Covenant Christian High School is big on atheltics

Sports are an important part of the program for Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis, Ind. The school’s primary focus is on providing a Christian learning environment with a strong emphasis on academics. Though the school is small in size—with 380 students in grades nine through 12—it’s big in athletics, fielding 16 varsity sports and two club sports. Fall sports include: boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross-country, girls volleyball and boys tennis. The winter sports are all indoors: boys and girls basketball and swimming. Spring play moves outside with baseball for boys and softball for girls, boys and girls track, boy’s golf and girls tennis. Two club sports add to the spring schedule: girls lacrosse and boys indoor volleyball.

As in most small schools, staff members wear many hats. Gossel’s main thrust is running the athletic department—hiring and mentoring coaches and providing what they need to be successful for their athletes and their sports program. That includes setting schedules, setting the budget, purchasing equipment, ensuring home practice and game sites are available and ready for use, and that all the details that go with the sports programs are covered.

This shot of Scott Schinderle (who graduated in May of 2007), was snapped as he hit a 400-foot homerun during a May 2007 game.

Gossel’s other roles include head baseball coach and sports field manager for the outdoor athletic facilities. The combination of roles works well because of Gossel’s multifaceted background. His dad is in the excavation business and passed along a working knowledge of soils, grades and turf. While in school, he worked summers for the landscaping business owned by his older brother, and he grew up playing baseball and basketball. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Bible studies and physical education from Baptist Bible College in Clark’s Summit, Pa., he accepted a teaching and coaching position with Arlington Baptist School in Baltimore, Md.

 “I knew I had the background to improve the athletic fields. So, by choice, I took over that aspect of the sports program and developed a passion for it,” Gossel says.

Drawing by Theresa Wisehart, art teacher at Covenant Christian High School.
The artist’s drawing shows what thetrack/soccer/lacrosse/baseballcomplex will look like when the capitalimprovement project is completed.

Facilities

Gossel stepped into his position in the fall of 2003, as the Warrior Park baseball field was at the midpoint of construction. The playing field itself was built by volunteers and parent contractors. The project was paid for through a memorial fund to honor Scott Dobbs, a longtime baseball player and school supporter. The ballpark design incorporates features of several professional stadiums, with dimensions similar to Fenway Park’s, but flipped. The fencing that marks the boundaries of right field is nicknamed the “Screen Monster.”

This field is on campus, adjacent to the soccer/lacrosse field. The cross-country course winds across the school campus and the open acreage of the church, incorporating turf, mulched trail, woodland and asphalt surfaces. The hard-surfaced tennis courts are on campus. The school gym serves as the practice and game site for basketball and volleyball.

“This is the 13th year for the school and the 11th in the current building. We kicked off a multifaceted capital campaign last November that incorporates building and site improvements. The first phase calls for classroom updates and the addition of a cardio room for our fitness program. The second phase will add an auditorium, add an all-weather track around the existing soccer/lacrosse field, renovate that field, correct some grade and drainage issues on the baseball field, and add a softball field across the road from our current campus. We’ve worked with an architect on the preliminary design for budget estimates, but will not proceed until all of the funding is in place.”

Field maintenance program

Gossel’s field maintenance focuses on the outdoor baseball and soccer/lacrosse fields. He’ll oversee the projected field construction and renovation work and add the new softball field to his overall program. All field maintenance and renovation must be worked in around the practice and game schedules.

He says, “Facility Manager Scott Voehringer and his staff handle the custodial side of the indoor maintenance, take care of anything else on and around the grounds, as well as help manage home events and the concessions for home contests. It’s a cooperative partnership that works very well, and they do an excellent job.

This cross-field view of the soccer field shows one of the patterns Gossel mows to édress up_ the field.

“The club sports support themselves financially and handle the gym setup for volleyball. I make sure the field is in good condition and lined and painted for lacrosse.”

The baseball and soccer/lacrosse fields are native soil, a heavy clay/loam mix. The baseball field has an inground, automatic irrigation system. A water reel is used for the other field. The baseball field is 100 percent Kentucky bluegrass. The soccer/lacrosse field is about 50 percent bluegrass and 50 percent perennial ryegrass.

Gossel cuts the fields with a 6-foot, ride-on, Lastec rotary mower. He maintains a mowing height 1.5 or 1.75 inches during the playing seasons. He may bump it up to 2 inches in the summer, especially on the soccer field that has no inground irrigation. Mowing frequency varies with weather conditions and field use, ranging from three to four times a week during the playing seasons to twice a week in the late fall.

He uses a John Deere 1200A field rake to work the skinned area of the baseball infield and to pull a spreader for fertilization, seeding and topdressing. Gossel says, “I plan the fertilization program based on annual soil test results for budget preparation, but adjust it as needed according to continual assessment of field conditions. I’ll generally make five to six applications a year, but the products vary. The baseball field is established well enough that I can combine a preemergent with a low nitrogen fertilizer for this year’s early April application. I did some spot renovation on the soccer field last spring and summer, and overseeded in the fall, and I’ll aerate and overseed it in conjunction with its early April fertilization. I’ll fertilize both fields again at the end of April and the end of May. The baseball outfield also is used for soccer practice in the summer and fall. So, I’ll fertilize both fields again prior to the August start of soccer practice, and then once a month for the rest of the soccer season.”

Jake and Ty Gossel pose behind dad’s handiworkthe opening day logo for the start of the 2008 baseball season. Coaches and team members work on the field in the background.

Gossel works in four to five aerations a year, depending on wear and weather conditions. Both fields are core aerated the second or third week of October, topdressed with straight sand, fertilized and overseeded if needed.

He says, “The baseball field bluegrass only needs spot overseeding once or twice a year, generally just around the infield edges, in front of the mound and in front of the dugouts. Even though our coaches use portable goals for practice and pregame warm-ups and keep rotating areas, I overseed the soccer field in the heavy-use areas every week and a half to two weeks during fall play and most, to all, of the field in that end-of-season application.”

For weed, insect and disease control, he follows standard IPM procedures. With the dry conditions over the last two summers, he’s needed to treat spots of brown patch and red thread. Grubs have invaded the past three years. He’s had good results with Dylox, timing the application proactively, but may switch to a product with a longer control period if treatment is needed this year.

A close-up view of the baseball field in July.

The fields are painted about once a week in-season, depending on turf growth and rainfall. Gossel says, “I’ll generally use a line cutter to cut a strip of turf about .5 inch to .75 inch shorter than the surrounding turf before painting. That way I don’t cut as much paint off when I mow.”

He’ll generally prep the baseball infield five days a week in season, preparing for the Saturday morning doubleheaders on Friday night with postgame repair on Saturday. On Sundays, the team doesn’t practice or play, and Gossel doesn’t work the fields.

He says, “The student players join in the prep and the postgame work on game days, right along with me, my assistant coach and whichever of our four volunteer coaches are working the game. It’s another lesson in responsibility for them.”

Gossel says, “We usually average one or two scheduled on-field events a week during the summer, and we do have some neighborhood pickup games. The fall season starts the first two weeks of August with two-a-day practices for all four soccer teams. So, there’s very little field time available for outside user groups.”

Challenges

The coaching staff size varies, with a paid head and assistant for each boys’ or girls sport, another one or two paid assistants for selected sports, and from one to four volunteer assistants. Keeping communications flowing is a constant juggling act. Gossel says, “About two-thirds of our coaches are either teachers or other staff members, but with all the teams we field it’s next to impossible to have all of our coaches on staff. E-mail communications are huge for us. I also interact with our administration daily both directly and via e-mail.”

Weather is a constant challenge, with temperatures fluctuating from 35 to 65 degrees during the start of the baseball season. A few snow flurries were mixed with the 8.5 inches of total precipitation Gossel recorded in March. That compares to a typical March average of 3.5 inches. The last two summers have been exceptionally hot and dry. Gossel keeps an eye on the five-day forecasts and adapts his management practices to keep the fields ready for practices and play.

Another area of challenge is related to the projected field work. Gossel says, “I need to keep the existing fields in the best shape possible, but I also need to prioritize what processes to undertake to preserve and upgrade them, knowing that major changes will take place within the next few years.”

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.