There was so much going on at the Sports Field Management Association’s 33rd Conference and Exhibition — held Jan. 17 to 20, 2022, at the Savannah Convention Center in Savannah, Georgia — it was impossible to get to everything, but it sure was fun trying.
Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the conference was the 41-year-old organization’s rebrand from Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) to Sports Field Management Association (SFMA). We knew something big was up when a drumline entered the convention hall on Tuesday to make the announcement with a bang.
Along with the new name reflecting SFMA’s modern identity as a champion for all workers in the sports field industry, the organization has a new logo, a new website, a new vision for the future, and a new tagline — “Where the Game Begins.” Conference organizers also screened a heritage video showing how the organization has evolved during its four decades of service to the industry.
The event was jam-packed with things to do — fundraisers, educational sessions, discussion panels, trade show, business meetings, student challenge, and annual awards. SFMA’s recap video captures all the highlights.
As always, Ewing was proud to participate, and it was great to connect with colleagues from throughout the industry in person again after last year’s virtual conference. Here’s how it went:
Raising Money for a Great Cause and Rehabilitating a Playing Field
On Monday, Carolinas Regional Manager Jeremy Bohonko and I hit the links, playing in separate foursomes in the golf tournament benefitting SFMA’s Safer Athletic Fields for Everyone (SAFE) Foundation. My team of Clark Cox, Jimmy Simpson, and Brannon Powell won the tourney with a crisp 62 (-10). Other fundraisers benefitting SAFE Foundation that day included a bowling tournament and a live auction.
A group of conference attendees also gathered that day at Mother Mathilda Beasley Park on Broad Street to help Project EverGreen renovate the Chatham County neighborhood park’s baseball field.
In all, 70 volunteers worked at the field. For more on how Project EverGreen gives back to communities across the country with help from organizations like SFMA, visit the nonprofit’s website. You can even nominate a greenspace in your community that’s in need of revitalization.
Educational Sessions and Discussion Panels
The week was filled with discussion panels featuring industry experts as well as educational sessions in nine tracks — baseball, construction, environmental and pest management, facility management, industry developments, professional development, synthetic, turfgrass and soil management, and water. Topics in each track were plentiful.
We attended Tuesday’s opening session, Labor of Love: Strategies for Overcoming the Labor Shortage, an eye-opening state-of-the-industry panel discussion.
That morning, I moderated the Understanding the Value of STMA’s Best Practice Document panel discussion featuring Victoria Wallace, University of Connecticut Sustainable Turf & Landscape Extension Educator; Jason Bowers, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Department of Parks & Recreation Sports Turf Supervisor; and Ben Polimer, Town of Weston, Massachusetts Fields & Grounds Coordinator.
The trio detailed how sports field managers can use SFMA’s best management practices (BMP) on their fields to protect the environment and to elevate professionalism in the industry.
I also attended Thursday’s Baseball Field Expectations/Maintenance on a Tight Budget session with Andy Ommen, head groundskeeper for McLean County, Illinois, PONY Baseball. He discussed safety concerns at the youth/school level, best practices to keep fields playable, and how to motivate athletes to take care of their positions.
Meeting and Greeting at the Trade Show
On Wednesday and Thursday, Ewing’s Missy Crowe and Rick Clelan joined me, Jeremy, Kevin Scott, and Raul Gonzalez at trade show Booth 613. We enjoyed great traffic at the booth, handing out product information and catalogs, and answering numerous questions from customers on the supply chain and how it impacts our end users.
Seeing our fantastic customers and industry partners face to face for the first time since the 2020 conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, was a big highlight for us. We got to catch up with old friends and make new friends over conversations about how they’ve fared in the last couple of years. We also got to visit with many of our suppliers to further our relationships with those companies.
Getting Inspired at the Annual Meeting
One of the highlights of the conference for me was the keynote speech, Inspired Leadership in Challenging Times, by retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Craig Whelden during Wednesday’s annual meeting and lunch.
It was an excellent presentation about his career and how it unfolded from leading a small platoon to leading an entire company, the challenges with family, movement in the Army, and retiring and unretiring.
He also shared what he learned about why communication, delegation, and accountability are critical; outlining organizational vision, operating style, and personal quirks; the value and risks of goal-setting and leaving a legacy, and the importance of trust and balance in your life.
More Inspiration at the Awards Banquet
Thursday wrapped up with an inspiring and emotional reception and awards banquet, which kicked off with a song by Ewing customer Chad Price of Carolina Green and Dr. Mike Goatley of Virginia Tech that put a smile on every face in the room.
On the trade show floor, Jeremy Bohonko presented awards to the winners of Wednesday’s Student Challenge, sponsored by the SAFE Foundation, founding partner Hunter Industries and supporting sponsor Ewing. Seven two-year teams and 15 four-year teams competed for $5,000 awards in each division.
Four-year winners were Purdue University Team 204 (first), Penn State University Team 301 (second), and Penn State University Team 401 (third). Two-year winners were Penn State University Team 101 (first), Kirkwood Community College Team 202 (second), and Mt. San Antonio College Team 104 (third).
For more on SFMA’s awards programs and a list of winners announced at the banquet, click here.
We appreciate everyone who joined us at this year’s conference, and we look forward to sharing what we learned and the rest of our industry knowledge with you throughout the year.
We’re already looking forward to the 2023 conference, scheduled for Jan. 16 to 19 in Salt Lake City, Utah. We’ll see you there!