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Right As Rain

July 13, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Homeowners know how hard it is to stay ahead of growing grass during the summer.

It always seems like the rain falls in the time slot set aside to cut the grass.

That time slot has gotten slimmer and slimmer this summer, thanks to rainfall that dumped 37.32 inches on Atlanta heading into July. That’s already topped YEARLY totals for 2011 and 2012 and is on pace to beat any level since such records have been kept since 1879.

In June alone, Atlanta received 9.57 inches of rain, easily the highest since 1996 — the previous high had been 7.34 inches in 2003 — more than double the previous two Junes combined and almost six inches higher than the 30-year average.

As average lawns grow to jungle-like proportions, a mitigating factor for homeowners can be that it could be worse it — they could be in charge of the grass facilities at, say, Georgia Tech, with Grant Field, Alexander-Rose Bowl Field, Russ Chandler Stadium, Mewborn Field, the George C. Griffin Track and Field Facility and as well as the golf team’s practice range.

As the daily deluge — this year it seems like multiple daily deluges — fall thinking is, “It stinks to be him.”

Well, that “him” is Athletic Fields Manager Jon DeWitt and while he admits everything hasn’t been coming up roses this summer, things haven’t exactly been coming up weeds, either. In fact, the rain is not nearly as bad as one might necessarily think. There’s actually been a different villain.

“The nice thing for the practice field or the football field, is they’re sand-based, so really the rain isn’t hurting us,” said DeWitt, who has been on the job at Tech since 2007. “It’s all the cloudiness and the kind of lower temperatures. So we’re not growing like we would like to be. It’s really the cloud cover that’s killing us.”

As far as keeping the grass manicured, DeWitt and his crew have been able to get the job done, walking, and cutting, through the raindrops.

“We’ve been able to find windows to get out there and mow,” he said. “If we get an hour break we can get out there, which is what we’ve been doing. So we’ve been able to stay in front. I’d say overall, the cooler temperatures and the cloudiness is what’s been our biggest problem.”

Georgia Tech’s drainage system also is advantageous to keeping the fields in good shape.

“One of the best things about Tech is every field but the track is a true sand-based field,” he said, “So the softball field, practice football field, the baseball field, Grant Field, all have like 10 inches of sand, 100 percent pure sand, over four inches of gravel. So those things just move water right on through.”

The sand-based system allows Grant Field to be truly level, not crowned like some football fields. While the process comes with a hefty price tag, DeWitt feels it’s unquestionably worth the investment and is noticeable.

“The sand-based system is the absolute best. Any other thing out there is basically trying to imitate that performance with less money. But at the end of the day an F-150 can not be made into a Ferrari,” DeWitt said, with a laugh. “People put in like French drains, like plastic corrugated-pipe, the herring bone pattern. The other thing is to have the field be crowned. Pretty much all of the fields at Tech are zero. They’re completely flat because the field drains all the way through so they don’t need it crowned.”

Knowing that the grass surface is safe is a weight off his mind, but that lack of sun is a bigger concern and something neither he nor anyone else can fix. If Dewitt is seen wearing a frown on work days, it’s more because of the psychological effect the grey weather.

“I love my job and what makes me love it is green grass and making it grow,” he said. “So I just get kind of blue and sad when it’s cloudy day after day because everything doesn’t look as green. A red car is not as bright red on a cloudy day as it is on a sunny day. The same thing for the grass. So it kind of gets you down.

“Working it is a physically and mentally demanding job and doing it after getting sprinkled on at 10 in the morning and then just staying kind of wet all day, emotionally, the crew, everybody is kind of grinding.”

DeWitt and his crew’s will simply continue to keep on grind, day-in, day-out, and keep a positive approach regarding the rain.

“It’s got to stop some time, I guess,” he said and laughed. “I don’t know. I look at the forecasts and I think in August the sun’s going to pop out and it’s going to just be blistering hot in August. But that’s my own theory. It’s the weather. Who knows?”

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