HCS Alumni Spotlight: Rachael Cline

July 20, 2022
Rachael Cline on the field of Austin FC

Meet Rachael Cline | HCS Alumna Class of 2021

Today, she's the Assistant Groundskeeper at Austin FC - a role she landed directly out of undergrad. While here at HCS, Rachael studied Turfgrass Science (a specialization of our Sustainable Plant Systems Major).

Rachael was happy to tell us about the world of professional sports turf management, how she became interested in turfgrass & how her time here at HCS helped set her up for success right out of undergrad:

How did you become interested in turfgrass science?

As an agronomy student at Ohio State University, I picked up a part time job working at the university turfgrass research center. In my first few weeks of work, I talked with the facility manager about careers in professional sports turf as well as the biology and chemistry involved with understanding how to maintain turf at an elite level. It was exciting to hear about a hands-on science field that was involved with sports. I immediately knew that I wanted to change my degree to a turf management specialization.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in sports turf management?

As a kid, I loved playing sports and science was my favorite subject in school. I enjoyed being outside and working with my hands on the small Ohio farm that I grew up on. Sports Turf Management was the perfect career path for me because it combined aspects of multiple passions of mine into one career.

How did your turf internships prepare you for your current job as an Assistant Groundskeeper at Austin FC?

My internship prepared me for my career by forcing me out of my comfort zone and pushing me to be the best that I can be. It allowed me to apply my scholastic knowledge in a real world environment and prepared me for the next step of a full time groundskeeping position. I learned  how to take responsibility for certain tasks and I learned how the actions I performed affected other people. I had a direct correlation with a professional sports team, but I also had an impact on the people that worked alongside me in my department.

What’s a normal day look like for you?

One of my favorite parts about this job is that everyday you are doing something different. In general, I start out everyday with a walk around the site. I check for the presence of disease, take notice of any irrigation issues, and make a list of areas that need attention or maintenance. After this, we sit down as a grounds staff and create a job list for the day and delegate tasks. Some of our more routine jobs include mowing, painting, edging, and maintaining the aesthetics of the site which include pulling weeds, raking mulch, and picking up trash. We also develop a monthly agenda that includes fertilizing, raking and brushing, aerifying, topdressing, and verticutting. We will collect data including field hardness, shear strength, and moisture reading to determine the health of the field and when to perform certain maintenance tasks.

What is your favorite part of your career?

What I enjoy most about my career is the camaraderie within my own team and amongst the turf community as a whole. I have met many people who are passionate about their work and excited to teach others about it as well. Another highlight of my career is being a part of professional sports. This is something that only seemed like a dream as a kid. It's exciting knowing I have an impact on the game and how it's played. I’ve also enjoyed exploring opportunities to travel with my career. I was fortunate to complete an internship abroad with Everton FC, a premiership team located in Liverpool England. After completing my degree, I accepted a position in Austin Texas working with a Major League Soccer team. My career has given me the chance to see sites, observe cultures, and gain perspectives, in which otherwise I never would have had the chance to do.

How did your time at HCS in the turf program help prepare you for your career?

My time at HCS in the turf program helped me by giving me opportunities to network and make connections with professionals in my career field. The professors provided challenging coursework that was relevant to real life scenarios and forced me to think outside the box by applying my knowledge. Through the turf program, I was also able to attend the state and national turf conferences where I connected with both students and professionals in different areas of turf related careers and participated in the student turf bowls. At the turf bowl we applied the knowledge we learned in school to an extensive hands-on assessment of turf identification, disease identification, real world problem scenarios, as well as a written test. These connections and applied knowledge opportunities were very important in developing my confidence and comfort in working and interning in professional sporturf. 

Any advice for students looking for their first job out of college?

The best advice I can give to current students, no matter which major or specialization they are in, is to talk with people and to make as many connections as possible. Try to learn from everyone you are around…. there is always something to take in. Be open minded and listen to different perspectives. And most of all, show your excitement and passions. People will take notice and want to start a conversation when they recognize how invested you are.

Any advice for students trying to decide if turf will be a good fit for them?
  • Expect to get your hands dirty
  • The result of your work is the effort you choose to put into it
  • Always remember the feeling of being a kid watching your professional sports heroes perform…that’s why we do what we do to the highest level of effort/performance in our own work

You can keep up with Rachael & her journey in Sports Turf Management on Twitter + Instagram!