Bernstein recounts Super Bowl training experience

This article first appeared in Toro’s Grounds for Success newsletter:

Over the past 52 years, the Super Bowl has been played on many different fields, each with their own advantages and challenges. But one thing is always the same: it takes a lot of time and hard work to prepare for the big day.

Blake Bernstein, winner of the 2018 Super Bowl Sports Turfgrass Training Program, had the opportunity to experience that preparation firsthand as a member of the Super Bowl LII grounds crew. The recent graduate of Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, CA arrived just over a week before the big game and started working right away.

Since the field at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis is synthetic, Bernstein spent a lot of time dragging and moving crumb rubber around the playing field to ensure the compaction met NFL standards. It was a new experience for him, as most of his previous experience has been working on natural grass turf.

He also assisted with painting the practice field for the Philadelphia Eagles at the University of Minnesota’s brand-new indoor facility — as well as painting the mini football field for the Super Bowl Experience Driven by Genesis (the NFL’s interactive theme park) at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

In addition, Bernstein helped the grounds crew keep everything clean and organized leading up to the game. That included covering all the painted areas — such as the NFL shield, trophies and end zones — with tarps to protect them during halftime show practices every day.

According to Bernstein, that was one of the biggest surprises. “You don’t normally have a thousand people on the field during halftime at an NFL game, so I wasn’t used to that,” he said. “In California, the only time we cover the logos is if it rains!”

When asked about his favorite part of the experience, he mentioned several things. “Hanging out and meeting turf managers from across the United States was really cool,” he recalled. “I met people from Boston, Miami, Detroit, Baltimore, Arizona — all over. It was great to be able to pick their brains and hear everyone’s input and background. But from a work standpoint, I would say repainting the field the night before the Super Bowl was the highlight for me.”

Another highlight of the week for Bernstein was his R&D tour of The Toro Company’s Minneapolis headquarters. “It may sound simple, but it was very interesting to check that out,” he noted. “I got to see the sound room, the testing area — everything Toro does behind the scenes. I didn’t realize how much time and energy went into how everything is built, managed, maintained and tested, so that was also pretty cool.”

“It was just an amazing experience, and I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of it,” he added.

Back home in California, Bernstein is currently working on the grounds crew at UCLA’s baseball facilities and will soon return to work at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He recently completed his Associate of Science degree in Park and Sports Turf Management, and is currently taking classes to earn a Horticulture degree as well. He also holds a degree in business from Arizona State University.

Toro and the NFL have offered the Super Bowl Sports Turfgrass Training Program since 2003. Developed to recognize one student who has shown exemplary leadership in turfgrass management, the program encourages emerging professionals to further grow their knowledge base by assisting the grounds crew for this high-profile game.

To be considered for the program, applicants must undergo a comprehensive application process and be enrolled in at least the second year of a two-year turfgrass program, or in at least the junior year of a four-year turfgrass program. Bernstein was selected from a large pool of talented candidates based on his ongoing success in school, his various grounds positions at a variety of facilities, and his ambition to pursue a career in turfgrass management.

In addition to offering the Super Bowl Sports Turfgrass Training Program, Toro has partnered with the National Football League (NFL) to provide equipment and expertise to help prepare the game field and multiple practice fields for the big game since 1967.