College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Institute of Applied Agriculture

A New Face, the Same IAA

Max Sturges
University of Maryland team places top three at STMA Student Challenge.
With teamwork and tenacity, the Turf Terps made their way to a top-three finish at the 2018 STMA Student Challenge! Pictured: Alex Steinman, Bobby Blake, Max Sturges, Kurtis Sommer, Brendan Keane, and Geoff Rinehart.

As the Institute of Applied Agriculture’s (IAA) new Turfgrass advisor, Geoff Rinehart faced his first big test as the new coach for the turf teams. For 38 years, Dr. Kevin Mathias advised the IAA’s turfgrass students and coached University of Maryland turf teams to many top placements in national competitions. It was now Rinehart’s turn to step up to the plate and score a solid hit in his first “at bat” during the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) Student Competition on January 18 in Fort Worth, TX.

With Mathias’s retirement, some wondered how UMD’s Turfgrass Management program would fare. Would the IAA be able to remain one of the top turf education programs in the country? The answer proved to be yes.

Preparation for the test-based Student Competition began the first week of October, which also marked Rinehart’s revival of the IAA’s Turf Club. For months, the team trained weekly with Rinehart and UMD’s Assistant Director of Athletic Grounds, Alex Steinman. Both Rinehart and Steinman offered a wealth of industry experience and expertise.

After two months of practice, a team was put together: fellow IAA student Bobby Blake and I were paired with two four-year students, Brendan Keane and Kurtis Sommer. Combined, we had more than 10 years of turf industry experience.

On January 17, we spent the 3 ½ hour flight from Baltimore to Dallas studying. The quick drive to Fort Worth was filled with laughter as we tried to lift the tension prior to the competition. After dropping our gear at the hotel, we headed to the convention center to register and go to a few seminars. We focused on seminars that could aid us in the competition: Athletic Field Drainage from Design to Maintenance, In with the New: BMPs for Regrassing Cool-Season Turf, Turfgrass Insects (which Blake said helped him answer at least three questions on the insect section of the exam), and lastly, Making Better Weather-based Management Decisions. The latter was not only interesting, but also helped us answer two questions on the exam that we may have missed otherwise. Several of us were excited to attend John Mascaro’s Photo Quiz Comes Alive, by the author of the popular photo quizzes from Golf Course Magazine (GCM) and SportsTurf Magazine. For me, that session was a highlight of the trip.

That evening we went to the opening reception and spoke with several IAA turf alumni including Brian Hogan, who as a member of the 2014 and 2015 first-place teams gave us some helpful exam tips. After the reception, we reviewed a few things for the next day’s exam. Classes from the IAA and the 4-year program had prepared each and every one of us, but I could still feel the anxiety in the air—no one knew what was going to be on the exam.

We all woke up early the following morning to get a good breakfast, drink some coffee, and gather our thoughts before the competition at 2 p.m. After reviewing a few last-minute details prior to the exam, everyone was ready to go. We arrived at the convention center 20 minutes early so we could register and wait to enter the exam room. We all agreed one last time to work together as a team. “Unless you’re 100% sure about a question, ask the team and we’ll answer together,” Blake reiterated. We were ready and we all knew it.

^The University of Maryland team, just before the Student Challenge competition.

For 2 ½ hours, we flew seamlessly through the topics of business management, insects, turf pathology, irrigation, math equations, and turf ID. However, one curveball was thrown our way—a physical scenario involving a baseball field pitching mound. Deferring to Blake’s knowledge from his time on the UMD Athletic Grounds Crew, three of us stood around and let him do his thing. We later learned from the exam proctor that we were one of few teams to effectively use the provided equipment to reach the correct answer.

The day after the exam, we went to the trade show floor to admire the new innovations and equipment. It was a great opportunity to make new acquaintances and catch up with old ones. We continued to look at our watches, knowing the results of the exam would be announced at 12:45 pm. We met up at the Hunter Irrigation booth, crossing our fingers for a top three finish. At last, the announcement was made.

“And in third place, Team 423, University of Maryland.”

Wow, what a feeling of relief. Not only had months of teamwork paid off in a top-three finish, but we had placed ahead of both of Penn State’s teams. We were ecstatic. As industry professionals congratulated Rinehart left and right, it was clear that he had passed the test.

With this being my first STMA Conference, the event was a phenomenal opportunity for networking and professional development. The trade show offered new product insights, and the seminars presented business-focused innovations. With three returning students, we are looking forward to an even stronger showing in next year’s competition.

It is needless to say that with the reins in Rinehart’s hands, the IAA’s turf program will continue as a leader in the turfgrass education industry. So look out, first-place finisher Iowa State!

View STMA Student Challenge photos on Flickr.

The author, Max Sturges is a first-year Golf Course Management major in the IAA. He currently works at Worthington Manor Golf Club in Urbana, Maryland and will be doing his internship at Oakmont Country Club in Plum, Pennsylvania this upcoming summer.

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