Search All Resources

Customer Spotlight Brandon Ecker And Mt. Vernon High School

March 7, 2017 | Categories:
November 14, 2016 at 11:20 am

A few months ago, the plush varsity football field at Mt. Vernon High School was more mud than grass. Continuous rain, followed by intense play on a flooded field, had taken its toll, and, with several more football games to go in the season, a plan to fix the field had to be created and implemented quickly. With painstaking effort, the help of experts, and the backing of his administration, Brandon Ecker, Mt. Vernon’s Athletic Director, began to turn the battered field back into the plush field Mt. Vernon was known for. Here’s how Ecker brought his field back from disaster.

Mt. Vernon High School has always had an excellent athletic program. Last year, the boys’ sports teams combined to win the all-sports award for the Hoosier Heritage Conference and all of their varsity teams had winning seasons. More recently, the football program finished the season with yet another winning record, extending their winning streak to six years in a row, while reaching all the way to the sectional final.

With excellent programs, it makes sense that Mt. Vernon would also have excellent sports fields for those programs. In fact, Mt. Vernon has 2 baseball fields, 2 softball fields, 3 soccer fields, and 3 football fields, all of which look excellent. Mt. Vernon’s athletic director, Brandon Ecker, has always appreciated the quality of Mt. Vernon’s athletic field grass, even when he worked at other schools. “You don’t often see really, really nice grass fields when you get into late September and October, but Mt. Vernon’s grass has always been that way.”

Other people have also commended on the great conditions of the fields. During soccer regionals in October, Ecker had people from surrounding cities come up to him and comment on how nice his field looked compared to how rough theirs were at that point in the year.

Varsity game field in May 2016.

Keeping athletic fields looking excellent doesn’t come without its challenges, though, and this year the challenge came in the form of rain, large amounts of rain. Ecker explains, “Last year we were fortunate; we never really had rain that fell on the day before or the day of a game. This year that wasn’t the case. We didn’t just have rain; we had torrential downpours that just flooded us. And this year, week two is what did us in.”

Fifteen days prior to the home game on August 26th, 7 ¼ inches of rain fell on the field. Then, on the day of the home game, another 2 ¼ inches of rain fell on the field. All that rain was just too much for the field to handle.

When they cleared the field at the end of the game, the amount of actual destruction was jarring. The field was like a cow pasture with 3 to 4 inch deep ruts, which cut through the hash marks all the way up and down the field.

Varsity game field after the 2nd week home game.

After seeing the full intensity of the destruction, Ecker wasn’t sure what could be done to help save the field for the rest of the season. “I was standing out there at about Midnight, looking at my field,” Ecker said, “I had a lot of emotions because I was looking at it dumbfounded and I did not know what the approach was going to be to fix it.” He did know he wasn’t alone in fixing the field, however. He had two professionals in his corner with extensive experience regarding problems like this: Stuart Cagle and Jamie Mehringer.

Stuart Cagle is the Vice President of Operations at Advanced Turf Solutions and serves the needs of Mt. Vernon’s sports fields. Ecker said, about Stuart, “I can’t say enough nice things about Stuart Cagle; the guy is a genius when it comes to turf management and he is diligent in his job.” Jamie Mehringer is President of J&D Turf. He had previously completed great work on a baseball diamond, pitchers mound and home plate area for Mt. Vernon, according to Ecker. 

Cagle, Mehringer, and Ecker didn’t waste time discussing options to fix the field. Cagle reviewed the field over the weekend and talked through the situation with Mehringer on Sunday. On Monday, August 29th, all three men gathered on the field. Mehringer had a great deal of experience with sports fields and the destruction that could happen on them, but he had never experienced destruction as bad as this.

The first solution to the problem was flattening the field by rolling it, which may seem counterproductive. Mehringer said, about rolling, “While it may seem incorrect, using a 1.5 ton roller as the playing surface begins to dry will smooth the surface quickly. Following rolling, aerification and overseeding are necessary to achieve 100% coverage.” Ecker cleared his schedule for that Tuesday (August 30th), and double rolled the field for 4 ½ hours.

Varsity game field after rolling (close up)
Varsity game field after rolling

The next step was heavy seeding prior to the next home game. On September 2nd, they seeded 500 lbs of sunrye, and the kids helped with aerification by “cleating it in” during two home games. An additional seeding took place five days later on September 7th and, fertilizing with ATS 16-28-12 at 225 lbs/Acre took place on September 14th. Ecker didn’t expect the field to recover so quickly. However, it only took one month for the field to change dramatically. Ecker stated, “from the stands, it looked like solid grass coverage. When you went down to the field, however, there were some bare spots, but it was quickly growing back in at an impressive rate.”

Sept 4th, 2 days after ryegrass seeding
Sept 8th, 7 days after ryegrass seeding
Sept 11th, 10 days after ryegrass seeding
Sept 13th, 12 days after ryegrass seeding

What they thought would be the final solution involved treating the field with core aerification (¾” tines and double aerification between the field numbers), seeding again with Barenbrug HGT 80/20 and topdressing with sand on September 21st.

Sept 21st, after core aeration, topdress and seeding

Just when the field finally recovered, on September 30th, it rained again before the Mt. Vernon football team had another home game. More work had to be completed to get the field looking closer to its usual fall best, mostly spreading ATS 16-28-12 on the field at 225 lbs/Acre.

At the time of this interview in late October, Ecker had just visited the field and was excited with its progress. He stated, “It is remarkable how far along its come in such a short amount of time.” He believes a few key things made the biggest difference in the short turnaround time.

Varsity game field on Oct. 22nd

First and foremost, he said his amazing, professional help and administration made the biggest difference. “It’s been the help of Advanced Turf Solutions [Stuart, Jamie, and J& D Turf] along with my administration’s support, that’s allowed me to continue to make this field as good as possible.” In addition, he stated having professionals, like Stuart and Jamie, provide him with their expert opinions on what to do and having an administration that understands the importance of ensuring the fields are in good shape for the kids are a large help.

Managing traffic and reacting quickly to the situation, which means making a plan and implementing it as soon as possible, also made a big difference, according to Ecker.

Having experienced this issue and having it end in success, Ecker does have advice for other Athletic Directors when it comes to keeping their grounds maintained and as ready as possible for bad situations that may come their way. His first bit of advice involves obtaining professional expertise and learning. He explains, “If you’re looking at maintaining quality grass fields, unless you’re an expert, get the advice and the help of someone who is. They know more than you do.” In addition, he said, “You can just write the purchase orders and be done with it or you can learn about how to take care of your fields and do little things yourself, which may make your current year better than the previous.”

His second piece of advice is to set aside money for field maintenance. He relates, “Understand that it’s going to cost money and either allocate that money from your ticket sales and concessions or fundraise for it to make sure that you are providing the safest facility possible. The number one thing we want to make sure we do is make sure our kids are not at risk of injury that’s avoidable. And so the safest solution to that is put the money into where you’re going to be playing.”

His third piece of advice is to spend money on routine maintenance to keep your field maintained and ready for a bad situation. “The reason our grass is so plush is because there is no weed growth. Treating it regularly has made that grass stronger, so, just that regular routine of treating it has kept it from being a problem that you see in a lot of places.”

After a turbulent few months for both the Mt. Vernon High School Football field and Ecker, both are now able to get some much-needed rest. Time will tell exactly how well the field will look in spring, but with the hard-fought effort of Ecker, his school administration, and his team of professional help, we have a feeling it will look excellent. Go visit in the spring and see if we were right.