The Mark Escandon University Sports Service Award, named after Seattle University’s former head athletic trainer, originated in 2006 to honor an individual who has gone above and beyond in their service to the Seattle U Athletics Department. For the past two years, both an internal and external honoree has been chosen and for the first time, in 2013-14, a group was honored with never a more unanimous decision than honoring the Seattle U grounds crew.
Four of the most prominent contributors to the Seattle U field and grounds crew include grounds and landscaping manager Shannon Britton, senior gardener DC Clausen, gardener Peter Larson, and lead field specialist Kevin White. With nearly 50 years of combined experience at Seattle U, these four and their team make irreplaceable contributions to the Seattle U athletics community.
“I had no idea we were nominated, but that’s pretty cool,” White says with a smile. “I think that’s the first time we’ve received an award from athletics as a department, so that’s pretty special. It’s nice that we’re considered part of the athletics team as well.”
Britton adds, “I think it’s really great that the staff was recognized for their service. It’s mostly behind-the-scenes work they do with the exception of the relationship on the field with the coaches and student-athletes, but a lot of what they do day in and day out is not necessary seen.”
“The guys put a lot of time and effort into learning the technical things they need to learn because we have two state of the art fields, so it really requires elevation of their own professional knowledge and work ethic to keep them at this level,” Britton continues. “Being recognized for that really means that the coaches, student-athletes, and events staff is noticing, so that means a lot.”
The crew credits the incredible coaches of Championship Field and Logan Field sports – Julie Woodward, Pete Fewing, and Dan Powers – and student-athletes they have the opportunity to work with as Larson notes, “They take ownership. They’re as proud of the field as we are and that’s really cool to see. Everybody’s on the same page and that’s really refreshing.”
Highly lauded for their work during the 2014 Western Athletic Conference softball tournament when rains threatened to seriously delay or even cancel the tournament, the team made it possible for the tournament to continue.
“That was a long weekend, but I thought it was great,” said White, who supervises the work on both athletics fields. “I thought the whole thing went off really well and everyone worked together, despite the challenges of the rain.”
Clausen adds, “It was fun seeing and working with all the different teams. It’s nice to have a great field that they can play on that looks really nice and it’s a good way to represent the university.”
At one point near the beginning of the rain delay, several members of opposing teams ran onto Logan Field to help the Redhawks pull out the giant tarp which covers the infield.
“I think that’s probably one of the greatest displays of teamwork I’ve ever seen,” said White.
Championship Field, especially, has garnered high praise from outside the University, named 2013 Field of the Year from the Sports Turf Managers Association, due in large part to the hard work of White and Larson.
These accolades are because of “two words: Kevin White”, Britton credits. “I don’t say that to embarrass him, but the program he’s developed is extraordinary and impeccable. He’s created something special and unique, using as much organic and sustainable methods as is available – lots of new technology and innovative science.”
The team has also won several awards, within the state and nationally, due to their commitment to keeping Seattle University grounds and athletics fields organic and pesticide free, something that surprises many recruits and visitors to campus.
“I think a lot of recruits don’t realize the grounds crew’s mission is to be an organic and pesticide free campus,” Larson explains. “We meet some of them on the field and I try to tell them that first, and it surprises them, so it’s kind of an introduction to the rest of campus. We’re pesticide free and we’re an organic campus. It surprises a lot of people that our athletics facilities have the same mission as the rest of campus. I like that we don’t make an exception because it’s an athletics field.”
Championship Field also attracts several well-known national and international soccer programs for training and other special events while in Seattle including Manchester United, Clint Dempsey of the U.S. Men’s National Team and Seattle Sounders, and most recently, Tottenham Hotspur.
White admits, “I think it’s really cool when professional teams come, but I think the biggest gratification for us is seeing how happy it makes our teams and how much enjoyment they get out of that.”
Adds Larson, “We’re providing a safe and playable surface for Seattle University, so you know you’ve done a good job when you see people using it and enjoying it.”
“And it’s become quite a recruitment tool, as well, for the coaches,” Britton says.
The crew hopes that the fields are not only a part of the Seattle University community but the greater Capitol Hill community as well.
“The fields [and surrounding tracks] put a face to the university in very prominent locations in Capitol Hill and the university has put a lot of funding, design, and effort into framing those fields and giving them a face lift so that people will want to engage there,” Britton explains. “They’re open during the day and to the community unless there’s an organized event there, which is pretty important.”
A major improvement, field lights, were added to Championship Field during the fall of 2013, due in large part to the generous donations of Seattle U supporter and former member of SU’s board of trustees, John Meisenbach.
“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and tell me how great the fields and track look,” Clausen says. “And it’s great having the lights now and being able to use the field at night. What a great bonus that is to drawing people in.”
With the 2014 men’s and women’s soccer seasons nearing, the crew looks forward to a challenging but exciting opportunity as Seattle University will host both the women’s and men’s WAC soccer tournaments on back-to-back weekends in November.
“Everything that we did in the spring up until now through the rest of the year will all be preparation for that,” White tells. “We did some pretty intense work at the end of the spring season where we basically stripped the field off and reseeded it and almost started from scratch.”
“There are a few other things we’re doing, including using a state of the art machine that injects air into the soil. Later in the fall, we’ll do another process that actually injects sand or some refined dry material into the soil, and that will help with drainage so if we do get some of those heavy rains that fall usually brings, we’ll be able to handle it.
White concludes, “It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s nothing we’ll cower away from. We’ll just take it on and do all that we can with the resources we have.”
If the success of the previous season’s conference softball tournament is any indicator, Seattle U athletics will continue to impress its guests and looks forward with confidence due in large part to the hard work of the field and grounds team.