Interview with Ben Polimer, NESTMA President
Turf Zone: Hello, and welcome to the New England Sports Turf Managers Association’s January Turf Zone podcast. Today, we’re talking to Ben Polimer, NESTMA president and Fields and Grounds Coordinator for the Town of Weston, Massachusetts. Welcome, Ben.
Ben Polimer: Good morning.
TZ: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, and we’re so excited to hear your vision for NESTMA in the coming year. Can you first give us a little background on your career in sports turf management?
BP: Sure, so I have a Bachelor’s degree in Agronomy in Environmental Science and that has a concentration in turf management. I got that at Delaware Valley College, now Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania. I’ve kind of been all over in the sports turf world as far as jobs and employment. I’ve worked in minor league baseball, I’ve worked at a Little League baseball complex, I’ve worked a grass court country club, I worked for a private school covering all their athletic facilities. And I’ve worked here in Weston just for four years the first week in January.
In Weston I manage all the green space in town. That’s about 50 acres of managed turf, sports turf, lawns, landscapes. I’m also responsible for synthetic turf, all our maintenance in town as far as tree trimming around school buildings. I’m also involved with any site work, site management, sidewalks, parking lots, driveways. Basically anything on our school campuses as well so it’s an encompassing job, to say the least. And any project management if we have any large project sites, I’m the project manager for it. Of course, that’s synthetic turf, construction, painting projects, anything like that, I’m the go-to person for both schools and town property.
TZ: Wow, it sounds like you have a ton of free time to serve as the NESTMA president. What led you to become involved in the association, and how long were you there before you became involved in being a director or officer?
BP: Sure. So I started being a part of the association in 2005/2006 when I was working for ?? Cricket Club in Chestnut, Massachusetts. I was just a general member, then kind of worked my way up through the being involved a little bit, a little bit. I was involved with a program that we did years ago called Extreme Field Makeover, which we managed to renovate a sports field in a seven-day timeframe. That was all with volunteer labor, volunteer materials from great commercial partners and our general members. We did that for a couple of years back in the late 2000s. And that kind of got my start with the Board as being on that committee, then heading up that committee for two years. That kind of led me into board service. I was a general board member for two years, then became the secretary for two years, president-elect for two years, now president.
TZ: So, have you noticed any benefits just from serving? Has it made a difference in your career, being part of the leadership?
BP: Yeah, so, we have. Relationships with other members of the association is kind of the biggest takeaway. Relationships between our general members and commercial partners. You know, we’re all in this together in looking forward and trying to provide the best possible playing surfaces for all our athletes and our users of our facilities, so I think the relationships have really been a key point.
Obviously education opportunities that we provide… besides offering pesticide credits to help with our continuing education credits, we’re very fortunate we’re able to offer the best speakers that we can and educational opportunities we can in New England.
TZ: The collaboration and education is what I’m understanding to be one of the most important parts of an industry like turfgrass when there are so many concerns as far as player and coach expectations in sports turf and environmental factors and just technical issues. Do you feel that the collaboration with other members and not just educators contributes to learning and growing in that field?
BP: No question. What our peers are doing is unbelievably important because we’re all in this together. If I haven’t seen something, one of my peers has seen, probably, the issue, or understands the issue. Our education, if it’s not from educators, it’s other sports turf managers. It’s what’s worked well, and what’s not worked well. And having those relationships, the fellowship, the networking we have between all of our members. We can call and talk to anyone, email and that’s how I’ve been very successful in what I’ve done is through relying on our fantastic members and colleagues for answering questions and concerns. And if it’s a concern from a resident of Weston of something that we’re doing, there’s always opportunity for information sharing.
TZ: Along those lines with collaboration, education… what are some of the goals the association has for 2019?
BP: Sure, so 2019 is gonna be a fantastic year for NESTMA. One of our big items that we’re starting to work on is our launch of The Blade. The Blade was our magazine we had for many years. A few years ago we lost our producer of the magazine, it was one of those things where the economy probably didn’t help at that time either, and it’s something that our members want. We want newsletters –we’ve asked our people for years: what do you need, what do you want out of your membership, and it’s always been a newsletter is still relevant in 2019. Whether it’s paper and/or a digital copy.
We hired M.V. Wood to be our association management firm last year, and they knew that was one of our goals and they are working with a new firm to help us launch The Blade. The Blade’s gonna be a fantastic newsletter. We have an opportunity for commercial partners to have ads in the newsletter. It’s gonna be a beautiful color newsletter. We’re gonna have a digital version of it as well. And then along with that, we’re gonna be introducing theturfzone.com, which you’re hearing me on this Turf Zone podcast. That’s gonna be an opportunity again to share information, collaborate, podcasts, webinars. Again, 21st century educational opportunities rather than just going to a seminar, we’re gonna have other opportunities for our members and really show our value to our members of having a NESTMA membership.
TZ: That’s wonderful, so providing these resources… I know that busy seasons certainly get very busy, and in-person conference attendees get a great benefit from attending for education, but The Turf Zone podcasts, the one we’re doing right now, and the ones coming in the future are a great resource when there’s just no extra time during that busy season. The digital issues, product spotlight, calendar of events can be accessed on The Turf Zone.
Aside from those educational elements, are there other things that we can expect from the association in the coming year?
BP: Sure. So we’re always looking to improve our member benefits. Some of our educational opportunities, we’re trying to relaunch those, change them a little bit, tweak them here and there. We sent out a survey to our members back in the fall, which we got a really great response. Then we went through a year of our education opportunities: what like, what you didn’t like, is there stuff that we can improve on? So we’re always listening to our members. So we’re looking at changes, some of our educational opportunities, the biggest change is some hands-on workshops that we’re working on right now. And that’s in perfect response to our membership.
Our membership is looking for getting back to our roots for some hands-on workshops, whether it’s building mounds, seeding, equipment, tip skills, any of that kind of thing. So we’re looking at potentially three half-day, on-site workshops for 2019. They will be at reduced cost, lower cost than what our educational opportunities normally are. That’s perfect for your crews, it can be your head groundskeeper and your crew members. Whether it’s perfecting a skill, learning a new skill, tips and tricks of all the different things that are important in our efforts as well. So we definitely love to see that, that’s gonna be coming. Again our annual meeting is in March at the New England Regional Turf Conference in Rhode Island. We’re gonna tell everyone at that point what our plans are for 2019 for educational opportunities.
TZ: What I really pick up on for your members that’s a great benefit is that the board and directors are so responsive to the members’ feedback. Are there certain channels that you would encourage members to communicate through to make suggestions for events and education and any question they have for you guys?
BP: Sure. Having a great management firm helps us on the organization, we have our telephone number, you can always call the office and someone’s gonna pick up the phone. If they don’t, leave a voicemail, and someone’s gonna get back to you. That’s something we’ve never had in the past, so 2018 was a change for us. And if management staff doesn’t know the answer, they’re certainly gonna come to us on the board to answer a question. Our website, nestma.org, has all the emails for all the board of directors. Email us, email executive director Virginia Wood. There’s ample opportunity to have questions asked and hopefully we can get you the answers in a timely fashion. Whether it’s membership questions, whether it’s a technical question, we’re all in this together and being able to help each other makes our profession stronger.
TZ: It sounds like there are some great, exciting plans in the coming year for NESTMA. As we close our interview, Ben, we know you have a lot of experience and are very involved in the organization. What advice would you give to new members and folks who are new to the industry about advancing their careers and basically having the success that you’ve had. What are the most important things about that?
BP: Getting involved, right. Getting involved, listening, gathering information is the best. You can come to all of our educational opportunities. Don’t be shy, don’t sit in the back. Shake hands, tell us who you are. Tell me you’re new in the industry, tell me you’re—again that’s to all of our board members, and our non-board members. We have a fantastic core group of members that come to all of our events. We have great commercial partners’ help, our commercial partners are fantastic and they’re a wealth of knowledge. They’re a resource to all of us and they’re great supports of the association. Just get involved, listen. I’m not a huge social media person, but one thing I do for social media is Twitter. Twitter is a fantastic resource for sports turf managers, believe it or not. There’s a huge community of sports turf managers on Twitter, and we all kind of post the good, the bad and the ugly. And I guarantee you if you have a question, it’s one of those things you can go to, search for it, we have a great group of turf managers on Twitter, and you might have a professional turf manager from a Major League Baseball stadium will answer a question about something that’s going on at a park or recreation site. So there’s no battle lines, there’s no turf wars (no pun intended) for what we have going on with our industry. We’re all looking to help each other out, and I think that’s the really great part of our industry as a whole and NESTMA as an association. We are willing to help, willing to be a resource for questions and concerns. And again, tell us if you really like something. If you really liked an educational opportunity, you like my podcast/you don’t like my podcast, that’s okay. Tell us what’s good, tell us you can really improve on something else. We’re always looking for something new. We can’t be stale, it’s an ever-changing world, and certainly NESTMA’s gonna help provide the educational opportunities as best we can.
TZ: Ben, thank you again for joining us today and thank you for listening to NESTMA’s premiere podcast episode. Check back with the Turf Zone for a new podcast episode each month and for contact information for NESTMA’s offices in our show notes.
NESTMA Contact Information:
Virginia Wood, Executive Director
Peggy Benjamin, Finance
Kristen Dreyer, Education
Carrie Martin, Registration
Charissa Sharkey, Membership & Sponsors
8-D Pleasant Street South
Natick, MA 01760
P: (508) 653-1241
F: (508) 653-4112
Town of Weston
Framingham Parks Department
Town of Natick
University of Rhode Island
UMASS Turf Program
MTE Turf Equipment Solutions
Read Custom Soils/A.D. Makepeace
The Governor’s Academy
Town of Needham Parks & Forestry
Pine Banks Park