By ERIC BENAC
News Sports Writer
This year’s dry spring and summer weather has led to a tough time for Alpena High School groundskeeper Kevin Mousseau.
Mousseau, who maintains all of Alpena’s athletic fields, knows all too well what a poorly maintained field could mean for Alpena’s athletes.
“Dry field conditions like this make it harder on the kids. You’ll see more injuries, more shin splints and things like that. You want to avoid those problems, but when its been so dry for so long, it’s hard to keep the grass healthy,” he said.
Maintaining eight fields for Alpena is a full-time job for Mousseau. His duties include preparing each field between seasons, daily watering, line painting, locker room and bathroom maintenance and even raising the flag.
“It’s real steady going. I have a few guys that come out and help me a little, but most of it is all done by me. Keeping the fields in good condition requires constant prepping, during the season and the offseason,” Mousseau said.
Two of the most important off-season field prepping duties, are aerating and fertilizing. Aerating helps break up compacted soil, and helps get more oxygen to the grass roots.
Mousseau also adds new soil to the fields every fall.
“I have this machine, that brushes it (new top soil) across the field and helps even it out. This helps add nutrients to the soil around the grass, keeping it healthy,” he said.
Fertilizing during the fall is important, because the fertilizer settles into the roots during the cold months, and stimulates growth in the spring and summer rainy months.
But when rain levels are so sparse, the tricky balancing act of watering the fields falls to Mousseau.
“Kevin does a really good job on the fields, but sometimes Mother Nature gets the better of us. Just when you put a little water on the fields, you suddenly get a downpour. So, you let it dry a little and there’s no rain for weeks, and the fields get too dry,” Alpena Athletic Director Tim Wedge said.
Alpena has a sprinkler system to water its fields. Each field is broken up into eight zones, with each zone getting one hour of watering per day. This sprinkler system is capable of pumping out 150 gallons of water per minute.
However, this sprinkler system is not without its problems.
“It works pretty well, but it’s over 30 years old. Some of the sprinkler heads don’t turn any more, so I have to go out and turn them by hand. We have had a hard time finding parts for it (the sprinkler system), but we just found a company that sells them, so we’re hoping to do some repairs soon,” Mousseau said.
Mousseau has successfully worked around these sprinkler problems in the past, but sometimes he can’t perform his duties. Recently, he was out for six weeks, due to an inner ear infection, and others needed to perform his watering duties.
“They didn’t know that some sprinkler heads didn’t turn, so some parts of the fields didn’t get the water they needed, while other parts got too much,” he said.
As a result, some areas on the fields have grass nearly three inches long. A lush and well-maintained field should have grass about an inch and a half long. Mowing is always an option, but can be tricky in dry conditions.
“We need to mow those tall areas, but some of the shorter areas are dry and brown from lack of water. You can’t just mow the tall areas, but mowing the damaged spots can kill it. Dead grass is hard to replace, so you have to do what you can with what you have,” Mousseau said.
Dry fields also experience problems with run off. When a field is too dry, it don’t absorb water as easily as when it’s more fully wetted. As a result, a sudden, heavy rain storm might lead to minimal water absorption, as most of it will run off the field, and pool along the sides.
Avoiding these problems in such dry conditions is a near herculean task, but it must be done to protect the safety of Alpena’s athletes.
“You got to try to keep the fields as lush as you can. If they get too dry, they get hard. And kids fall down, and they can hit their head on the hard ground, which can lead to concussions and other serious injuries. We really need to minimalize that kind of problem by keeping the fields healthy and well maintained,” Wedge said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.