil, ruts, vehicular or foot traffic that leaves more than a mark––they can end careers. Something facilities do not want to be liable for, nor do coaches or athletic directors want to happen on their watch.

Boyd Montgomery is the regional business manager of sports fields and grounds for one of the largest professional sports grounds companies in North America. He lends his expertise and skills to the stadiums and greens where dreams are made. The World Series, the Super Bowl, a plethora of pro golf tournaments––he and his coworkers have tended to the carpeted greens and rugged turfs of these hallowed tournaments for decades. When Montgomery tends to Division 1 and NFL fields, the grounds are typically outfitted with soil specifically engineered to work with drainage. Modified to whisk water away rather than flood the area, high-end soil and grass or turf pairs with drainage that’s scaled for the task at hand. “Roots are always looking for water and nutrients, and their total brute strength translates into a force within the turf that holds together, doesn’t rip apart and the water content is managed in such a way that grass never reaches a wilting point from being waterlogged,” Montgomery shares. He elaborates on what turf should look like from the spectators’ vantage point. “There is a science behind professional sports turf management that folks sitting in the stands cheering on a touchdown or quieting down for that long putt for birdie don’t see. Spectators see a beautifully painted canvas, not the inner workings of water management under the field––just how we like it and as it should be.”  

From the stadiums to municipal facilities, people want the same thing: playable and accessible turf. Montgomery has seen it first-hand in his twenty-seven-year career that began in the suburbs of Sylvania, Ohio. Now, he hits the road managing turf for the biggest events in sports around the globe. He’s also a father whose grown children once upon a time participated in school sports and community leagues. “It doesn’t matter if you play on a professional field or a parks and rec team; people want their kids to play on fields that are as lush as pro athletes experience,” Montgomery says. Yet the real challenge comes with maintenance, limited budgets and decision-makers being on the same page. “Grass is a living, breathing organism underneath traffic, activity and kids having fun. The longer it is compacted, constricted and succumbs to the force of activity, it begins to decay without intervention. That’s where having drainage comes in. Without that system in play, no one is on the field playing,” he shares.

Top-notch playing surfaces don’t just happen. It takes a team of unsung heroes, like Montgomery and his cohorts, to get fields player-ready hours before the refs blow the whistle, whether it’s for the NFL’s season opener or Friday night lights at the local ball field. Below the painted lines and tangle of players’ feet are intuitively-designed pipe systems, like Fratco’s, keeping total washouts away and players doing what they love most.   

Iowa’s Algona High School administration and staff can tell you all about the challenges of having safe and dependable fields ready for action. For the school district, putting students’ needs first carried beyond the classroom and onto their football field in desperate need of drainage. That meant constructing a safe, dependable surface where conditions had long deteriorated. Providing a sound, reliable and sure-footed field for both the Scarlet Regiment Marching Band and Bulldog football teams equated to a safe and dry place to play and perform. Reengineering the property resulted in one of the best outdoor facilities in the state for other local youth athletic clubs to utilize, and Fratco is proud to have been a part of the community effort.

Algona Community Turf Project

Algona Schools Superintendent Joe Carter saw one too many of his students unable to participate on the field through no fault of their own. “Due to the condition of our football field…it caused us to move multiple football games to facilities in other towns, taking away opportunities for our students, parents and community. For many years, we have not allowed the youth teams in our area to use our field in fear of what could happen due to inadequate drainage and often very wet conditions.” Head football coach Andy Jacobson was adamant that new turf would help students and the community in more ways than imaginable. Kurt Kissinger of the Scarlet Regiment Marching Band believed that a turf field would enhance the musicians’ sound quality and promote student safety. The community of Algona agreed and set out to install turf with a little help from neighbors and friends, like Fratco. 

Craig Douglas, Fratco’s sales manager, loves being a part of a company that believes in giving back to the community. “It’s one thing to say we care about the future of our youth, yet it’s quite another to join other Algona-area sponsors and contributors to bring the track and field to life.” Fratco’s pipe donation helped bring players back onto the field, track athletes back in the lanes and musicians performing for cheering crowds. Something for Algona Bulldog fans to celebrate and a Fratco assist for the record books.

Sources: Sports Turf Managers Association, American Journal of Sports Medicine, Boyd Montgomery & Algona Community Turf Project