Battling turf blight on football field at West Jeff

(Posted April 9, 2019)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

A grass destroying remnant of Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005, has slowly worked its way up from the south and is now taking its toll on yards and playing surfaces in Ohio.

On the front lines of the battle is turf expert John Mott, who is putting his years of expertise at the Ohio State University (OSU) to use in the Jefferson Local School District.

Mott, who has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture with a focus on turf grass science, updated the school board during an April 8 meeting on his plans to keep athletic fields in good shape.

“My goal is to improve and enhance the safety of the playing surfaces at West Jeff,” Mott said.

Work started on March 28 with the bulk of the attention focused on the football field. Gray leaf spot, riding on the coattails of Katrina through the air, has infected athletic fields across the nation.

According to Mott, one Ohio college field with turf grass suffered a nearly 70 percent loss. At West Jefferson High School, the damage is considerably less—estimated at 25 percent to 30 percent.

“We’ll improve the stadium field with gray leaf spot-resistant rye grass and incorporate new Kentucky blue grass,” said Mott, who expected to begin seeding the field late last week.

“The other fields look pretty good,” he said.

When asked about the safety of the chemicals used to treat the turf for gray leaf spot, Mott said the field was treated in the past for the same condition.

“What we use is so safe, I would pitch a tent on that field and stay in it,” Mott said.

In addition to being a member of the OSU turf team that maintained the grass at Ohio Stadium before it was replaced by an artificial surface, Mott has served as a baseball coach at the collegiate and high school level, including at West Jefferson.

Board President David Harper said the district is not paying for Mott’s services.

“His salary is being donated by an anonymous donor in the community,” Harper said.

In other discussion, Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library Director Tara McClaskie said the library board is asking the school district for permission to place a renewal levy on the fall ballot.

The original levy, which accounts for approximately 44 percent of the library’s revenue, was passed in 2009 and renewed in 2014. The five-year levy expires at the end of the year.

“We’re working on a very tight budget,” said library board member Steve Johnston. “We are doing our due diligence with taxpayer money. If (the levy) is not approved in the fall, our revenue would be cut in half.”

McClaskie said she expects to return to the school board with a resolution for approval after the library board meeting on April 16.

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