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September marks the second season Duke Football will play at the newly renovated Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium. Preparing the field for players, however, is a yearlong, arduous process. We spoke with Scott Thompson, Superintendent of Grounds at Duke University, on exactly what it takes.
How long does it take to prepare a field?
12 months. It’s a process. Our field staff works non-stop in preparation for the field. If it’s not painting and mowing it in preparation for a game, it’s doing the aerification, soil work and surface smoothness to make the field safe and firm but soft enough to accommodate players and prevent injury.
How do you get it ready for game day?
On game week, we’ll mow it on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before we put a drop of paint on it. Then we’ll start painting on Wednesday. The painting operation takes two days. We leave Friday open for the paint to dry or to do touch up work. If it’s an early game [on Saturday] we’ll try and get the field mowed on Friday to clean up all the footprints or tire marks. But if it’s a late game, we’ll put a final mow on the field Saturday morning. Preparation for the next week starts right after the game ends. We’re back on the field as soon as 20 or 30 minutes post game cleaning it, filling divots.
Is there a science to keeping the field just right?
We haven’t gotten into it at the NCAA level yet but we do it here. We check firmness to make sure it’s not too soft or too hard. The NFL requires their facilities to do that test 72-hours prior to kickoff for field safety. We do a similar thing, we want it firm enough so the field holds up, but soft enough to mitigate injuries.
How do you soften it up?
Natural grass fields usually aren’t overly firm; soil gives more than a synthetic field. We’ll try to get water on it midweek before painting so we have a good moisture content. When the moisture is right it holds up better during the game.
What about all the rain?
That is a very challenging. When we did our renovation, we made sure the drainage was more than adequate and our root soil material could take a lot of water. Our field can drain between a foot to 15 inches of water an hour. It would take a tremendous amount of water for that field to be saturated. It’s a luxury on the collegiate level. We made sure we had all the infrastructure that if we did get a steady rain, we could play right through it and it wouldn’t affect the field playability or player safety.
How big is the staff?
We have a grounds manager that does nothing but maintain the athletic facilities. He has a crew of seven fulltime employees. Not only do they do Wallace Wade, they do our soccer and lacrosse stadium, all the practice facilities and the landscape that surrounds them.
How often do you water?
Fortunately, with all the rain we’ve had we’ve hardly had to water at all. When we’re going through the maintenance process over the summer, we use a little more water. When we get closer to the season, we want to start stressing the plant. We’ll limit the amount of water so the plant is pushing roots deeper into the surface to get water. It will end up making the field stronger from a stability standpoint.
Are there certain plays that stress the field more?
Teams that rely heavily on a rushing attack, when their main focus is running the ball, you have more wear and tear on the field. There’s a lot more activity on the line of scrimmage. It wears more than a passing game. We work hard so the field can hold up.
Can anyone visit the field?
The field is closed to the public. To try and maintain a high-end facility we need to monitor the use. We try and limit the amount of traffic we have on the field. Our football team doesn’t even walk on [it] when they go to and from practice. They respect the facility.
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