Rivers School

"Tom Irwin has taught me a great deal about turf management"

—Ben McGovern, Director of Facilities, The Rivers School, Weston, Massachusetts

In the world of American amateur sports, there are few secondary school conferences as competitive as the Independent School League (ISL), which includes some of the oldest and most prestigious private schools in New England.

Davis Field at The Rivers School

One of them is the Rivers School, a nearly 100-year-old coeducational prep school with more than 450 students in grades 6 through 12. Rivers’ 53-acre campus in Weston includes 12 acres of playing fields, six tennis courts, and an indoor hockey rink that converts into an indoor field in warm weather.

The Rivers Red Wings compete in 12 varsity sports, many of them with both boys and girls teams, so the fields are in constant use. For Director of Facilities Ben McGovern, providing safe and attractive playing surfaces is a constant battle.

“They put a lot of wear and tear on these fields,” said McGovern. “We use and abuse our fields more than most schools because we don’t have enough fields to alternate around them from season to season.”

Competition in the ISL is as much about the playing fields themselves as what happens on them.

“The athletic director and his coaches give us positive feedback, but they’re very quick to point out anything that’s a deficiency in their eyes,” he said. “They always want to be playing on the nicest fields in the ISL and for the most part they are. But we have one particular field that just takes a beating.”

Ben McGovern had to learn quickly about turf management when he joined Rivers in 2010. He had spent most of his career in construction, first as a carpenter and later as a homebuilder. He was hired primarily for his facilities expertise. In fact, he had built Rivers’ Bradley Hall building a few years earlier. Fortunately, his predecessor at Rivers was Ben Andrews, now Operations Manager at Tom Irwin, Inc.

Bradley Hall

“Before Ben started here, the fields were in pretty rough shape,” said McGovern. “He worked wonders in the three years he was here, whipping them into shape.” McGovern has continued in that positive direction, modifying and expanding the program. “I learned very quickly how important it was to develop and stick with a plan.” He said.

McGovern has a 13-member crew that handles all campus maintenance, including mowing, over-seeding, and irrigation, while fertilizing and pest control is handled by a third-party applicator who follows the plan developed by McGovern and Tom Irwin’s Brian Luccini.

“Tom Irwin has taught me a great deal about turf management,” said McGovern. The experience with those guys has been great. Their team helped me understand what I was up against and what needed to be done.” McGovern has attended several of the Tom Irwin educational programs to learn more about the science behind it all. He is now more confident and more comfortable planning for Rivers’ future.

“Our key goal now is to improve the irrigation,” he said. “Our systems are about 15 years old and not set up well for athletic fields. I feel even if we put more money into products for the fields and get a little more bang for the buck, in the long term, the irrigation will need to be overhauled.”

In the meantime, the turf at the Rivers School is looking better than ever.

Ben welcomes you to contact him if you have any questions about his experience with Tom Irwin: b.mcgovern@rivers.org

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