Field of Excellence
Authors: Ron Strahan and Jeff Beasley
Friday nights in the fall find football stadiums filled with excited fans cheering on their local heroes. Few things unite communities like the local high school football team. Louisiana high school football has great tradition and it’s played at an extremely high level. Unfortunately our football fields don’t always match the quality of the athletes on the field. After working several years with high school coaches and field managers it became very obvious that many Louisiana high school football fields were in deplorable shape causing unsafe playing conditions that can lead to potentially serious head and spinal injuries. These poor field conditions included severely compacted soils, excessive weed pressure, uneven playing surfaces, and overall poor turf coverage. In order to address these problems, the LSU AgCenter ‘Field of Excellence’ program was initiated in 2010 and made available to selected high schools across the state. The goal of the program was to provide guidance to improve the condition and overall quality of the participating high school’s football field.
LSU AgCenter experts and parish agents working with the Field of Excellence program provide periodic visits (usually every 2 to 3 weeks) to assess the field throughout the spring and summer growing season. Recommendations are made to improve the overall agronomic conditions (fertility, weed management, etc.) and practices such as core aerification are implemented to reduce dangerous soil compaction problems that can potentially cause serious injuries. Following the AgCenter recommendations dramatically improves the aesthetic appearance of the fields and allows them to recover from excessive use. The program begins in late winter and ends after the final home game.
Most football fields are improved by just getting turf managers to follow simple agronomic practices. However, some fields need more than just improved agronomic practices to get them in playing shape. For example, in 2011 the LSU AgCenter Field of Excellence Program and parish agents, Dr. Nan Huff and Dennis Burns assisted Vidalia High School in the complete renovation of their field. Winnfield High School was completely renovated in 2010 with the assistance of parish agent, Donnie Moon. The Louisiana Turfgrass Association named Winnfield High School as its 2011 High School Football Field of the Year and school received a $500 award for field maintenance.
There were five schools that completed the program in 2011 and six schools in 2010. High schools that follow the LSU AgCenter recommendations and implement the best management practices are certified as an LSU AgCenter Field of Excellence just prior to the beginning of the football season. The schools receive a large banner and sign to display near the field that indicates that the school has participated and achieved the field of excellence distinction. Additionally, the schools are required to make a public address announcement at each game signifying that the football field is an LSU AgCenter Field of Excellence field under the direction of the participating county agent.