Soldier Field’s groundskeepers face rough climate, tough customers

Two days before each Chicago Bears game, head groundskeepers John Nolan and Ken Mrock test the field according to NFL protocol for field safety, checking hardness and traction in 30 different places, and submit the data. They rate the grass based on required criteria including percentage of ground cover, softness, and shear strength (how well the grass holds up under spiked cleats without breaking).

Soldier Field groundskeepers fertilize quite a bit and mow almost daily during the growing season. “We push the turf to grow as fast as it can and use the best varieties of grass we can find,” says head groundskeeper John Nolan. Kurt Hoffman, assistant groundskeeper, is shown.

Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, Chicago’s Soldier Field faces brutal winters and sweltering summers. Groundskeepers work year-round to maintain a competitive playing surface for the Chicago Bears in all weather conditions. “The stadium itself presents challenges as far as sunlight, wind, and heat,” says Head Groundskeeper John Nolan.

Although the public/private partnership to maintain Soldier Field is high profile, Chicago Bears Head Groundskeeper Ken Mrock says it’s not unique. “The art is in the way we approach it. We each understand where the other side is coming from.” Mrock and Soldier Field Head Groundskeeper John Nolan were Chicago Park District employees for many years.

“There’s a science to maintaining sports grass and turf for the modern athlete,” says Ken Mrock, head groundskeeper for the Chicago Bears. “We don’t just throw down grass seed and hope for the best.”

The groundskeeping crew at Soldier Field is responsible for staging a full calendar of events throughout the year. Besides football, the venue hosts concerts, fundraisers, and other sports including Chicago Blackhawks hockey.

Chicago Bears Head Groundskeeper Ken Mrock and Assistant Groundskeeper John Berta are responsible for maintaining the team’s indoor and outdoor practice fields at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill.,(shown here), and making sure the summer training site at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., is in top condition

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