Field of dreams

Published 10:12 am Sunday, September 14, 2008

FRANKLIN—The joke is that the field on which Franklin High School plays its home football games should be called “Turner Field,” so named for the man who spends so many hours looking after the care and feeding of the roughly 48,000 square feet of grass.

Butch Turner can often be found on the field at Armory Drive Stadium tending to the deep green blades of grass. The 35-year employee with the Franklin Department of Parks & Recreation —which operates the facility — has become its caretaker, supervising the watering of the grass, while doing most, if not all, of the mowing and general maintenance of the field.

He said football games might be the single biggest draw in Franklin these days, “so you want it to be nice. You take pride in what you do.”

“Oh,” Franklin football coach Darren Parker said before a recent photo day, “It’s great.”

“Turner Field” is also a play on words: The Atlanta Braves play in Turner Field in Georgia, named after Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and other media giants.

The grass, the key to any field or lawn, is something called Tif Sport, a hybrid product produced by United Turf Inc., headquartered along the coastal town of Grandy, N.C., but with an office in Murfreesboro.

The Bermuda-based hybrid “isn’t a seed; it’s not grown from seed,” Turner said, but rather comes in sheets and laid down like carpet in a new home.

“It’s supposed to be better than (artificial) turf,” Turner said.

It was first installed at the Armory Drive site in 2004, the same season Franklin won its last state football championship.

Since then, Turner has been its overseer.

“We have a schedule that starts in early spring (that runs into) football season,” Turner said. Near the end of the football season, which typically can carry into mid-November, the field is “overseeded with rye grass” to keep it green.

What Turner can’t do, however, is spend too much money on the field.

City public works employees installed the sprinkler system in 2004 at a cost of $2,500, following the direction of a local volunteer. Many of the parts were bought locally.

Turner sprays the field to prevent weeds from sprouting, and said he’d like to top dress the area, but there isn’t enough money in the budget to do that.

Many of the other parts needed to maintain the football field also were bought locally, often with an eye open to making a deal here or there.

Twice, for example, mowers have been bought when Cypress Cove Country Club was replacing its mower. The most recent purchase, made about five years ago, lasted until this summer. When it stopped working, there were no parts available to repair it.

“It was so old,” Turner said, “they didn’t make parts for it any more. It started leaking hydraulic fluid” and had to be retired.

The type and quality of the mower is important, Turner said, because the grass has to be cut twice a week at 5/8th of an inch above the ground.

“If it’s not cut close,” he said, “it won’t grow thick.”

TifSport, a trade name, is made to withstand a lot of use, have tolerance during times of drought and have faster repair time while maintaining its turf density, according to United Turf.

“You can go to sleep on it,” he said. “I mean, if you get tired, you can just fall asleep on it.”

Turner has been around Franklin city fields for more than a few years. He played football at Franklin and was part of the undefeated team in 1966.

Later, when he went from playing on the field to maintaining it, “We used to paint it” to fill in some of the bare spots. “Sometimes, I painted it myself,” he said.

The city took over the field and the playground area about 20 years ago, Turner said.

Over time, the wooden bleachers donated by Union Camp were replaced with the aluminum ones being used today, which are moved in the spring to accommodate the baseball team using another portion of the stadium.

Turner, who is an assistant coach at Deep Creek High School, has made a few trips to Murfreesboro to add to the stadium’s lush surface.

Sometimes, if an installation by United Turf results in leftover sections of grass, he’s invited to retrieve those sections and use them to replace the more worn sections of the field, especially along the sidelines where players and coaches often pace.

United Turf claims to have supplied the field for the 1996 World Cup Soccer tournament at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, the playing field for the Durham (N.C.) Bulls minor League baseball team and the Currituck Club golf course in Corolla, N.C., among others, including other golf courses, commercial and residential customers.

But the maintenance on Franklin has fallen onto the willing shoulders of one Butch Turner.

“If you’re gonna put this much time into something,” he said, “you wanna make it look good.”