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Volunteers helping to keep Sikeston soccer fields in line

Monday, October 11, 2004

(Photo)
Mitchell Shaw (sitting on tractor) and Jeff King (standing) have modified a 1950 tractor and use it to line the nine Sikeston Youth Soccer League fields.
SIKESTON - E-R-R-r-r-r. E-R-R-r-r-r. POP! Chuga-chuga-chuga. The little red Farmall Cub's engine comes to life and the tractor heads for the field. But instead of a job of plowing, this specially modified machine is off to the soccer fields.

Perched in the driver's seat, Mitchell Shaw steers and operates a sprayer mechanism marking the field's borders, goal lines, etc. Some 45 minutes later the field is done, eight more to go.

It is a time consuming job, but Shaw and the tractor's owner, Jeff King, find it far preferable to the old way of marking the fields - a handcart sprayer.

"I walked 'til I thought I would die," said Shaw, about guiding the handcart around the fields. "The toes of my tennis shoes were all painted white."

The men decided there must be a better way.

After seeing a similar rig, the two began modifying a 1950 tractor which originally belonged to King's wife's grandfather.

"We started brainstorming," said King, admitting much of the work was through trial and error. "We discussed and argued," added Shaw.

Some of the parts they had on hand. Sometimes, King said, they would appeal to the mechanics at Slushers or DGA to find the right part.

"And this is what we built," said King, waving toward the small container which is pulled behind the tractor. The container holds the paint which travels though tubing to a spray nozzle beneath the tractor's wheels.

There are nine fields to line during the regular season while at tournament time the number doubles; the league's soccer fields range in size from 80 by 120-feet to 200 by 300-feet. With a five-gallon bucket of paint used for every two fields and the marking required about every 10 days, the work and the paint mount up quickly .

The spray rig enables the soccer league to purchase paint from the House of Color in bulk. King estimated the sprayer more than paid for itself the first year and has resulted continued savings each year.

Phil Black, also involved with the league, praised the machine for being faster and providing better coverage, even in cold or windy conditions. "You don't have to repaint as often," he said, which is important with more than 400 children practicing and playing on the fields every week.

Admittedly not the fanciest of equipment, both men said they have taken some kidding about their machine. (Including Black, who joked: "They might need to drive a little straighter.")

"It gets laughs until they see it operate," said King. "Everyone who has seen it has been impressed."

King, whose 10-year-old daughter Kristen has already moved to league play with a out-of-town group, has traveled to soccer fields as far south as Florida and as far north as North Missouri. At each stop, he admitted, he can't help but compare the field to Sikeston's. "There are very few that I think are as nice as ours," he said.

The city of Sikeston mows the fields and maintains the goals but it is up to the Sikeston Youth Soccer League to keep the fields marked. "We are little unique in that we do it ourselves," said King, noting the work is all done by volunteers.

Both men agreed it will take the involvement of more parents in the League to ensure its continued success. Shaw, whose sons, Wesley, 7, and Zachary, 9, both play on teams, said help is always needed if not in lining the fields than in the concession stands or through other projects.

"You don't have to know anything about the sport, you don't have to coach, there is always something to do," Shaw said. Also it is the League which through various fund-raisers was able to purchase the lighting for the soccer fields at the Sikeston Sports Complex. Next there is talk of irrigation to keep the fields in top condition.

"We are looking toward the future," explained King. "This is such a big sport, such a fun sport, we are working so the next generation will have a place to play."

Meanwhile, the men are gearing up for the end of the season and putting their skills to the test as Sikeston hosts tournament play for over 100 teams on Nov. 6 and 7. Lining the 18 fields needed will take all day Friday and continue on into Friday night.

"That," emphasized King, "Is when this tractor comes in very handy."