beyond football/with gallery: Michigan Stadium's turf is looking fine, thanks to Deaunna Dresch
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For most of us, Michigan Stadium is chaotic, crowded, noisy, with some pushing and shoving thrown in.
For Deaunna Dresch, it’s mostly a peaceful place.
That’s because she is there at times we aren’t. Usually, it’s just Dresch and her equipment on the field. Even if there are photo shoots, guests, tourists, or other events, it’s empty compared to Saturdays in the fall.
Dresch, the stadium’s head groundskeeper, is getting a bit of a break this Saturday, as U-M takes on Notre Dame in South Bend tonight (7:30 p.m., NBC). The Wolverines won’t be back on their home turf until Oct. 13 against Illinois, and you can bet Dresch will have that turf looking it best before they take the field.
This is Dresch’s eleventh year as head groundskeeper for the stadium, a job she says she loves. You have to believe it when you learn that she has refused offers from major league baseball teams to head up their grounds crews, at a much higher salary.
She said that her daughter, Maesea, 3, and her son, T.J., 2, think she just has fun all day, playing on the field and driving tractors and golf carts. They aren’t all wrong. "I love my job, I love Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan," Dresch said. "I look forward every morning to coming to work at 6."
Besides maintaining the field, Dresch is also in charge of setting up and taking care of special events at the stadium, which take place on the field or in the suites and which have increased to six or more a week.
"One of the things that makes my job special is watching the amazement on the faces of fans and guests when they see the stadium for the first time, and when they understand the importance of the stadium to the university, the city, and to the world of sports," she said.
Dresch grew up in Mt. Morris and has always liked the outdoors, plants, and landscaping. When she heard about groundskeeping jobs, she enrolled in the MSU Sports Turfgrass Management Program for athletic fields.
After graduation, she worked a few jobs, including on the grounds crew at Comerica Park for the Detroit Tigers. Knowledge of her skill spread by word of mouth, and resulted in her receiving a call from U-M to take care of the baseball and softball fields and one football practice field.
Taking the job was a big decision since it meant moving to Ann Arbor and a career shift. She said she would have to think about it. Which she did - for all of one day.
Eighteen months later she was moved from baseball to football. Two classmates have also landed prime jobs as head groundskeepers, adding to the still small list of women in that position. They are Heather Nabozny of the Tigers and Sue Fouty at Michigan State.
Dresch will tell you anything and everything about the turf she cares for. It is synthetic, the infill made of cork, silicone and rubber, and it was chosen after failures with Astroturf and natural grass. It is made by Tarkett and called Field Turf Duraspine PRO since it has a spine to keep the grass standing up and help it last longer.
This turf is sewn by the manufacturer, then transported in many pieces. The cost was roughly $500,000 when installed during the summer of 2010. That’s more expensive than installing grass, but much less expensive to maintain. Its lifespan is eight to 10 years.
It does require some work, however, like brushing, raking, and sweeping. After certain groups use the field, especially the band and cheerleaders, Dresch drags it with a 5-foot-wide magnet to pick up metal, mainly hairpins.
Before a game, she will brush it, in alternating directions every 5 yards to provide that two-toned look. Then she mists the end zones and the block M on the 50-yard line with water, adding a hint of fabric softener to give a nice appearance for television.
If it rains hard during a game, no problem. Dresch turns on the pumps to move the water off the field more quickly and down the drains on the perimeter.
A couple of rules help protect the field. No high heels because they can puncture the turf. This rule was instituted for women attending special events, not for the players. They are quite happy with their cleats.
The second rule prohibits food or drink on the field to prevent stains. During the game, slight exceptions are made. Many on the chain crew like to chew, then spit out, sunflower seeds. Again, no problem. Dresch has a vacuum that sucks them up (the seeds, not the chain gang).
And the players are allowed to drink from the Gatorade cooler with paper cups. "They are careful with it," Dresch says. "They always treat the field with respect because they are aware of how great it is. If Gatorade is spilled, it can be wiped up with a cleanser and some scrubbing."
Gum chewing on the field is also discouraged.
Dresch and stadium staff arrive several hours before game time to get everything set. Then, as soon as the game ends, they pick up the end zone pylons, yard markers and goal past wraps, which otherwise would quickly disappear.
The last thing to happen is a sweep of the stadium by the police. Two hours after the game, Dresch can leave. Until early Sunday morning, that is, when cleanup begins in the stadium and grounds.
After that, the stadium is at peace, and it’s hers again.
Bob Horning, a lifelong Ann Arbor resident, is writing U-M game day stories for AnnArbor.com. If you have a story idea, email email@example.com.