By Josh Neuhart, Sounding Board Staff Writer
It would be a shame to close the book on fall sports without shedding light on the untold story of the grass. That’s right, the green grass. Or more accurately, the story of the men behind the grass – those who transformed Miller Field’s soccer turf from an eyesore into the crème de la crème of the conference.
Meet Jeff Buriff. He is the Grounds Supervisor, a position he has held since he first started working at Grace in 2006. If ever there was a man who loves green grass, it would be Buriff.
“I get excited about really nice turf,” Buriff said. “I get jazzed that we’re dealing with God’s creation.”
So when Buriff, a 1993 Grace graduate, stepped into his role, he immediately recognized the need for change. The soccer field resembled more of a ripped-up kids’ playground than a soccer field. Dirt and divots were the norm. The field was far too hard and the grass was far too thin, even lacking altogether around both goals.
The necessity to change was obvious, but with the current state of the economy, there was no room to add money to Grace’s grass fund. Within the same operating budget, Buriff still had the desire to be the fairy godmother to the ugly Cinderella known as Miller Field.
The breakthrough came this summer. Buriff got his crew into a training session that included a who’s who of big-name Midwest colleges. Buriff, Kyle Alcorn, and Roger Sarber from little Grace
College got the opportunity to brush shoulders with big-time turf workers from colleges like Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Purdue under the instruction of a former turf manager for the Texas Rangers among others.
“These guys knew what they were doing, and they knew how to manage their field for specific sports,” Buriff explained. “We don’t have the same equipment, but we can use what we have. Basically, we can take their ideas and scale it down to our budget.”
So Buriff used that knowledge to incorporate a high-tech, highly organized program for the field consisting of specialized fertilizers, watering programs, and chemical sprays. Another main aspect in keeping the grass pristine was utilizing three practice fields for the men’s and women’s soccer teams to keep the game field fresh. Men’s soccer coach Matt Hotchkin and women’s coach Michael Voss came on board immediately with Buriff’s plan and volunteered to help however necessary. According to Alcorn, this was the first year the game field was not practiced on by either team.
For Alcorn, a former Lancer soccer player and current assistant coach on the men’s team, working on the field is an especially rewarding experience. He remembers playing on the high grass and the ubiquitous divots.
“I want to make this program the best it can be. I want to give back, whether it’s coaching or working on the game field,” Alcorn continued. “It just so happens that my job is to make the grass. I really enjoy it since I played here and have seen the change. Now, I’m kind of jealous.”
When Grace acquired a golf course lawnmower this summer (one they nicknamed “Hot Dang” for its cuts), the vision began to crystallize. The game field could get a daily trim of a few inches. Professional-level field designs and short, accurate cuts added the final wow factor the field needed.
“Once we saw the type of cut we got with our mower, it put us in an extra gear,” Alcorn said. “We were like little kids. When we’re done, we just look out at it. We take pride in it.”
As a result, Miller Field grew into the top turf in the Mid-Central College Conference this fall. Grace’s MCC championship in grass was not noticed by the groundscrew alone, however.
Opposing coaches and fans often made remark, but perhaps the most telling sign was the in how lightly several teams tiptoed across the field to their benches before a game.
“We like to see other schools come and stop at the field, brush their foot on the grass, and reach out and touch it. Grace’s soccer field is kinda sacred ground right now,” Buriff joked.
While Buriff wants to tackle the baseball and softball fields next, the crew faces the challenge of manpower before that comes to pass. But regardless of when that happens, one thing is clear: Buriff and his crew will continue to work with students in mind. His passion burns for serving Grace students and above all in serving God.
“I’d love to be able to say we didn’t have one injury caused by the field, and I think we did that this year. It brings in better recruits, but it’s also safer,” Buriff continued. “Our job is studentdriven. Above all, we want to protect the students and do our work for the glory of God.”
This story was published in the Dec. 10 issue of the Sounding Board, Grace College’s student newspaper.