Nov. 16, 2007
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IOWA CITY — The lush green grass and vivid paint markings on the hallowed turf at Kinnick Stadium do not appear magically on game day. In fact, it’s a not just a week-long chore, but it is essentially a year-long project supervised by Ted Thorn, director of grounds at the University of Iowa, with day-to-day tasks carried out by Cale Doyle and up to five others.
If you think football coaches are notorious for checking weather reports the week of a big game, you should see a member of the grounds crew. When an event is scheduled in Iowa City, the UI grounds crew more than matches the passionate quest for an updated forecast. If there is a chance of rain later in the week, the painters head out as early as Monday to beat the storm. If dry weather is on the horizon, a more typical week ensues.
A natural grass surface was installed in Kinnick Stadium prior to the 1989 season. For painting purposes, the optimum time of year is later in the season when there isn’t as much grass re-growth (typically around the third week in October). From a field-recovery standpoint, the early-season is most suitable because of quicker grass growth.
This is how the week unfolded for the UI grounds crew prior to the Michigan State game on Oct. 27:
On Sunday and Wednesday, the grass was mowed to the desired height of 1½ inches (as requested by the Iowa football staff). On Thursday, a staff of six — Doyle, Andy Eiffert, Tony Senio, Jarod Tylee, Greg Wynn and Michael Murphy — arrive at Kinnick Stadium, wait for the frost to thaw, and then begin painting at 8:30 a.m. By 1:30 p.m., the paint wands are packed away — as is the bulk of the work — since all the white and gold painted yard numbers, hash marks and end zone letters have been completed. On Friday, two to three more hours is needed to spray black paint outlines and touch-up what has already been produced.
The thought of the crew being able to relax and enjoy its artwork on game day is a misnomer. In fact, Saturday is the most nerve-racking time of the week.
“There is a considerable amount of anxiety,” Thorn said.
“You want to provide the players with a safe playing field and it can get a little stressful,” Doyle said.
Doyle’s crew has been together for three years, so it knows what is expected and when. For an 11 a.m., kickoff, the workers arrive at 6 a.m., to set up the sideline mats before either team is at the stadium. During the game, the crew hustles onto the field when needed to fill the larger divots. The post-game ritual begins by helping the visiting team haul sideline equipment to its truck. The crew then picks up the sideline mats and cleans the field with a sweeper and blower. Twelve people walk the entire grass surface, each with a 5-gallon, 70-pound bucket, sprinkling divot mix into cleat marks and holes. The crew spends 4-5 postgame hours on the field after each game.
Iowa uses a thick-cut sod that typically lasts four or five seasons. Doyle said that the current grass surface will be replaced following the 2008 season.
Stencils are used as a guide for painting hash marks and yard numbers. For the end zone, a large one-piece, clear plastic is used for the first painting of the season. Because paint is hard on the grass, each year the end zones rotate which one has the word Iowa and which has the word Hawkeyes. Each game requires nearly 70 gallons of paint that is mixed one-to-one ratio with water.
“Coach Ferentz is good about saying, `Hey guys, thanks a lot. The field looks good.’ All of the coaches appreciate what we do.”
Doyle grew up in Ames, Iowa, and worked part-time on the playing field inside Iowa State’s Jack Trice Stadium while pursuing a horticulture degree from Des Moines Area Community College. He started at the UI in Spring 1998 and now has more than 100 acres to maintain, a total that includes the green space at the Gerdin Learning Center, Jacobson Athletic Building, practice football field, baseball and softball facilities, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Hawkeye Village, recreation complex, cross country, soccer and field hockey fields and the Hall of Fame.
Although fall and spring are the busiest seasons, Doyle said that responsibilities move “from one season to the next.”
“Any more, the sports don’t quit,” Doyle said. “Some have both fall and spring seasons and then in the summer, it’s time to have camps.”
Doyle said that the 2005 football season was the most difficult. Because of construction in the south end of the stadium, combined with uncooperative weather, the sod for the playing field was replaced during the season. Because of that, the grass had no roots and the turf was badly torn during Iowa’s 56-0 win against Ball State. Before the Hawkeyes played Northern Iowa 14 days later, the entire field was stripped and new sod was placed.
Thorn, who has worked at the UI for 29 years, recalls a game on Nov. 23, 1991 against Minnesota that was particularly taxing on his staff.
“We had to move four inches of snow off the field and scoop all of the yard lines,” Thorn recalls. Iowa won the “Snow Bowl,” 23-8.
A highlight for the crew comes in the form of a compliment after nearly every home game. Doyle said that Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, following his post-game press conference, will thank the workers for their contribution to the football program.
“Coach Ferentz is good about saying, `Hey guys, thanks a lot. The field looks good.'” Doyle said. “All of the coaches appreciate what we do.”
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