Sunday, March 22, 2015

Windham's groundskeeping crew hard at work for spring - By Stephanie Coffin

The first day of spring is this Friday, March 20th but with the record breaking snowfall this year how will the school department have the fields and courts ready to start the spring sports season? That’s where Head Groundskeeper Michael DiDonato comes in. DiDonato along with his crew members have set in motion a series of steps that help nudge Mother Nature along in her process of cleaning up winter’s mess.

The fields of importance at this time are the both the softball and baseball fields, along with the tennis courts and lacrosse field 10. When the process of the snow removal started the height of the snow pack was 34”. Warm and rainy days have helped clear some of the snow build up, but DiDonato has other ways to help clear these surfaces. 

The softball field is 90 percent clear at this point. What remains on the tennis courts at this time will melt in the next week or two with the courts’ coloring aiding the sun. They have cleared an L shaped area on Field 10 where the snow typically remains the longest due to the tree shading. The grounds crew is currently working on the baseball field and they have cleared both the pitchers and catchers mounds and placed tarps over both of them. These tarps are used throughout the season to keep the home plate and pitcher’s mound dry from irrigation and rain. 

More clearing would have been done but Mother Nature threw in some warm days and started softening the fields. Once the softening started they were unable to put heavy equipment on the fields, which would have created ruts on the playing surfaces. Tarps have been placed over the plates, thus keeping them warm and dry as they absorb the sunlight which helps heat up the clay underneath. The snow has been cleared around the parameter of the field as far as the snow blowers could through it over the fenced area. 

It’s a tricky situation for the DiDonato and workers to remove the snow because though the weather has been nice on and off, the crew can only work on the fields while the soil temperature is 29 degrees because once the sun comes out the soil temperature can rise to 32 degrees at which point they need to stay off. At this point what has been done has caused minimal damage. 

DiDonato has been in the grounds keeping field of work for 15 years and with the Windham School Department for the last 8 years. Mike says “In my 15 years, I don’t believe one day has ever been the same as the last. In my opinion, you can’t ask for much more than that.” Mike enjoys his job immensely, stating “I get to be outside every day, I get to see instant gratification in the work we are doing, and every day is a new challenge.” When asked “What has been the biggest challenge this season has brought?” Mike said, “We ran out of time and the weather is warmer, just not warm enough to make our efforts really noticeable.” 

Mike has been looking into a product call Black Sand. This product is something that both Saint Joseph’s College has used for the past six years and something that Fenway Park is currently using to help melt the snow faster without damage to the fields. Instead of shoveling or plowing the snow off the fields, they would spread the Black Sand product onto them. The sand’s dark color traps the heat from the sun, melting the surrounding snow, even on days when the temperature lingers around freezing. Mike will be looking further into this product and talking with fellow sports field managers at both the professional and college levels to see what challenges they faced. 

As spring approaches, warm weather arrives and we step out onto those playing surfaces, let’s remember those who have put all their time and effort into making them useable and clean for the athletes.

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