They are the unsung heroes of Scotland County sports. They don’t wear Fighting Scots blue, nor do they produce the crucial play against a conference rival in front of a bleacher full of cheering fans. But their quiet role in the success of the Scotland County sports programs is as important as it is understated.
Meet Mark McInnis, the man who oversees the field quality and conditions of every ballpark at Scotland High School. And when you step foot on the premises, know that McInnis has made it his mission since he started the job a year ago to whip the fields into the best shape they’ve ever been in.
“I take a lot of pride in maintaining these fields, because the athletes here deserve it,” said McInnis, who previously managed the Deercroft Golf Club facilities for 26 years. “It’s not just about looking pretty, though you want it to look good when there’s thousands of fans at Pate Stadium on a Friday night. For me, it’s about maintaining the fields so that the players who give it all out there have a safe place to play.”
Four days out of every summer week, McInnis sets his alarm clock to go off at 4:45 a.m. to prepare for the day ahead. Each morning he meets with the 17 employees who make up the Scotland County maintenance crew to hash out their daily schedules, and then McInnis sets forth for SHS.
McInnis’ duties include mowing, irrigating and maximizing the soil potential of each field at the high school. And while he says the work can be grueling at times, especially in the summer heat, McInnis believes the finished product more than makes up for his two-man crew’s effort.
“It can be pretty taxing physically, and when the sun is bearing down on you there’s no shade to hide underneath,” said McInnis, who maintains the fields with just one other crew member. “But it sure makes you feel good when you hear the compliments from players and fans who regularly attend games, and while no athletic field is perfect, you have to make the most of what you’re given.”
Though the act of landscaping and ensuring the quality of the field are assumed responsibilities for McInnis, it’s the science of keeping the facilities at optimum conditions that many people may not know about.
“A lot of people think we just mow, water and fertilize,” McInnis said. “But before we even touched the fields we took samples of each turf and sent them to a lab for testing to see what was needed. Each field is unique and so we approach what each needs differently.”
The extreme weather conditions that Carolinians have endured over the past year have also taken their toll on the field conditions. The warmth of last winter resulted in an outbreak of weeds that forced McInnis to apply several weed treatments that were both expensive and time-consuming.
But it comes with the territory for McInnis, who learned to maximize his resources on a set budgetary plan during his days as a golf course superintendent.
“When you look at the Masters (golf tournament) which takes place in Augusta, the people who take care of it have access to an unlimited budget,” McInnis said. “I learned to do a high quality job with a fixed budget, and if that means working extra hours to get it right then so be it.”
As he approaches one year on the job, McInnis looks back on what he’s witnessed since he began at SHS. The undefeated football season and the successful stints of both the baseball, softball and soccer programs all played out on the fields that McInnis supervises every day.
“I feel very blessed to be a part of this past year at Scotland High School,” McInnis said. “When I was brought here my goal was to bring the athletic turf that the athletes here play on to the next level, and that’s something I strive for every single day.”
And maybe there’s something to McInnis arriving just before the Fighting Scots’ landmark football season.
“When I saw the football team win the state championship, part of me wanted to believe that the field conditions played a small part in that,” McInnis said with a laugh.