When fans show up at Martin-Savarese Stadium, they are greeted with a beautiful field.
The grass is always green; there isn’t much evidence of mud or previous rain; and the paint job is immaculate.
But what a lot of fans don’t realize is just how much work is put into making that field be the pride of Alexander City.
For Benjamin Russell’s Friday home games, the maintenance crew at Alexander City Parks and Recreation Department hits the field by Tuesday to start its paint job. The crew has to repaint all the hash marks, the lines around the field, the yard markings, the end zone, the BRHS logo in the middle and more.
“We start on Tuesdays and we’ll finish sometimes Friday,” Parks and Rec director Sonny Wilson said. “There are a lot of things we have to work around, like we still have middle school and JV playing. We have youth football going on, so we have to stop at a certain point and make sure the paint is dry. We try not to paint the Wildcats (in the end zone) or the middle until late Thursday or Friday, unless there’s a Thursday game.”
There’s also a lot of preplanning that goes into it. Wilson said he sits down with Nick Hand and Brian Riddle to come up with some design ideas, and they try to build each week so the first week is the least elaborate and each home game gets a little more intricate.
“We just look at what the big games are and we really look at what kind of season we’re having,” Wilson said. “If it’s a good season and we need this one to win the region, we’ll say, ‘This week, we’re going all out.’”
It’s also important to plan ahead because unless there is a stretch of a few away games in a row, once something is on the field, it’s pretty much there to stay. That was especially the case this year when there has been virtually no rain since the start of the season.
“Once you put the Wildcats in the end zone, you pretty much gotta have that all year,” Wilson said. “If we have a three-week break between home games, a lot of times they will disappear so we look at that at the beginning of the season and say, ‘OK, we can stay with this theme up until here then we can come back and change it to something totally different.”
Hand is typically the one who does most of the painting, and he, Wilson and Riddle have done a ton of elaborate ideas in the past. They’ve mimicked Tennessee, which has a checkerboard end zone, and Notre Dame, which is simply diagonal stripes. They also try to get input from the senior Wildcats, who Wilson said are typically fans of the Bengal stripes inside the Wildcats.
But Wilson and his team have to factor in cost along with how elaborate they can get. College and professional teams have templates, but that isn’t the case for Alex City. That’s why this year the BR logo is in the middle of the field. Wilson said when he does want to do something more elaborate, like the Wildcat logo, he enlists the help of local artist Charles Forbus.
The cost also adds up. According to Wilson, it can be upwards of $2,000 to $2,500 per paint job. In just white paint, Wilson said the crew uses between 10 and 12 five-gallon buckets of paint per game.
And all that work is just what the parks and rec department does on game day.
To have that field in that kind of shape, there is a ton of work that goes into it. The field is made of Bermuda grass on top of sand.
“During hot days, you have to watch it because it can really dry out and burn the grass,” Wilson said.
The field has to be aerated and chemicals must be sprayed to keep the weeds from growing. It is given a top dressing at the beginning of the summer which helps level out any uneven portions. It is watered three times a day and cut three times a week to be kept at the optimum level of 5/8th of an inch.
There’s also a lot of unforeseen problems the maintenance crew has to be on the lookout for.
“The hardest thing is keeping the weeds out,” Wilson said. “We fight the weeds then we fight the worms. We get the grub worms that’ll dig down in there then the birds come. If you ever see birds on the field, you know you got worms. Right now, we’re fighting armadillos. They dig around and tear it up, so we’re trying to get them off the field.”
But in the end, it’s all worth it. Wilson said late Alex City Mayor Charles Bailey, whose namesake lives on at the Sportplex, had a vision for what the field should be like and he wants to always remain true to that.
“The ultimate compliment we got was when we named the stadium Martin-Savarese, Mr. (Ron) Ingram (who is the AHSAA director of communications) said playing surface-wise, this is the nicest field in the state,” Wilson said. “When other teams come in and the coaches tell us that, it makes you feel good to know all the work the guys put on the field that people notice it.
“There’s not many communities around with 15,000 citizens that have something like we have. I always thank Mayor Bailey for having that vision and he made it happen. No excuses, he was going to make it happen. Now we feel like it’s our job to keep it up the way he envisioned.”