McDougal and family

For most schools across the nation and professional ball teams, COVID-19 has uprooted schedules and our ability to enjoy sports together.

Much of the nation has started working from home, whether that’s been mandated by their governor or their facility is shut down for the foreseeable future. Our industry is full of passionate individuals who are itching to get back to work once it’s safe for all of us to return to normal. We virtually spoke with Brian McDougal, athletic facility and grounds manager for Port Huron school district, about what plans he has in place to get back up and running and how he’s keeping a positive perspective during these uncertain times.

Brian, did you have any time to prepare for the lockdown? And what recommendations do you have for those who may still have access to their fields at this time?

BM: I manage a facility about an hour outside of Detroit, MI. Today would have been opening day for our spring soccer and baseball teams. I’m always chasing my tail come spring time, whether that’s because I have to clear snow off a baseball diamond for an afternoon game or because of our typical maintenance routine. Needless to say, I’m never ahead of the game, but I was able to address a few things before we officially shut down. I was able to clean up our property in preparation for lockdown and roll and drag our varsity infields a few times. I was tracking the progress of COVID-19 shut downs on social media and as I saw more and more guys having to close up shop, I started contacting vendors to work through the best and worst case scenarios with them, I postponed or cancelled deliveries. For those who still have access to their fields, I’d recommend doing the same, communicate with your staff, coaches, players and vendors to work through the changing scenarios and try and get on the same page with everyone because the situation changes by the hour.

How are you setting yourself up for success for when things are back up and running?

BM: I imagine most groundskeepers already had a head start on spring sports preparation before they were shut down. For myself, that preparation begins on the day following fall sports conclusion. Without even knowing this was going to take place, I had started setting myself up last fall for success this spring. Now, it’s about changing my outlook on the rest of the season. Safety will remain top priority but luckily the fields will be playable on the day we welcome students back. Some fertilizer or weed management applications may be missed in the upcoming weeks but I think we can all agree that sports will go on with a few weeds on the field or with some extra-long grass in the outfield. We will all be grateful to have players back on our fields that we will be flexible with our programs and adjust maintenance plans where needed. I’ll feel successful if kids are able to get back on my field and feel their lives return to normal, once things are back up and running.

What can sports turf managers be doing during this time to stay active in the industry?

BM: I think we can all continue to share our experiences and learn from each other during this unprecedented time. I’ve been following along with groundskeepers who are still working to see how they’re adjusting their programs or how those who are home on lockdown are coping with their new reality. Our industry is special because we are so passionate and I’m confident we will do whatever it takes to get things back up and running once restrictions begin to be lifted. Whether that means helping out a neighboring district or sharing a suggestion on social media. So, I’d recommend using this time to further our education and network. For those who are still on the field, share with the rest of us what challenges you’re facing or pose questions to the industry on social media. And for those of us at home, be looking for opportunities to engage with peers and learn from each other. Also, keep communicating with vendors, athletic directors and coaches anytime there is a new update available.

With no exact timeline applied to this lockdown, how are you keeping a positive outlook during COVID-19?

BM: Even though it was forced, I’m appreciating the slow down. Us sports turf managers put so much pressure on ourselves as we strive for excellence, which means long hours that can take a toll on our lives outside of work and our physical bodies. I know things are going to go from zero to 100, really quick. So, I’m taking this time to stay mentally fresh and appreciate the extra time with my wife and kids. Turfgrass is resilient and so are turfgrass managers and I hope this time helps us all take a step back and look at the things that really matter in life. If nothing else, here’s your chance to perfect your home lawns or put a baseball field in your backyard, whatever it takes to get your fix. I have a petri dish of Kentucky Bluegrass that I’ve been growing under a lamp since January, now at home. I’m sure to mow, with hand scissors, the grass twice a week.

We hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during this time of uncertainty. Rely on those around you and your peers in the industry until we can all return to normal. For more updates on how the industry is responding to COVID-19, be sure to follow along with our social channels!