On Thursday morning, Karie Linsenmeyer woke up and began thinking of what she needed to do about her Stillwater High softball team’s practice.
She saw light rain falling outside, where her Lady Pioneers were about to practice for the upcoming season, which begins in less than two weeks. Rain can be a coaching nightmare, but luckily for Linsenmeyer, her husband gave her a simple reminder that set her worry at ease.
“We’re definitely not going to have to worry about rain as much,” Linsenmeyer said. “This morning, my husband left before me, and I called him and asked if it was raining. I told him I hope the field is OK, and he said, ‘You have turf.’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re good.’”
The turf is something quite new to Linsenmeyer and the SHS softball team. It’s less than a week old.
The Couch Park field was renovated this summer and the turf infield was officially installed and completed Sunday. One day later, the Lady Pioneers were practicing on it.
It’s given the old home for SHS softball a new look. The infield dirt is gone, but the new addition will be on display for fans Aug. 19 when Stillwater hosts Union for its home opener.
“It absolutely cleans it up and gives us a surface that’s a lot easier to prepare,” SHS athletic director Tucker Barnard said. “It’s going to be a great situation for our girls. We’re committed to having facilities that are comparable to the other 6A schools.
“We want to compete and have the best. This was a step down that path. Several of our other facilities are some of the best in the state, and this helps put our baseball and softball on a more level competitive playing field than what we had before.”
Linsenmeyer added that several Stillwater opponents have already installed turf fields, so it won’t be a completely new change for the Lady Pioneers this fall.
“There are other schools that have them,” Linsenmeyer said. “On our schedule, Broken Arrow has a turf field, Ponca City has a turf field and we play in a tournament in Choctaw and they have a bunch of turf infields. It’s starting to come around more and more, but we’ll definitely be one of the few.”
The turf infield has a handful of benefits for the teams and coaches. One specific benefit fans might think of immediately is the turf drains better than the previous dirt infield, making it possible to play games on days when it rains, or after heavier rains.
Of course, the outfield is still grass, so it could still have standing water after heavy rains, but the turf infield makes it easier to avoid postponements due to rains.
The biggest benefit to Linsenmeyer and her staff is the lack of infield work before and after games. This new addition will save her an immeasurable amount of time during and after the season.
“If you have all of the money and the resources in your hands, of course you probably want a regular, dirt playing surface,” Linsenmeyer said. “If you don’t have all of the resources and the help and all of those things to maintain it, this is a no-brainer. I literally can come to the field for game day, put on my shoes, maybe sit in a chair for a minute, put a lineup out there and go.
“Whereas, on a normal game day in the past, you’re looking at two hours of field prep time, cleaning yourself up and then focusing on the game. It’s a no-brainer as far as that is concerned. All of the hours I’ve put into this field, in the offseason and summer, I no longer have to do.”
Not only time, but money will also be saved by adding the turf to the field.
“We’ll save a lot of man hours,” Barnard said. “There is a lot of time and money that goes into upkeeping those fields, with the mowers and equipment. Our facilities guys, grounds crew and coaches spend a lot of time out there. Then, there is also a lot of water used on the fields. This is going to make things a lot easier and a lot better.”
While the maintenance will require much less work, there is still some that needs to be done on the turf field.
“We have a sweeper that I haven’t used yet,” Linsenmeyer said. “You need to do that a little bit to even up the little black rubber pellets. You want to move those around. Right now, the rain is actually good, because it’s helped those settle a bit. You have to maintain the high-traffic areas.”
In late February, renovations at the SHS baseball stadium at Couch Park were completed. Those included a new fence and a turf infield.
Those were made possible thanks to donations from Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy, as well as OSU baseball coach Josh Holliday and Pioneer great Matt Holliday, who was recently announced as an assistant coach with the OSU baseball program.
“Baseball was getting something really nice, so they wanted to make sure we were compensated in that way, as well,” Linsenmeyer said. “They asked, and I was like, ‘Heck yeah.’”
Barnard further explained why the softball turf field was paid for through the school district’s money, not donations.
“Title IX requires that our men’s and women’s sports are being treated fairly and similarly and equally,” Barnard said. “That was an improvement we were able to make, where we didn’t have to do it on the baseball field. We basically got two for one on our money. It was a pretty good situation for us to make that change in softball.”