Tech groundskeeper tends Boddy Dodd turf

Jon DeWitt was driving to work one morning in February when he received text messages from two colleagues. They offered their sympathy to DeWitt, Georgia Tech’s sports turf manager, over the football team’s schedule.

“They’re like, Oh, man, your schedule [stinks],” DeWitt said. “I haven’t even seen it. What are you talking about?”

It wasn’t that the Yellow Jackets had a string of tough opponents. Rather, Tech’s schedule included four consecutive home games for the first time since 2006. For DeWitt, who manicures the Bobby Dodd Stadium turf with precision, care and mania, it meant his field would be in for a month-long beating.

This week, DeWitt has nursed the field to stage Tech’s game with Middle Tennessee State before it receives three weeks of relief.

“Just trying to hobble through and look as good as we can,” DeWitt said Tuesday.

Facilities director Shawn Teske calls DeWitt fanatical, passionate and “about the best there is.” According to another Tech employee who can call the Bobby Dodd turf his own, the 57,600 square feet of Bermuda grass overseeded with rye is in most capable hands.

“I think the field is always immaculate,” coach Paul Johnson said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who takes more pride in what he does and spends more time and effort. We’re fortunate to have him.”

Since the home opener against Presbyterian College Sept. 8, DeWitt and his staff have been tending to the field with extra care. A grass field cut to 9/16 of an inch isn’t meant for 22 large men digging and grinding their cleats into it for three-plus hours on a weekly basis, not to mention the traffic of a marching band and a 1930 Model A Ford Sport Coupe.

“It’s a living thing like you,” DeWitt said. “If you got kicked in the head every day, you can take it here or there, but eventually it’s going to catch up with you.”

With no away games or bye weeks, the recovery process has been compressed to get the field ready for four games in 22 days. The maintenance starts almost immediately after the game with a mowing to roll divots back into place, much the same way a golfer does on the fairway. Between Saturdays, there’s also manual divot replacement, two fertilizer sprayings with seaweed extract, multiple waterings and three more mowings. The field typically gets painted Thursday and Friday. The rest is hoping it doesn’t get too cold or cloudy.

“I can do a lot of things, but I can’t control the weather and I can’t control the football schedule,” he said.

DeWitt, 38, has no formal training in groundskeeping and was, in fact, an English major at Alabama-Birmingham. He learned some from his father Chuck, a residential landscaper, and the rest was learning on the job, through an industry organization and, he said, “just whatever else was available.”

He put himself through school by keeping the grounds at a private school in Birmingham. In 2000, the Wesleyan School in Norcross hired him as a groundskeeper and English student teacher. The school was mostly looking for someone to tend its campus but was willing to let him help teach middle-school English to see if he wanted to pursue it, DeWitt said.

After a year, DeWitt chose taming shrubs over shrews.

“I was like, Yeah, teaching is not my bag,” he said. “I need to be out growing grass.”

DeWitt, married with twin girls, was hired at Tech in 2007 and has been taking care of the turf at Bobby Dodd and Tech’s other grass fields since then. His easygoing demeanor masks an obsession over the green stuff.

He calls the pursuit of a flat, emerald-green playing surface an addiction. He shoos away visitors who step on the turf and loathes the camps and their many feet that stampede Tech’s fields in the summer. To nurture the ryegrass seeds, for example, he has been watering the field in nine-minute cycles several times a day. Young grass needs to feed on a different schedule in the same way an infant does, he explained.

“Through the rain and the clouds and the snow and the equipment breakdowns and the personnel problems, it all comes back to you’re chasing that green grass,” he said. “That’s it.”

Saturday, there’ll be one more trampling of his field and then it’ll just be him and his staff mending and nurturing it until the Boston College game Oct. 20.

Said DeWitt, “We should look beautiful by then.”

28 comments Add your comment

gt1012

September 28th, 2012
4:32 pm

gt1012

September 28th, 2012
4:37 pm

I’ve been on that field before and it is glorious. wonderfully kept! although we don’t always say it, I hope DeWitt understands how much fans appreciate his work.

Ken Sugiura

September 28th, 2012
4:40 pm

gt1012 – well done. and he does excellent work. agreed.

G.P. Burdell

September 28th, 2012
4:43 pm

I took notice of this during the UM game, the field looks as great as it ever has! It looked great on TV as well. Keep up the fantastic work Jon!!

Coach

September 28th, 2012
4:54 pm

In the fall of 1969 (I believe) the Falcons had to play a game or two at Grant Field because the Braves were in the playoffs. There were also the High School Playoffs and the Freshman games – by the Georgia game Grant Field was raw dirt. Long way from what we see today. Grant Field really looks good.

DRad Fan

September 28th, 2012
5:24 pm

DeWitt does a great job. The field always looks great on TV and when you are at Bobby Dodd.

Supersize that order, mutt

September 28th, 2012
5:29 pm

He definitely does great work. The field looks fantastic. Give him a thanks from the fans next time you see him, Ken

fuzzybee78

September 28th, 2012
5:33 pm

Ken well done! Thanks for a piece on the guys behind the scenes.

Thanks Jon for making Grant Field a safe and great looking gridiron!

Portmanteur

September 28th, 2012
5:48 pm

Jon DeWitt — Georgia Tech’s Marquis de Sod!

Supersize that order, mutt

September 28th, 2012
5:50 pm

@ Portmanteur—–weak but still funny

Road Scholar

September 28th, 2012
6:06 pm

Good job….can you coach the defense also?

ylojkt

September 28th, 2012
6:32 pm

Did you ask him why the field was unpainted for the Presbyterian game? It looked really odd and was immediately noticed when I saw it. I was wondering what is the explanation.

Supersize that order, mutt

September 28th, 2012
6:45 pm

@ ylojkt…..I read after that game that it was unpainted because of the 4 straight weeks of games. I think it was something about not wanting to have to repaint it during that time, and that it could go 3 weeks without having to be repainted, or something like that.

Tokyo jacket

September 28th, 2012
7:52 pm

A well kept field is like good referees: you don’t notice it when it’s done right, but it makes the game much more enjoyable without you even knowing it.

Tokyo jacket

September 28th, 2012
7:53 pm

That said, it seems that Mr. DeWitt is the Ed Hochuli of his profession.

Nate

September 28th, 2012
7:58 pm

Can this guy play defense??

1 4 GT

September 28th, 2012
8:39 pm

Great job Ken & Jon. Ken for the good reportage & Jon for the great playing field. LOL @ the questions about his coaching & playing abilities re Defense.

Max Sizemore

September 28th, 2012
9:05 pm

Great idea for a story, Ken.

GTGirl

September 28th, 2012
9:33 pm

Thank you Ken for writing about our GT football field and the fine man who keeps it looking good!
Now Go Jackets!

Really?

September 28th, 2012
9:35 pm

After the hapless bugs lose to MTS what will ken be forced to resort to for a story? The hot dog vendor who graduated from the north avenue trade school? Poor ken. The guy is dedicated and has talent and he is stuck with the worst beat at the ajc.

I hope all the texties have appreciated me taking it easy on them during this embarassing season. I am a true humanitarian.

GTGirl

September 28th, 2012
10:06 pm

Really? Sounds to me like you are on the wrong blog dwag. Your butt sniffing dogs will lose at least one or two games this year too. Maybe even tomorrow if Barbara’s Baby Boy has his way.
Go Jackets!

Supersize that order, mutt

September 28th, 2012
10:08 pm

@ Really? You are the embarrassing “situation.” Even the other UGA fans who post on here say they are embarrassed by you. You’re not even human, much less a humanitarian. You are just an ignorant dwag who is so obsessed with Tech that he can’t let a day go by without posting some kind of drivel on here. Have you ever actually had an intelligent thought in your life?

Supersize that order, mutt

September 28th, 2012
10:09 pm

@ GTGirl……it’s for sure that they will lose in Columbia next Saturday. Spurrier can coach rings around Saint Mark. He will have the dwags leaving Columbia in tears.

Really?

September 28th, 2012
11:39 pm

supersissy why all the anger? You know I have barely commented on the bugs this season because you are on the blogs numerous times every day. I can’t resist a good natured jab here and there though. I shouldn’t tell y’all this and it probably won’t matter anyway, but most Georgia fans don’t REALLY mind the dwag thing.

All dogs wag their tails and everyone finds it endearing. Since few outside of the trade school know or care about where the term came from it’s always a dead giveaway when some bug boy uses the term while pretending to be from another school. More than once I have had actual fans of other schools ask if dwag refered to Georgia’s defense. Of course I said “Sure. Why not?” It was suggested we should change it to dwagger as in defense + swagger.

Anyway good luck against the mighty mts whatevers. As long as the “genius” is the trade school coach you will need it.

ylojkt

September 29th, 2012
12:12 am

Thanks Supersize. It wasn’t very impressive to start the season with, but I guess if you had to pick a game with lower viewing, that would definitely be the one. Looked like a HS field.

Old Gold Britches

September 29th, 2012
7:40 am

Really? “I shouldn’t tell y’all this and it probably won’t matter anyway, but most Georgia fans don’t REALLY mind the dwag thing.”

That is because most think it is correct…………….LOL

Old Gold Britches

September 29th, 2012
7:42 am

Ken, as always thanks for a job well done!

Really?

September 30th, 2012
3:17 am

Wow. I bet I am the only person who correctly predicted the outcome of the game. I won’t gloat though.