Labor of Love: Maintaining Wallace Wade Field

From summer heat to fall kickoff, Facilities' staff keep field in top shape

When the Duke football team takes the field at Wallace Wade Stadium this Saturday, their gridiron battle against University of Virginia is certain to last at least a few hours.

But what fans may not realize are the dozens of hours spent every week prepping the field by Duke's Facilities Management Department. From turf care to painting, up to eight employees spend their workdays during the late summer and fall making sure Duke's football field is ready come game time.

"During the summer, we're doing everything we can to get the field ready for September, from fertility to aerating and top dressing with sand," said Scott Thompson, sports turf and athletic grounds supervisor. "It's pretty amazing to see where we come from to where we get it for kickoff."

A key to maintaining the 79,000-square feet space is the grass itself, Thompson said. Duke planted a hybrid Bermuda grass breed in Wallace Wade 15 years ago and hasn't needed to reseed since. The quality of the grass allows it to grow strong in the summer and stay healthy in preparation for the football season. Typically, it's only watered through the field's irrigation system once a week on Tuesdays, unless the weather forecast calls for rain. Thompson, who worked at the Wilson Country Club in Wilson before coming to Duke five years ago, said he only needs to take a walk on the field to get an idea the turf's moisture level and plans accordingly.

At the start of each week, athletics grounds crews are on the football field around 7 a.m. Monday, mowing the grass to 5/8 of an inch. Facilities may mow the grass up to five or six times by Wednesday, when grounds crews are joined by Todd Allen and Brian Williams of Facilities' paint shop to begin marking yard lines and painting words and logos on the field's end zones.

Doris B. Jordan
Along with maintaining turf, grounds crews paint boundary lines and end zones at Wallace Wade Stadium. Photo by Bryan Roth.

Prior to the start of the season, a 20-feet tall plastic stencil is placed over the end zone area and paint is filled in. In each space, painters spray paint "DUKE," which features letters up to 22 feet tall and 21 feet wide.

Facilities' staff use from 100 to 150 gallons of environmentally-friendly paint each week, which takes from two hours to more than a day to dry, depending on weather. During the cold, rainy days of late fall, Thompson noted it's harder to get paint to dry fast.

"I've ruined a lot of uniforms," he said with a laugh. "It's easy to get things dry and ready during the early fall when it's sunny and hotter outside."

Even though Thompson and his crew may make it tough on players' uniforms, Tony Sales, assistant director of athletics for football, said the maintenance of the football field is a first-rate effort.

"Not only do Scott and his staff take pride in the appearance of the field but they also make sure that the conditions of the field are at a high standard for the safety of all student-athletes," Sales said. "The staff is always a step ahead in what needs to be done in order to keep the field in great condition for home football games and throughout the entire year."