Balancing Act

As if it's not nerve-racking enough managing turf that appears on national television on a weekly basis each fall, Andre Bruce has to function as a fast-change artist each weekend, switching from soccer to football in a 14-hour period.

“It's quite a challenge,” says the 28-year veteran sports field manager of the Kansas City Chiefs Arrowhead stadium. “Television notices everything.”

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The Kansas City Wizards professional soccer team plays on the Chiefs field from April through October, overlapping with professional football for at least two months. Generally, the Wizards play Saturday night and the Chiefs play Sunday afternoon during September and October.

“Everything depends on the weather forecast,” says Bruce, who has managed the sports turf complex for 15 years, after serving as assistant manager for the previous 13 years. “If we have decent weather, we just paint over the soccer lines with green paint — not too heavy or it will stand out — after the soccer game on Saturday night. Then we paint the football lines in white before the football game on Sunday.”

But if rain is in the forecast, all bets are off. “If they predict rain, we paint the football field early in the week and paint the soccer field on top,” he adds. “That way, we are prepared for the worst-case scenario, where it basically rains all weekend. In any case, you can't play football without the lines.”

ADDED STRESS LEVELS

To add to Bruce's stress, the stadium also hosts several college football games each fall, as well as miscellaneous concerts. Depending on the season, the football field is 419 bermuda-grass or perennial ryegrass. “We're in the transition zone here in Missouri, so we can go with either cool-season or warm-season grasses,” adds Bruce, who took turfgrass management classes after the stadium switched to natural grass from artificial turf in 1994.

Bruce also maintains two football practice fields, the soccer practice field and three acres of common areas for a total of eight acres of natural grass. In addition, he manages an indoor, synthetic turf facility on the complex and a four-field training camp in Wisconsin.

“My program starts in February, when we prepare the stadium field for soccer,” explains Bruce. He aerifies with a John Deere Air Core 2000, making holes about ½-inch deep. Then he applies almost 1,000 pounds of pre-germinated ryegrass, using spreaders to force it into the aerification holes. After irrigating and fertilizing, Bruce covers the field with a winter blanket until early March.

“We seed again with 500 to 600 pounds of dry seed for a total of 1,500 pounds of ryegrass seed,” he adds. “Except for mowing, we leave the blanket on until soccer games start in April. Then we fertilize every 10 to 14 days, and water and mow regularly until June, when we have a mini camp for football right during soccer season.”

RESODDING FOR THE SUMMER

Directly after mini camp, Bruce hires a company to cut out the entire field of overseeded bermuda-grass and laser grade the field. Another subcontractor resods with bermudagrass.

“The field is only sodded with bermudagrass from June until September, when we overseed again with perennial ryegrass,” he explains. “At that time, we put down another 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of ryegrass because of all the use our field gets during the fall. Between soccer, Chiefs football and college football, it really takes a beating!”

By early November, Bruce strips out the bermudagrass and puts in a new field of thick-cut bermuda sod overseeded with ryegrass. “We worked with Seed Research of Oregon to develop our own ryegrass blends,” he notes. “We can lay the thick-cut sod and play on it the very next day, if necessary. When the bermudagrass comes out of dormancy the next spring, we are ready to go.”

If the Chiefs make the playoffs, Bruce strips the field again and puts in a new one just for the post-season games. So the same field could be revamped three different times within a year.

OVERSEEDING PRACTICE FIELDS

The practice fields don't get quite the amount of attention the stadium field receives, but the center portions of both Chiefs practice fields are overseeded each fall. “The centers get a lot of wear-and-tear with practices three days a week,” says Bruce. “The coach doesn't want the centers bare so we overseed them with ryegrass.”

The next spring, it's hit or miss whether the bermuda-grass will come back. If it does, Bruce sprays the field centers with Revolver herbicide to take out the ryegrass and allow the bermudagrass to thrive. Last year, he used Revolver at the rate of 0.6 ounces per 1,000 square feet.

“It worked great,” he notes. “All the ryegrass died within a week. We like Revolver because it gets rid of the competition and helps us transition to our bermudagrass. It definitely saved us some money that year!”

Though Bruce does not overseed the bermudagrass soccer practice field, he uses Revolver on it, too. The field has a problem with Poa annua, and he applies the herbicide in early to mid-April to take it out. “Revolver works well to control the cool-season Poa annua without harming the warm-season bermudagrass,” adds Bruce. “We will definitely continue using it on all three practice fields.”

TRAVELING TO TRAINING CAMP

Bruce stops everything during early May to travel to River Falls, Wis., on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border 35 miles east of Minneapolis, to ready the summer training camp for the team. He stays several weeks to aerify, fertilize, seed and water the four ryegrass fields. Before he returns to Kansas City on Memorial Day weekend, he hires two college students to maintain the fields during June and July.

“I go back up about a week before the team arrives in late July to add the markings and make sure everything is in good shape,” he explains. “The team practices until late August and I remain with them the entire time.”

Bruce doesn't mind the hard work. “I consider it job security,” he jokes. But he does admit it takes a strong constitution to regularly change the stadium turf, while managing practice fields and training camps, as well as battling the unknowns of the weather combined with the pressure of nationally televised games.

“If we would only make it to the play-offs this season, it would make it even more worthwhile,” he laments.

Becky Talbot is a freelance writer who resides in Ambler, Pa.

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