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Lavishing Care On A Special Lawn
By GERRY STEELE
Of the Baker City Herald
Freshly-mowed green Kentucky Blue grass and rye grass.
Bright white yard lines and sidelines.
And, a source of pride among Baker Bulldog players and fans for the special care given to Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
Those are just some of the things that make a fall evening at a BHS home football game such as Friday's game with Scappoose an event enjoyed by all. And, it's also a source of pride for the Baker 5J maintenance men who work to make the field one of the gems of the state for high school athletics.
Dan Srack and Ray Merritt are the main cogs in maintaining the stadium playing field and the surrounding facility. It's not a job they take lightly, and is one they enjoy.
"The maintenance crew maintains 50 acres of 5J grounds as well as Keating and Haines," said Srack, who has worked for the district for 10 years, seven with the maintenance of the field. "The field is just part of the picture, but one of the priorities."
When Baker has a home game scheduled on a Friday, Srack and Merritt begin as early as Wednesday preparing the field.
Merritt, who has been with the district five years and maintained the grounds the past four, manuevers a large riding mower up and down the main playing surface. Srack uses a smaller "grasshopper" riding mower to cut the large banks beyond the north end zone. The smaller banks behind the team benches, and the yard lines, are mowed by hand.
"Two days before a game we prepare the field for mowing," Srack said. "We like to do it when it's dry to keep the grass from clumping up. It's usually about a four-hour job to mow the field to set it up for painting. We actually mow the field twice a week."
Srack said once the field is mowed the next day is used to paint the lines on the playing surface. The job gets a little easier as the season progresses.
"The first time during a season the lines have to be painted we have to measure out the field to string it," he said.
"Once it's strung, we use a substance called premo' in the paint the first time. That substance retards the growth of the grass which makes the lines stay longer, and so that they don't get mowed off. And, it helps cut down on the man-hours needed."
Srack said the white lines are "touched up" before each varsity game, usually about four times a season.
To paint the lines, approximately 20 gallons of mixed paint is used per game, or about 80 gallons a season.
"We use two sprayers, and it takes about three hours each time to do the lines," Srack said.
He added that for special games, such as the East-West Shrine game, or Baker's Homecoming, some colored paint also is used.
"We usually have to use about 20 gallons for each of those special games," he said.
For some of the special designs, such as helmets, stars, and "dawg paws" special stencils are used. Srack said for some projects larger stencils are purchased. For others, like the "dawg paws" the stencils are made in the BHS shop, or hand drawn.
And, care is taken when painting the special figures so as not to make any glaring mistakes. But, mistakes do happen.
"The only one I can really think of off hand was at the Shrine game," Srack said. "We were doing circles of stars at both ends of the field. Both circles were supposed to be at the 20-yard lines. After we were finished we went upstairs and looked down on the field, and one circle was at the 20, the other at the 25. But, I don't think anybody even noticed. At least nobody said anything to me."
A year-round job
Preparing the field at Bulldog Memorial Stadium doesn't just happen the week of a home game. It really is a year-round project.
"We've already started with fertilizer to prepare the field for next season," Srack said.
Then, in March or April, the first round of mowing is done, and a general cleanup of the stadium is undertaken. The stadium water system then is usually charged in May to make sure their are no leaks in the system.
"As soon as the grass starts growing we come in and spray for weeds, etc.," Srack said. "Then we roll the field to smooth it out as much as possible."
That process is followed by "slicing" the field aerating the playing surface. Slicing is usually done about three times a year.
Then in June, as the August Shrine game gets closer, a slow-release fertilizer is applied to the field.
"The fertilizer we use lets the nitrogen out slowly," Srack said. "Then we try to slice the field again."
Srack said between 600 and 800 pounds of fertilizer is used annually.
Once the work on the field is under control into July, a work crew from the Powder River Correctional Facility spends about two to three days painting the bleachers, cleaning the stadium grounds, and helping haul rocks and shrubs.
"In July we slice the field again, usually about three weeks before the Shrine game," Srack said. "Then we top dress the field."
Top dressing is done with a machine filled with sand and pulled behind a tractor. The sand fills in any dips in the field, and "makes the field more cushiony, softer," Srack said.
The field is then watered "with a good old-fashioned hose and sprinkler," he said. Watering starts down the middle of the field for approximately eight hours, then down the sides.
"It takes about three moves to cover the field," Srack said. "We water it deep. That's mostly because we don't have the manpower or time to move the water as often as we really need to."
Srack said he hopes to be maintaining the field far into November, or even December, because that means the Bulldogs will be deep into the Class 3A state playoffs.