From the notebooks of Greg Fruth: “Like preparing the field for the Super Bowl”

Bob Snyder patrols Kiwanis Field during his tenure as its caretaker.

Greg Fruth, a self-described “Slicer football pack rat” and a retired La Porte High School teacher, has compiled a series of stories gleaned from countless hours of research. He shares his love for LPHS football with WNLP readers by allowing us to post his collection. This is the ninth in the series. Below is Greg’s 2009 interview of Bob Snyder, the caretaker of Kiwanis Field, home of the Slicers. 

Bob Snyder

     Kiwanis Field Stadium is the best stadium in the conference. Hands down. Surrounded by homes and trees, Kiwanis has the Wrigley Field feel, an intimacy with its surroundings. As the fall progresses and those surrounding trees turn color, Kiwanis basks in those colors. Such a stadium demands a caretaker, someone who loves sports, someone who specifically loves Slicer Football. Kiwanis Field has that caretaker, Bob Snyder. Bob has worked for La Porte Community Schools for 27 years, 12 years as the caretaker of Kiwanis Field. Recently, Bob shared his love for Kiwanis Field.

     “I played football (for the Slicers) up until my freshman year. I got hurt on Kiwanis Field. We were playing a Michigan City team, an 8th grade team. I filled the hole and made the tackle. The whole team piled up on me. I hurt my knee.” Bob’s playing days were done.

   “How’d I get the job at Kiwanis? I was out at Crichfield and a utility position came open. That’s what it was going to be. I knew I’d be interested. I love football. I love sports. I’d be outside, so it was the job for me.

   “I started the second game of the season. I was trying to learn the buildings. I’d never lined a field before. The middle of the field was dirt. I learned on the job. Nobody really trained me. See, I really love what I do. I was a fanatic. There were several really good websites. Purdue University, it’s great. It’s geared for the weather in this area. I just grab every article I can. If I have a problem, I’d get on those websites. We’ve talked with a couple agronomists. Bill Valatka has come out to the stadium. Steve Taylor works at PNC. He’s the head of the grounds. He’s come a couple of times when I’ve called him.

   “The field when I got there was probably 20 percent Joanna bluegrass (poa Anna). It has no roots. It has seed heads. It’s a great bluegrass for golf greens but not for football fields. But it just keeps multiplying. Every year it’s just kept multiplying. Eleven or twelve years later the entire field is covered with it. We actually one year in the fall sprayed it, took three sprayings. Over the winter it was supposed to kill it off. I had to wait a little longer in the spring to reseed. I usually try to reseed in the winter, but I have done it in the first of March, as soon as I can get out. I had to wait a little longer, and I put seed in the ground, and the poanna came back out and competed with the new seed. The poanna seed can lie dormant for 30 years and then pop. Other teams can have it and bring it in on their cleats. I’ve read extensively about it because it drives me crazy. When it gets hot and dry at all, it just droughts and turns yellow. You can’t keep enough water on it because it doesn’t really have a root system. Unfortunately it starts to shut down now (the end of July). You can almost set your calendar to it.

   “With football starting in August, the field always looks bad until the cooling down in September. I can water through the evening — you don’t want to water at night because that brings out a whole ‘nother set of problems. We don’t. That’s one application I insist we do. It’s an expensive application. Fungicides and pesticides are expensive. If you get grubs, then you have a disaster. But the poanna is the main problem I’ve battled for the 11 years I’ve been here.

   “I watch the weather. Everything I do is dictated by the weather.

   “See, it takes all week to get ready for a Friday night football game. I have to make sure the restrooms are clean. I have all the out buildings to get prepared. The funds have been cut so I quit doing the end zones. That was a whole extra day. That would have been on Thursdays. I’d paint the LP and the end zones on Thursdays. Still, if we can do the end zones or the fifty-yard line, I try to do that.

   “On game day I get here at 6 in the morning. I leave there around midnight. On Fridays Dick Dye and Terry Pointon come and help me put numbers down. During the game, I’m basically there for anything that comes up. I make sure everything is stocked in the bathrooms, take care of any needs Ed (Gilliland, athletic director) may have. Once the game starts, It can be crazy or it can be all right. One of the good things — I do get to watch the football game. I always make myself available. I always carry my radio. You never know what’s going to happen. If somebody gets hurt, I make sure the ambulance can get in and out.

   “During the season I keep the field mowed. We’re scheduled to feed every so often. And detaching and aerating — minimum, twice a year, in the spring and in the fall.

   “A lot of people go by Kiwanis. I can be in Al’s, people know who takes care of our fields. When it starts to shut down, they come up to me and ask, ‘Wow, what happened to the field?’

   “I’m obsessed with the place.

   “These state-of-the-art stadiums that are coming through, yeah, the facilities are awesome, everything is excellent, but they just seem sterile. Kiwanis sits in the neighborhood. The neighbors are great. People like the Hannons keep their eye on the place. If something goes wrong, they give me a call. The neighbors are awesome. You don’t get that with the sterile stadiums out in the middle of nowhere.

   “When the trees start turning colors, there’s an ambience. Walk down those tunnels, I mean, that’s awesome. It’s a very well-built structure.

   “(The lettering on the field) are just stencils. We bought stencils at one time when Ed Mullins was here. I went to all the away games. Valpo was doing it. I asked, ‘Is there any way we can do that?’ So we ordered the stencils. They’re like 20-foot stencils. They’re plastic. You roll them out. You tack them down. Then basically, you dot them out and fill them in.

   “The last time I priced, the white paint is about $60 or $80 for five gallons. I cut it in half. You can get about 25 gallons total just to line. When I was doing end zones, that was another 25 gallons. It’s not cheap.

   “All the coaches make me feel like I’m part of Slicer football. For example, Coach Stafford calls me Coach Bobbo. ‘Hey, Coach Bobbo!’ That’s the thing that I guess I didn’t expect when I bid on this job — it’s like a family. I mean, everybody just welcomed me with open arms. All the coaches are fantastic. We’re actually friends. I do things socially with most of them. And that’s what’s great.

   “There’s been times I’ve thought about it (transferring to another job). You get frustrated. I thought about it, but I’d miss it, I really would. All the coaches have my cell phone number. Coach Schellinger has my number. He knows if something goes wrong, just give me a holler. But once again, it’s the family tie-in. They notice what I do and they tell me. It means a lot to have people notice what you do. It really makes me feel great when I’m out somewhere, like the store, and someone comes up and says, ‘Hey, the field looks great!’ That tells me they know who’s taking care of the field. That means a lot to me. I do take it seriously. I am obsessed with the place. I want every nut and bolt to be perfect.”

   When Bob was asked ‘What’s the best aspect of being the caretaker of Kiwanis Field,’ he replied, “Again, I go back to the camaraderie that I share with the coaches and the people out there. I get along with everybody. The kids are respectful, they really are. One of the best years was when Zach Sliwa and Jake Stafford and all those guys were there — that was a great group. I remember being out on the field on a Thursday night, I’d come back because I wasn’t going to get everything done that I wanted to get done for Friday night, and those guys came across the field and said, ‘Bobbo, thank you so much.’ The kids notice, if they want to tell you or not. I think that has been part of the program — respect other people and have some manners.

   “It’s a lot of work. I’m obsessed with the place. I wake up on Friday mornings, and I feel like I’m preparing the field for the Super Bowl.”

4 Responses to “From the notebooks of Greg Fruth: “Like preparing the field for the Super Bowl””

  1. Bill Proud

    Jan 19. 2021

    Another great article Greg . I really enjoy reading them.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Kasey Masepohl

    Jan 19. 2021

    Remember Bob from being a janitor at crichfield. Glad your doing good and loving your job. Since graduating i have too, became a grass nut. I know all about the poa annua problem. What a pain in the butt. Great article thanks!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Ken Buckmaster

    Jan 21. 2021

    Great article Coach Fruth. I worked with Bob-o for about 20 years. Bob-o and the Friday night crews would clean up after games. We had it down pat. The grounds and field always looked great. Bob-o’s favorite time was setting up for graduation. It was always perfect. Thanks Hannons and the Fri. night crews. Talk to you soon my friend. BUCK

    Reply to this comment
  4. Corey

    Jan 23. 2021

    The unsung heroes of our athletic teams! Great article Greg!

    Reply to this comment

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