National recognition for Walston, Chargers
By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
National recognition for field excellence is nothing new for Tommy Walston.
As head groundskeeper for the Kinston Indians, he was named Class A baseball’s Sportsturf Manager of the Year in 2003 for his work at Grainger Stadium, which was recognized that year as one of the best fields in the nation.
These days, Walston is responsible for taking care of the football field at Ayden-Grifton High School, and that field was recognized by field paint manufacturer Pioneer Athletics as a “Field of Excellence” for 2016. The school unveiled a banner acknowledging the achievement at halftime of Friday’s football game against North Pitt.
The Chargers’ field was one of 85 honored across the nation at the high school, collegiate and recreational level.
“That speaks volumes of what we’ve achieved at Ayden-Grifton, to do something at our scale to get national recognition among some of the best high school fields and other fields in the country,” Walston said. “We feel like we’ve achieved something.”
Walston is in his fifth year tending to the field at Ayden-Grifton. He spent 13 years as head groundskeeper at Grainger Stadium, where he won multiple Groundskeeper of the Year awards in the Carolina League, in addition to the Class A award in 2003.
When the Kinston stadium was recognized, Walston said the Indians were the smallest full-season team in America to earn that award. He said that situation bears a lot of similarities with Ayden-Grifton, a 2-A school without the resources of some larger schools.
“Here’s a little school of just about 700 kids,” he said, “You have so many folks in the community that are part of this award that have made little donations here and there, but they take so much pride in saying, ‘This is our community school and what can we do to help?’ It’s a challenge of showing that you don’t have to be Mallard Creek in Charlotte, or Butler or Independence (or) some of these big 4-A schools to have a safe and nice-looking athletic field.”
Walston gets a small bit of assistance from coaches and students when it comes to painting the field, but he is essentially solely responsible for maintaining the well-being of the grass, which he said is a year-round job that includes mowing it two or three times a week. It’s labor he said is worth it for the pride the Chargers’ players and coaches can take in their playing surface.
“It’s a child and you have to raise it like a child,” he said, laughing. “It’s something for the kids. To see our guys over the last two or three years as our field has matured and become nicer, we’ll go to other places and come back, and they’ll make comments like, ‘Coach Tommy, this is awesome. We’re so glad to be back playing on our field.’ That’s our pat on the back right there.”