There’s been a good deal of artistry demonstrated over the years on the athletic playing fields at Carolina: Mia Hamm’s ballet upon Fetzer Field, and “Choo-Choo” Charlie Justice’s mastery upon the green grass of Kenan Memorial Stadium; fireballers Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard’s powerful prowess upon Boshamer Stadium’s center stage.
While artists continue to show their talents upon the turf at Carolina, it’s important to note that their fine-trimmed, grassy canvas is a masterpiece in and of itself, thanks in no small part to UNC’s Associate Turf Management Specialist Casey Carrick and his able crew, including Fetzer Field turf specialist Sammy Jermane.
Carrick and crew are responsible for the condition of the natural grass playing surfaces at Carolina. And they take their trade to another level, “mowing” the extra mile by crafting stunning visual works of art across the fields.
“Mowing’s something we have to do every day,” Carrick said. “So if we can do something really cool with it, we try to. It’s fun, and we really enjoy getting out there and mowing a pattern.”
The result may be checkerboards or other eye-catching patterns, team logos, or iconic imagery.
“Personally, it’s great when a coach comes to you and says the field looks great,” Jermane added, “Like when the men’s soccer coach Carlos (Somoano) came up and said he really liked the bulls-eye pattern on the field. It just really makes you feel great when they come up and acknowledge it; they really appreciate what we do out here.”
“Many Tar Heel greats have stepped foot on North Carolina's Fetzer Field and been fortunate enough to call it home,” Buffalo Brand Invigoration Group associate Steve Perry said in an email.
“Now there are these amazing mowing patterns harbored at this venue (where) Casey … gets to use Fetzer Field as his canvas for field art.”
“Fetzer is home to both the men’s and women’s lacrosse and soccer teams, so it gets a lot of action,” added Perry. “Casey has a full plate preparing the field for battle and adding his personal mowing patterns touch.”
While Carrick oversees all turf fields at Carolina, he gives a lot of the credit to his crews.
“Sammy Jermane is the field supervisor over here (at Fetzer),” he said. “I oversee all the fields, (but) Fetzer is all Sammy. He gets all the credit for that.”
“We have a crew of about seven guys mowing,” Carrick explained. “And some guys are better on certain mowers. We have one guy who basically just mows our baseball infield. Sammy’s at Fetzer, we have another guy, A.J., who takes care of the football practice fields, Kenan is kind of a group effort ... and baseball’s sort of an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ kind of thing.”
Of course, there would be no artistry without a quality medium: beautiful turf.
“Most of our fields look real beat up from the seasons, so we’ll grow the Bermuda back in, and we’ll over-seed again in September and October,” Carrick said. “It’s perennial rye grass and Bermuda — Bermuda in the summer over-seeded with rye grass. The Bermuda is just a base.
Jermane and Carrick both are members of the Sports Turf Manager’s Association.
“That’s where we go to conferences, and they’re really educational, and great ideas get shared,” Carrick said.
With 2,600 members worldwide and 34 U.S. chapters, the non-profit association offers professional development and $250,000 in SAFE scholarships and grants.
With great grass in place, Carrick and crew can begin crafting their cutting patterns onto the fields.
The secret to success is the direction in which the mower moves,” Carrick said.
“The rollers on our mowers lay the grass leaf blades over, and the pattern is just the reflection of the sun off the leaf blades.”
Preparation for tournament play may begin days ahead of time.
“If there’s a three-day tournament on a weekend, we’ll pick a mowing pattern and maybe start mowing that Tuesday or Wednesday,” Carrick explained. “In a perfect world, we’ll mow between each game. Mowing’s a good way to clean a field up, too. We have baskets which act like a vacuum and the rollers which smooth it down.”
As for the geometric patterns that appear on the fields, Carrick said that go-to templates may do in a pinch or when weather’s threatening, but that some new ideas come via research.
“A lot of times, we’ll just look online,” he explained. “We’ll use Google, and we’ll see a pattern. It’s hard to come up with new patterns now because so many have been done, but we’ll watch TV at night and watch a game, and if we like a pattern we see we may tweak it and make it our own. It may be a group discussion, like, “Hey, what do you think will look good today? We’ve got a wipe board, and we’ll even draw it out sometimes.
“For televised games we may try to a little more. We know where the cameras will be positioned, so we may try to angle (a design) a little more toward a camera.”
Carrick arrived at UNC five ago when his predecessor took a position with the Washington Nationals major league baseball team. This fall will mark Jermane’s third season. With all the expertise and experience on Carolina’s turf crew, however, Carrick said some days are better than others.
“Some days, you can just mow a straighter line than others,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know the reason why. ... (If) it doesn’t end up looking like we thought it would, we’ll just change it. If you do a pass you don’t like, you just do another pass in the other direction, and it’ll take it right out.”
Some designs are tougher to mow than others.
“A baseball (was tough),” he offered. “We also tried to mow a flag into the baseball infield for military appreciation day, and there was a lot of measuring.”
“It looked good though,” Jermane said.
“Yeah, a lot of times we’ll have to measure a design out and pull string,” Carrick said. “A lot of the ones that look more elaborate — like a checkerboard — just take longer.”
While some artists are never recognized during their lifetimes, Carrick and crew often see their handiwork on live television.
“We don’t get a ton of TV games, but when we do, we try to make sure to get to a TV and check it out,” Carrick said.
“If it’s on ESPN3, when the game starts, and I’ll go back to the office and find it,” Jermane added.
“And we’re tough on each other,” Carrick said. “If you mow a crooked line, you’re not getting away with it. But, also, if we turn a game on and the Nationals or N.C. State or Duke are playing, we know the people doing that, and we’ll text them and tell them that their field looks great.”
With a lot of freedom granted by supervisors, Carrick said there are a few designs he would like to try.
“A lot of teams will do the skyline of their city,” Carrick said. “The New York Mets did it a couple years ago. We don’t have a skyline to do, really, but everyone wants us to put the Old Well. We haven’t tackled that yet, but we did the UNC logo for the N.C. state baseball game.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that each man should do his job “as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry.”
Here are a handful who have raised turf management to an art form, doing their part — and mower — for Carolina.