We sat down with Chuckanut Bay Athletics Association committee head of Maintenance, Greg Gandy. He was quick to call Chuckanut home after a fantastic first-time experience with rugby. He and his family are involved with CBAA in many aspects, but most may know Greg as the go-to guy for maintaining and protecting the property.
Greg is responsible for quite a lot of things but his leadership and direction is seen by all that visit deWilde Rugby & Polo Fields. We wanted to sit down and get to know him, his role, and his vision a bit better.
How long have you been with CBAA and how did you get your start?
I was introduced to Chuckanut through our high school wrestling coach, Caleb Schlack, who played on the men’s team, probably about 10 years ago. I had not experienced rugby before this time, and over the years, we had gone out and supported him when his team played at home. We’d bring the family out and watch the games - that just sort of immersed our family in rugby to begin with. I’m the wrestling coach for the Ferndale youth program, and over the last 10 years, I’ve had athlete after athlete, that had pretty good college prospects, end up going for rugby scholarships! A lot of these athletes, especially after high school, had much better opportunities through rugby.
I was intrigued by that and shortly after, rugby got my family involved. All but my oldest kids were telling me, “Dad, I gotta try rugby”. This was about 5 years ago. Now, all four of my kids, including my oldest and my daughter, play rugby! It’s been just a great fit for our family, and we really fell in love with the rugby community on our first game.
We had a rugby game up in Canada, and there was a mom that was too amped up in the game and said something along the lines of, “Go knock his lights out!” and we witnessed the entire rugby community - parents, players, and coaches- quietly come together and peacefully eject this woman, as what she called out was a violation of the standards and values that rugby had set. I turned to my wife, and said, “This is the sport I want for my kids.” A sport where one person is in control of everything - everyone responds with very traditional and utmost respect for authority. That’s missing in sports, and that was a big draw for our family. That rugby holds onto the traditions of hard work, respect, and family.
What's your favorite part of being the head groundskeeper for CBAA?
A quick note about that - it’s very much a committee of five to ten people. I’m the head of the Maintenance and Facilities committee.
I think my favorite part is being able to put tons of work in - I average close to 20 - 30 hours a week, and there’s plenty of other people working shoulder-to-shoulder with me doing the exact same thing. The real true benefit is when players and teams use the field, have a great day of rugby, use the facility, be blown away at how nice everything looks and plays. The satisfaction of getting instant return on investment. The time that we spend out there becomes really evident on game day, when everything is clipped, clean, lines are nice and straight, the facility looks really nice, and people are just sort of wowed by that. That’s the biggest drive for all of us in the committee, for sure.
What are some things most people don't know you and your team handle?
Anything that goes on at the rugby pitch is covered by us! Things that aren’t seen are the 1:00 AM phone calls from the neighbors that people are snooping around the property. We do a little bit of security, and a lot of work outside of what most people think of. A lot of people think that raising grass is just mowing.
We have nine different pieces of equipment - we fertilize, we aerate, we top dress, which is spreading sand over the top of everything to even out the dings and cleat marks, then we brush that into the turf. We spray treatments for weeds and for insects, to keep the grass healthy. And that’s just for the fields - there’s quite a bit of maintenance and time spent setting sprinkler watering times with our commercial grade sprinkler that the community helped install. There’s a lot of maintenance on the sprinkler heads, and constant adjustment of the watering schedules because of the inadequate well that doesn’t provide enough water. It’s a constant battle as the summer progress as we run out of water, and we have to figure out how to water the fields to keep them green.
A lot of miscellaneous stuff too, like upkeep on the barn. The siding, windows, painting. It’s not just taking care of the fields, is taking care of the whole property. Fortunately I have several people to help me out in that, otherwise, I’d be completely swamped.
What are some tasks that are much more labor-intensive or harder than people think?
Lining fields. To line one field, even if it’s just a repaint of the field that had been setup at the beginning of the year, just remarking takes a crew of six guys, four to six hours. If I have to do both fields for a big event, it’s a good 10-hour day. And that’s not just myself - that’s myself and at least four to six other people helping me. Fertilizing takes a good four to six hours. Aerating is definitely a full day.
We have work parties where we work Saturday, trickling into Sunday just weed-eating, moving through some stuff. Setting up bark and mulch around the trees. That was a four day event, where the crew came in and cleared all the sod out, cleaned everything out, then the high school team and program came out to help. Running wheel barrows around for two days, putting in and raking bark out. There’s a lot of labor that goes on.
For Phase Three, deWilde is starting with parking projects. How can people help to accelerate this process?
I’m not necessarily involved with capital campaigns and raising funding, but that’s a key point. Without the generous donations of all the people, we couldn’t even get started on that.
But as things approach, I think we’re going to address the parking lot no differently than the way we addressed the installation of the sprinkler system. Everything will be run through our group on SportsEngine. On SportsEngine, when people sign up, they can check boxes that they’re interested in maintenance and facility, and they’ll automatically be added to the group. Within that group, I set work party days. We use that group to be able to communicate with each other, and make sure that all the tasks that need to be done are taken care of, and that’s also where we setup our large work parties. Everything is generated there.
I also have our Communications Director follow up outside of our group, and reach out to the entire club and community for those big events.
The parking project is going to be interesting, balancing work parties around the large equipment that’ll be used. The first stages will be pretty streamlined with just operators. But as things progress, there will be plenty of work for everyone to step in and help. We’ll publish those lists before the event, and people will be able to sign up for tasks they’re interested in. Once we have enough people signed up, we’ll have a great event.
With substantial momentum moving into Phase Three, how excited are you for the future?
I’m extremely excited! I have watched, just over the last 10 years, this small little niche rugby club, in the middle of nowhere, Washington, be able to put out amazing product. The athletes produced here are great, and we build just such a huge community in a rural setting. I want to point out that what we have at the rugby fields are really only possible with city municipalities, such as Bellevue or Seattle, places that have tons of money and funding for parks and recreation. They have entire crews of 15 - 20 people that work around the clock, that put out even less of a product of what we’re able to produce with the help of the community.
I’m excited for the growth within our club, the maturity we’ve gained in just the last two to three years, as well as where we’re headed. Now that I have a little more insight in the direction of the club, and what’s envision for the club, I’m excited to see everything move forward. And everything is moving forward at a much faster pace than I expected, and a lot of that is due to the work that everyone is putting in. It will be amazing once we have more people getting excited and joining those who are always putting in work with us.
What message would you like to get out to everyone regarding deWilde Fields and the upcoming projects?
I currently have a group for maintenance and facilities that’s filled with 45 people in that group. One of the hard things, is that out of the 45, I get about four to five people every time, and they’re work horses. What I envision, and what I tried to set up with this committee, is the ability to have 15 - 20 active participants. When that does happen, we’ll find that you’re not volunteering every single week and weekend. You’ll be volunteering maybe an hour or two, every couple of weeks. The more volunteers we get involved, the less strain there is on just a few volunteers.
One thing I’d like to stress is that our handful of active volunteers are pretty seasoned workers that can take on someone who has never had any experience with what we’re doing. WE have places to plug any and everybody in. We have tasks for the youth, retired, and parents. We will have a job for everyone on the field, every event that we do. Every event has a list of tasks that’s planned for 50 volunteers. The plan is always in place, so know that if you do spend a day out at deWilde Fields, every second of your volunteered time will be used wisely and for the benefit of the program. There’s a job waiting and ready for you, at every event.
Don’t be afraid to come out and see what we have going on. There’s a place for you - we already have a task lined up for your time and ability level - and we’ll plug you in. And when you walk away at the end of the day, you’ll have that instant satisfying feeling of, “Yeah, what I just did, mattered. I made a difference.” When you follow along with these people, rain or shine, you’re going to see what the draw is for us. Seeing the efforts you put forward paying off and in a big way. It’s amazing how a little work can make the whole facility look amazing.
One last note - I have trainings set up for just about everything. There’s plenty of people out there who haven’t operator a tractor before, a commercial mower, or heavy equipment in general. I offer and have a list that I’ve published, of trainings. Spray marker for painting the fields. A class on how to operate the two mowers we use. Another class teaches people how to run the fertilizer and how to operate the tractor. What I’ve set up and what my goal has been, is “if you build it, they’ll come”. I’m done a lot of leg work in setting things up to empower our community and let them learn something while they’re helping out. That’s the reason why we chose the tractor we have - most tractors have 52 gears to shift through. I specifically went out and found a tractor that has a button to move forward, and another to move in reverse. It may seem from the outside perspective that it’s a daunting thing we do that needs experience, but that’s not the case.
Be sure to stay up-to-date with CBAA, Greg Gandy, and the development of deWilde Rugby Fields by visiting https://www.chuckanutrugby.com.