Many thanks to Mr. Charles Boehm for this fantastic piece:
Md. turf guru makes history as keynote at top European groundskeepers seminar
By Charles Boehm
WASHINGTON – The U.S. soccer community often looks east to Europe for information and inspiration, and the game’s leading groundskeepers tend to do the same.
But this week an American turfgrass guru will be the star speaker at one of Europe’s biggest meetings of professional groundskeepers, sharing the philosophies and skills he’s developed over 15 years of managing sports fields in this country’s heartland.
On Wednesday, Maryland SoccerPlex sports turf manager Jerad Minnick will deliver the keynote address at the European Stadium and Safety Management Association’s head grounds manager seminar in Porto, Portugal.
ESSMA is a partner organization of UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations) and Minnick can expect a warm welcome as he discusses the “grass field revolution” he sees unfolding across the sports world amid new technologies for growing, maintaining and regenerating natural surfaces.
“We need to keep growing innovation and spreading a positive message about the possibilities of grass fields,” Minnick told SoccerWire.com via email over the weekend. “The more idea-sharing and technology we employ, the bigger the possibilities become.
“My keynote is taking that a bit further to encourage and illustrate the importance to ‘think different.’”
While such appearances tend to suggest peak mastery in one’s field, Minnick approaches his work from a humble, curious perspective, regularly praising his European counterparts’ high levels of expertise and ingenuity. So he’s making practical use of his trans-Atlantic trip by visiting a long list of top stadiums and sports facilities in England and Spain over the course of two weeks.
Minnick visited with his colleagues at London’s colossal Wembley Stadium, home of the English national team, and attended the NFL game that took place there on Sept. 29, then hustled through an ambitious itinerary that included the homes and/or training facilities of the Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday football clubs as well as the Headingley Carnegie and Twickenham rugby stadiums, the Sports Turf Research Institute and St. George’s Park, the chief training center of the English Football Association.
And on his way to Portugal, he also stopped in at Real Madrid to visit Paul Burgess, a friend who serves as “chief of pitch maintenance” at the Spanish powerhouse.
It’s a turf pilgrimage of sorts that’s become an annual practice for Minnick, who routinely works wonders on the SoccerPlex’s showcase stadium, Maureen Hendricks Field (home of the NWSL’s Washington Spirit), as well as the 21 high-quality fields that surround it.
“The best part of visiting colleagues is how warm and open they are,” he wrote to SoccerWire.com. “It’s just a lot to have an American come in and want to talk and share when they are in the heart of the season and winter preparation is taking place. For example: Mr. [Anthony] Stones at Wembley had just hosted American football the night before. Mr. [Paul] Ashcroft at Emirates [Stadium] was hosting training for the Italian team [Napoli] Arsenal was playing the next night in Champions League.
“Every training ground was either hosting training or preparing for training. The Leeds Rugby guys were preparing for a big game that night. Etc, etc. And for me, that’s what is most helpful; everyone being open and sharing ideas when under the highest demands. Every field I saw was in immaculate shape. And every head grounds manager had a positive and driven attitude.”
Though three of his his facility’s fields feature artificial turf, Minnick is a devoted advocate of natural surfaces and urges his industry to put aside old ideas about the levels of traffic and use that grass can bear.
“Several head grounds managers around the world are proving that so much more is possible, many times at LESS expense!!” Minnick explained.
“Ultimately, my keynote is about the bright future for our industry…Soon the answer to the questions about grass fields will turn from ‘Grass can’t take it’ to the question instead being, ‘How many more events can we manage this year?’”
With the phrase “Evolution is changing the answer. A revolution is changing the question,” as his mantra, Minnick hails the work of several European companies who are designing specialized new methods and equipment to maintain top-quality grass fields that allow for more hours of play – and under more demanding conditions – than ever.
“Any industry improves by sharing ideas and communicating,” he said. “Our industry is the same. And the field quality across the UK illustrates that.
“[Apple co-founder] Steve Jobs talked about how important it is for people to collect new experiences and learn other perspectives in order to create innovation. Well, when these guys open their time and share and show me around, it hopefully leads to more innovation for SoccerPlex and for American grass fields.”