The sultan of sod

BY MITCH SMITH | APRIL 06, 2010 7:30 AM

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Cutting the grass is only one facet of Tony Senio’s job. That’s good news for the 31-year-old, because he hates mowing.

His work calls for much more than lawn trimming when he tends to some of the most hallowed grounds at the University of Iowa, including Kinnick Stadium, Pearl Field, and Finkbine golf course.

“Our industry gets kind of a bad rap as kind of a bunch of dirty, grass-stained, smelling-like-diesel-fuel type of guys,” he said. “In reality, there’s a lot that goes into what we do.”

Senio has worked at the UI since 2004 as the school’s sports turf manager. He and his crew of eight tend to every athletics field at the university, working countless hours to guarantee each is ready by game time.

“Game day is our game day, too,” he said. “We’re not playing, but whatever happens on that field is directly involved with what we did leading up to it. I’m very particular about trying to make sure that the play of the game isn’t going to be affected by what I do.”

On occasion, his work takes him outside of Iowa City.

As a member of the Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association, he helped get a group of people together to aid with the rebuilding of the Aplington-Parkersburg High football field after a tornado ripped through the Iowa town in 2008 and again after the death of legendary coach Ed Thomas in 2009.

The association has around 250 members, Senio said, and also helps put on workshops for groundskeepers and turf managers across the state.

His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“Tony is a very responsible, hard-working person who is dedicated to his profession,” said Ted Thorn, the Hawkeye director of grounds for the past 31 years. “I would rank Tony on par with all of the first-class sports turf managers.”

Senio was honored as the 2009 Sports Turf Manager of the Year by the Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association. The award is given annually to recognize someone who has shown excellence and made individual contributions to the sports turf industry in Iowa.

“The people who have gotten this award before me are guys that I’ve grown up to respect and have taught me a lot,” he said. “It’s really nice, especially since it’s voted on by my peers.”

Senio said he sees his job as putting out a product. With collegiate athletes continually practicing or playing on each field, constant work is required to repair each product ensure it’s safe, great to look at, and of the highest quality.

What Senio said he really enjoys is hearing the appreciation from the coaches and players. Hawkeye coaches, such as head softball coach Gayle Blevins, have voiced their pleasure for the work Senio and his staff put in day in and day out.

“These guys are meticulous, and Tony is the leader,” Blevins said. “Tony deserves that award. He’s just a wonderful young man to work with. He loves our program, and we love him. And we just feel very fortunate to have a person of his caliber that is our grounds crew leader.”

When he isn’t working on a field, the Hawaiian-born turf manager enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, and he is an avid music fan. He plays the ukulele and sometimes sings at weddings.

The best part of Senio’s job? Knowing that his fields are constantly being recognized in the state because of the stature of Iowa athletics.

“Every Hawkeye team, regardless of sport, is the most visible in their sport in this state,” he said. “Therefore, our fields are the most visible. It’s pressure. It’s incentive. It’s motivation. It makes me work harder, and I enjoy that challenge of being under the spotlight.”

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