Pennsylvania Turfgrass – Keystone Athletic Field Managers Organization
The annual KAFMO Fowler Founder’s Award
Over the past 25 years, the Keystone Athletic Field Managers Organization has become a legendary support organization in the turfgrass community. Its beginnings and subsequent development into a premier professional organization owe much to the vision and efforts of founder Don Fowler. The annual KAFMO Fowler Founder’s Award, a bronze-cast replica of one of Fowler’s worn-out work boots, stands for the hard work demonstrated by the field managers being honored and by Fowler himself. We asked Don to look back and tell us about KAFMO’s beginnings.
Don Fowler’s interest in turfgrass management began in 1987 when he saw that the local McConnellsburg High School’s fields where his sons played were becoming unplayable. He decided to help. “I saw Dan Douglas’s field and wondered what those at the professional level did to make their fields look so good. We needed that kind of information at the community, park, and playground level,” he recalls.
Don started KAFMO in 1995 as a means of helping groundskeepers at the local level learn from the professionals. He gathered an interested group together and they decided that an organization made up of local groundskeepers and professionals could help everyone learn how to improve their fields.
The first activity of this new group was a field day. They held their first clinic at the Farm Show building in Harrisburg and all who attended became KAFMO founding members. That was the beginning of an organization that would eventually become one of the strongest chapters in STMA. It now has over 350 members who can share their experience and field managers at the local level can now learn from the professionals.
The Little League Connection
At about the same time that Don Fowler was bringing together his group of athletic field professionals and volunteers, Little League decided to renovate Lamade Stadium for the 50th Little League World Series. They reached out to the newly formed group, now called the Keystone Athletic Field Managers Organization, and asked them to support what was a landmark renovation at the time. Alpine Services, Inc. had been hired to redo the stadium and Don was asked to be the “clerk of the works” for Little League. Little did he know at the time that this would lead to what has amounted to a second career!
“KAFMO members were asked to help with the job and we responded. I had just retired from Penn State Extension after 32 years of service and was able to go to Williamsport and work with Alpine Services to rebuild Lamade Stadium field in 1995,” he recalls. “Then Alpine asked me to travel with them to other jobs.” Don and his twin brother Dave ended up working on building five minor league fields and then on rebuilding the California Angels field. After that they spent two springs in Arizona working on the spring training fields for major league facilities. “All of this helped me to learn what it took to make fields more playable,” he says.
After the Lamade Stadium renovation, Don put together a fertilization and maintenance plan for the new field. Then he was asked to recruit a few helpers to prepare the field for the Little League World Series that year, and so it went on. “I have been working for the Little League World Series for the past 24 years now,” Don says with pride.
It has become a family affair for the Fowlers. Don’s son Jeff is a turf expert in his own right and has taken over the job of coordinating the volunteers who come for the series; grandson Evan grew up in the field, studied Turf Management through the Penn State World Campus and spent five seasons on the grounds crew of the Kansas City Royals. Don’s handwritten list of volunteers has grown to more than 100 people from 21 states that come to help. Over time, the event has become bigger and more popular on TV and has grown from one week to two and from 8 teams to 16 teams currently with 20 teams scheduled for 2021.
Changes and Accomplishments
When asked about what changes he has seen in the industry over the last 25 years, Don Fowler’s mind goes immediately to the quality of fields being played on by local athletics groups. It’s no surprise to hear that his starting point in 1987, McConnellsburg High School, has since been named one of the best sports complexes in the area. Parks, playgrounds, and school playing fields in Pennsylvania have seen an enormous change for the better since then, and that is something for which KAFMO can certainly take credit.
KAFMO and STMA offer ongoing support to turf managers through conferences, educational opportunities, grants and scholarships, and publications. Awards like the Field of Distinction Award and the Fowler Founder’s Award recognize outstanding accomplishments in the field. But when thinking about the value of the professional organization he helped to found, Don always comes back to the individual members who offer their expertise to one another.
“The professionals belonging to STMA and KAFMO have been the most valuable part of the organizations,” he says. “The interaction between the two groups has been a great learning experience.” It makes sense that Don Fowler’s advice to professionals and volunteers who care for athletic fields is a reflection of his own professional life, as well as of KAFMO: “Never stop learning.”READ THE ISSUE