By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE —Starting this month, VirginiaSports.com will regularly look at members of the UVa athletics department who, unlike student-athletes and coaches, generally operate outside of the public eye.
Today’s guest is Jesse Pritchard, whose office is in the basement of University Hall. Pritchard makes sure UVa’s athletic fields look their best.
Title: Sports turf manager
Education: Bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture and landscape design, with emphasis on turf management, University of Tennessee, 2001.
Family: Married to the former Amy Fielder. They have a son, Cooper, who turns 2 in January.
Started at UVa: July 2005. Pritchard formerly worked for Sports Turf Management, an Atlanta-based company that took care of athletic fields for colleges and high schools. In his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., he was a lad of 9 when he started getting paid for cutting grass.
Job description: Pritchard and his staff — assistant sports turf managers Tracy Burge and Henry Shifflett, plus sports turf technician Jeff Lawson — are responsible for the upkeep of 15 acres of natural grass and seven acres of artificial turf at the University. You’ll see them working at Scott Stadium (football), Davenport Field (baseball), Klöckner Stadium (soccer and lacrosse), The Park (softball), Lannigan Field (track and field), University Hall Turf Field (field hockey) and several practice fields.
On the clock: Pritchard and Co. are scheduled to work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each weekday. “That doesn’t mean I leave at 3:30,” he says with a smile. “On the day of a baseball game, it could be 7 [a.m.] to midnight.” At a home football game, all four will work. Three are at every home baseball game and two at every home softball game. “We’re working 60 to 70 hours a week in the spring,” Pritchard says.
Little of this, little of that: Pritchard says he likes being involved with the athletics department and, especially, the “variety of the jobs we do. It would be tough for me to take a professional job where I worked on the same three acres of a baseball field for the rest of my life. It’s a perfect job. There’s always inside work and there’s always outside work. It’s great. I could be here for a long time.”
Biggest professional challenge: “In the spring, when there’s so much going on, keeping everything at the highest level we can keep it,” Pritchard says. “That’s the hardest thing.”
When Bono comes to town: The U2 concert at Scott Stadium is Oct. 1. The band is contractually obligated to have its massive stage and all of its equipment off the field by 6 p.m. on Oct 4, Pritchard says. Then, over a three-day period, the playing surface will be stripped and thick-cut sod installed. UVa hosts Indiana at Scott Stadium on Oct. 10.
Condition of Pritchard’s own lawn? “Not as good as all the fields here,” he says with a laugh.