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Protecting Their Turf

Virginia Tech

Football season may be over for the players, but for some people, it’s never over.  That’s what it’s like for the teams that keep the living outdoor sports fields looking good.  Real grass takes real work to maintain; Especially when the turf has to look good on TV.

Even in the off-season, Hokie special teams practice kicks at Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium so the field has to be ready.    The work of keeping the living playing field ready for it’s close up is a never-ending pursuit.

“That’s why I love coming to work to every day to get it looking right for 6 or 7 or 8 times a year," says Emerson Pulliam, football field coordinator at Lane Stadium. He helps out with the other playing fields during the rest of the year but his main focus is to have Worsham Field ready for game day.

Pulliam remembers the first time he went to a big football stadium game as a kid. The first thing he noticed was the live grass playing field.  “Man that looks good, how did they get it to look that good?”

Now Pulliam knows the answer. And as,every sports fan knows, on any given day, the weather can be can go either way. In 2000, downpour flooded Worsham Field and canceled a home game with Georgia Tech.

Dr. Mike Goatley says that's when the new draining system went in. One of only two like it in the country.  "Essentially you are standing on a sand based field, but underneath of it, there are about 4400 4x4 plastic modules holding the growing medium, and literally the base of this field is essentially a two-acre parking lot," says the turf grass extension specialist and Virginia Tech professor.

"The water drains through the sand and hits that and that’s what we’ve now got in terms of managing moisture on these fields. It will keep the water moving through this natural surface as fast as it possibly can.”

It takes not only state of the art technology, but also a team of people watching the weather and making decisions. There’s an art and a science to it --  part of what makes game day so exciting.

“Some of your earliest memories in life probably goes back to the first time you went to a big time ball game, local high school, college, or pros, and as soon as you walk up those stands and see this thing in its glory, all painted, all bright, and the players out there and the band and the sounds, it’s something you’ll never forget.”

And you can start your six-month countdown to Hokies Football opening day –Saturday August 30th, against William and Mary.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.