Even on a scorching day in early summer, the field at Beaver Stadium is a carpet of lush green grass amid the concrete and steel of the empty stadium. No yard lines or end zone paint will appear for several months. Standing near midfield is the man responsible for keeping the turf in shape.
As director of outdoor facilities at Penn State, Bob Hudzik and his crew maintain the most pampered grass in Happy Valley. This hot June afternoon, Hudzik graciously shares some of the techniques used on the field during tours of Beaver Stadium, a popular part of the Penn State Alumni Association’s Traditional Reunion Weekend each year.
“People always ask if we paint the grass to get the striped effect,” Hudzik tells tour groups. “We don’t. The alternating light and dark green bands are the result of mowing the grass in a different direction every five yards. Only the lines and end zones are painted.” When the game is being televised, he said, the crew paints everything twice so that it appears brighter on TV.
Other than mowing and painting, the rest of the action is below the surface. The field has been improved over the years to deal with the downpours that can send players slipping and sometimes keep the Blue Band in the stands. The crown—the noticeably higher point in the middle of the field that sends runoff toward the sidelines—was added during a major field renovation. Following that, Hudzik and his crew also drilled thousands of small holes and then filled them with sand so that water drains more quickly to the layers below the sod.
Some of the field’s improvements were in response to a 1993 game against Rutgers, infamously known as the “Mud Bowl.” New sod had been laid during the summer of 1993 but had failed to take root because of a turf disease. Although the field was covered during the days of rain before that game, it continued to rain once the tarps came off. The players’ cleats dislodged most of the grass during that increasingly muddy afternoon. Hudzik’s crew had to replace the entire field with new sod before the next home game.
Just two years later, Hudzik faced another challenge when 18 inches of snow fell on Beaver Stadium the week before Penn State’s November 1995 game against Michigan. “First, I went out and bought every snow shovel I could find,” Hudzik said. “Then we rigged a bunch of them together and pushed the snow off the tarps protecting the field.” Teams of volunteers—including inmates from a nearby prison—helped Hudzik’s crew clear the stands. Although more than seven tons of snow was hauled out of the stadium, the only way to deal with the remaining snow was to pack it under the seats.
The current sod was last replaced during the 2005 season but Hudzik and crew can replace the entire field in just a few days if necessary. The sod, grown at a turf farm in New Jersey, comes in giant slabs four feet wide by 30 feet long and weigh approximately 1,200 pounds each.
Although there are no noticeable changes to the field this season, fans will notice some improvements to the stadium. New LED ribbon boards now run the length of the end zones on the north and south deck facings. A new sound system at the stadium’s concourse and ground levels will make it easier to monitor the game while getting hot dogs and soda. And new lighting will improve the brightness on the field during late afternoon and night games.
The turf and the improved facilities get their first test on Aug. 30 when Penn State opens the 2008 season against Coastal Carolina.
(Photos by Andy Colwell)