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Turf war:

Heidelberg’s head groundskeeper, crew fight ongoing battle with nature

August 18, 2012
By Zach Baker - Sports Editor ( , The Advertiser-Tribune

In sports, the clich "unsung heroes" gets tossed around plenty.

But usually when a football coach uses the phrase, it's for a player who maybe gets overlooked - an offensive lineman, a special teams player, a punter.

But Heidelberg coach Mike Hallett singled out a group who doesn't put on a uniform on Saturdays.

Article Photos

Head groundskeeper John Hoffman inspects a hashmark at Mayer Field on the Heidelberg University campus.

At least not a football uniform.

Hallett was talking about John Hoffman, the school's head groundskeeper, and his crew.

"They work incredibly hard, not just on athletic fields but the grounds [at the University]," Hallett said. "I don't think there's an off day for (Hoffman)."

Hoffman, a 1996 Columbian High School graduate, heads up a full-time crew of six. He's in charge of all the grounds, but said he enjoys working the sports fields. For one thing, when the field preparation is over on Saturdays in the fall, he gets to watch a game for his trouble.

"It actually is enjoyable," Hoffman said.

Still, it's time consuming. Take Mayer Field, the home of Heidelberg's football and soccer teams. Along with the work put in by his crew during the week, Saturdays in the fall can be a full-day affair.

"Day begins two hours before the (football) game starts," Hoffman said. "We groom the field, which consists of dragging a rake over it, and making sure there's no trash in the seating area."

And once the game starts, the workers can't get too comfortable. Like a reserve football player, they could be called upon at any time.

If a hashmark on the field turf at Mayer Field were to get pulled up during a game, it would be up to Hoffman and his crew to repair it.

By hand.

During the game.

So what would happen?

"Pull whatever part is up, get all of the rubber crumbs off," he said of the field. "We've got to reglue it, re-top that area with black crumbs, black ground rubber."

Hoffman said problem spots usually are found before the game. But the chance of something happening during the game still exists.

"You've always got it in the back of your mind, watching," he said. "If it ever happened during the game, it would be stressful to me."

And when the football game ends, the day sometimes doesn't.

"After that game, there might be a soccer game," he said.

And it all begins again.

Hoffman said most of what he and his crew do is done manually.

"All of our landscaping's done by hand," he said. "We use hand tools, chain saws, hedge trimmers, stuff like that."

When most people think of grooming in a sports context, they think of grass fields. But Hoffman said just as much work goes into maintaining an artificial surface.

"I'd rather work on grass," he said. "There's almost as much maintenance that goes into turf ... just as many man hours."

Hoffman and his crew have been tested in the past by flooding at the university.

"We had three floods down there," Hallett said of the area by Mayer Field. "We had the last one last July. It gave us a lot of issues with top soil getting into the turf. We went out this spring and it was in great shape. [The crew is] very much unsung heroes."

Then again, maybe the crew is not so unsung.

"John's been unbelievable in terms of our grass fields," Hallett said. "He's made the facilities so much better.

"He's answering to a lot of folks, a lot of people are in his debt."



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