Groundskeepers hydrate SIU fields

By Gus Bode

Baseball and softball fields have automatic systems, football practice fields must be manually watered

The hot weather and lack of rain this summer have taken a toll on SIU athletes and the fields they play on.

SIU plant and soil science professor She-Kong Chong, a turf grass specialist, said this year has been an especially dry year. He said there is only one way to protect grass from a dry spell like this.


“Irrigation is the only solution,” Chong said.

The athletic department doesn’t hire anyone in particular to tend the playing fields at SIU, so the grounds-keeping crew at the physical plant has to take care of the fields.

Leon Bagley, a grounds foreman for the physical plant, said they have had irrigation systems running on the softball field, the baseball field and the practice football fields. The field at McAndrew Stadium has artificial turf.

Bagley said he and his crew have had to irrigate the fields more often than usual this year because of the lack of rain.

“This year has been especially dry during the month of July,” Bagley said. “We pretty much irrigate them all every day especially when the weather is as hot as it has been.”

The baseball field and the softball field have timed automated sprinkler systems that come on at night when they won’t interrupt day-time activities on the field Bagley said.

The football practice fields, however, uses a manual hose reel style irrigation system, which means it can only be used when someone is around to turn it on. Since football practice is starting this weekend, Bagley said he will wait until after practices to irrigate.


“We are just going to try to do it in between practices simply because we don’t have people on duty at night to monitor,” Bagley said. “If a hose would break or something, it would flood the field. It has to be monitored.”

Bagley said it normally takes two days to irrigate the practice field, but since practice is starting the process will take longer.

“We can irrigate almost half of the field on one pass then we have to move it over and irrigate the other side.”

Bagley said it is important to keep the ground hydrated for the aesthetic appeal of the green grass and the safety of the players. He said if the ground were to dry out, it would be harder and more athletes would be injured.

“We try to keep the ground moist enough that it does have some give to it,” Bagley said. “If the roots get dried out they would go dormant and the grass would turn brown.”

Chong said it is important to know the quality of the water before irrigating. He said people often hook up water lines before they irrigate, but don’t realize that contaminates might be in the water.

“It is good to take a water sample and check it out to see how good is the water quality,” Chong said. “A lot of people think water is water. Some of the water has high calcium, high salt or high pH.”

SIU relies on Hickory Ridge Golf Course for Saluki men’s and women’s golf.

Chong said he and some of his associates from the College of Agriculture have worked with different methods at Hickory Ridge to improve the quality of the turf.

“We do quite a lot of research,” Chong said. “We look into the carbon dioxide content in the golf greens and we also look at the moisture movement. We look at all kinds of aspects and see how to improve the turf growth.”

Chong has done research at Hickory Ridge, and he said he has helped on the Stone Creek Golf Course, the Carbondale Community High School football fields and golf courses at country clubs in Effingham County.

“We have been called in several situations to visit the turf and help with the sports fields and golf courses,” Chong said.

Reporter William Ford can be reached at [email protected]