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Interview: Kim Heck, CEO – Sports Turf Managers Association

Members of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) ensure that games go ahead in extreme weather conditions and that facilities are used to their maximum. Kim Heck, CEO of STMA, says that the association’s professionals are being trusted with significant management jobs:

We find that our members are taking over more of the total facility management jobs at their venues so we’ve created a membership category for this group and we have developed continuing education in this area.

Budget challenges (apart from in pro sports) have driven consolidation, reports Heck, and organisations such as schools, colleges and recreation departments have looked to STMA members as the most qualified and budget-savvy staff to take on FM responsibilities.

Despite the budget squeezes, Heck reports that communities in the US are positive about providing good outdoor spaces for physical recreation and are prepared to pay taxes to support sports fields. The initial focus is on promoting fitness amongst kids and combatting obesity but communities discover that a good quality sports field amenity attracts city and regional tournaments and boosts the local economy.

Some US high schools build multi-million dollar stadiums and these fields become available to the community as well as the students and STMA members are responsible for maximising playing hours on these surfaces.

Heck’s office is busy preparing for the annual conference. Heck says:

We are very engaged with professional development. We help our members be communicators so that they are invited to the table when there are decisions to be made. It’s vital that they are involved in construction projects because STMA members can supervise construction companies who usually don’t have in-house turf expertise.

The four-day conference has eight educational tracks, including hands-on sessions, plus a large trade show. Staff video the sessions and put them online.

We have a huge knowledge centre on our website for members to tap into. All our bulletins are there, including agronomics aspects, safety, and construction and renovation.

The website is increasingly multilingual so that STMA’s international members can use this resource and an international committee works towards including non-US members in the association’s plans. STMA’s outreach programme supports sending speakers to events to provide a sports turf conference track.

STMA members are managing a mix of natural and synthetic fields and Heck says that often the synthetic field is part of a repertoire of surfaces and is installed to take the strain in terms of hours of use, avoiding over-use of the natural fields. STMA members’ management skills are required to balance preparation and usage.

Skill levels amongst turf managers are at a high, often university degree, level – for agronomy, plant and soil sciences, and STMA is helping add the business knowledge so that members can take part in the complete conversation.

STMA represents its members on matters such as safe-handling of chemicals, working alongside the golf course superintendents. The association’s 34 chapters work at a regional level and get involved with local legislation. Heck’s office works with the chapters to help them be pro-active on behalf of members. The association is also developing an environmental certification programme for sports facilities.

Groundkeepers at professional sport venues take STMA matters to their relevant league organisations and STMA has a formal relationship with minor league baseball. Heck says:

Our members in professional sports do a great job. They always manage surfaces for injury prevention and safety. Members view it as protecting owners’ investment in athletes.

She points out how groundskeepers prepare baseball and football fields to the liking of the home team and work alongside coaches, reviewing game-day video to review the exact foot placement of players.

Heck says that sports turf managers at the top level are highly sought after and well rewarded. She reports that Minor league baseball fields provide a nursery for turf managers to move to Major League Baseball but warns that there isn’t a similarly effective pipeline of turf managers for the NFL.