College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Institute of Applied Agriculture

Three-peat: Terps Win Turf Challenge for Third Straight Year

IAA and PSLA students victorious in national Sports Turf Management Association Student Challenge
Rachael Keeney
Brian Hogan, Scott Hebert, Dr. Kevin Mathias, and Ryan Higgins pose with their first place trophy.
Image Credit: 
Ryan Higgins

For the third consecutive year, a team of students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) took home the top prize in the Sports Turf Management Association Student Challenge. The competition was hosted in Denver, Colorado on January 15th.

Each year, students from two- and four-year colleges and universities across the country compete in the STMA Student Challenge to test their knowledge and practical skills in the sports turf industry. Winning teams receive a $4,000 cash award that benefits the institution’s turf program.

The turf team from UMD consisted of Institute of Applied Agriculture (IAA) student Scott Hebert, IAA graduate Brian Hogan and Ryan Higgins, a senior in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. IAA instructor Dr. Kevin “Doc” Mathias and Alex Steinman, Campus Recreation Services Field Manager, served as the team’s coaches.

This year’s competition was Hebert’s first, Hogan’s second, and Higgins’ third; having been a member of the triumphant team the past three years. A fourth teammate, James Franck, unfortunately fell ill the night before the trip, and was unable to attend.

“When we found out we only had three people on the team we were a little worried,” Higgins recalled. “So when we had free time away from the educational seminars, Doc and Alex started asking us how we were going to split up the information that our fourth teammate was responsible for.”

Mathias and Steinman had been prepping the team since October; putting together practice exams, study documents, and offering hands-on experience.

“Doc does a great job of getting us ready and putting together a team he thinks can win,” Hebert said. “He never takes it easy on us and I think that is the main reason we have been so successful.”

During this year’s challenge, the team was given 30 minutes to put together an irrigation design using pipe, valves, and sprinkler heads using a diagram. Multiple choice and short answer responses were considered, as well as the correct identification of eight different grass seeds, which UMD alone aced with perfection.

“My favorite memory was when they called the 2nd and 3nd place teams… [because] I knew we probably won it,” Higgins remembered. “When they called University of Maryland, I turned to my right and gave Doc a big hug and celebrated with my teammates. [Having] our team be called first these past three years is probably the best feeling that anyone [can] get- nothing beats it.”

It was a close call for the reigning Terps, who edged out the team from Penn State University by just 1.5 points.

“Three in a row, no one can take that away from us,” Hogan said. “I'm passing the torch on to Scott, and I do expect a fourth.”

Due to graduation, Hogan and Higgins will not be participating in next year’s competition. However they, along with Hebert and Franck, will be participating next month in the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) Collegiate Turf Bowl, which the Terps also won last year. The team will try to earn a repeat championship February 26th. 

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