By Amanda Miles
In Ken’s words, “Never in a million years did I expect to be President of a three-state turf or greens industry organization. After my stint as President of the Mississippi Turfgrass Association in 2005-06, I settled on just being part of the program, providing whatever assistance the industry needed. As Board Member of the MTA I learned about the possibility of combining the three states’ conferences and trade shows into one. When the opportunity presented itself a couple of years ago I accepted a position on the Deep South Turf Expo Board because of my commitment in helping our industry move forward. During the process of nominating officers the floor opened up for the position of Vice-President. The floor got quiet and before Stephen Miles could say my name (I sensed it.) I volunteered for the position and was elected. (Thanks again, Stephen.) It really is an honor for me to serve this year as President. I consider the Expo an excellent opportunity for the greens industry in the southeast to grow and prosper with its consolidated trade show and educational sessions. Thanks to all involved! I think we hit it out of the park with this one!”
Ken serves as Sports Field Manager for the Gulfport Sportsplex, a large municipal multi-use sports complex that he has been an integral part of since its construction in 1999. The Sportsplex opened in January of 2001 and has since provided Gulfport with a wide array of recreational opportunities and revenue from the tourism market of sports activities. On March 8, 2016, the Sportsplex was awarded the Southern Region Sports Complex of the Year by the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA).
Ken’s involvement in sports field management began while he was in the United States Army. When he was not deployed, or in training, he was assigned duties as the Base Recreation Specialist, who was responsible for the scheduling and maintenance of the base’s ball fields and golf course. He served as Specialist at Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Kobbe in Panama, and Camp Casey in Korea. After his military service he was Recreation Specialist at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport until his employment at the Sportsplex.
The military honed Ken’s skills as a leader and manager in the industry. He was an Infantryman first, who was responsible for transforming boys into men. He believes in the value of teamwork and instills professionalism into his employees today. “Professionalism comes first, and they are not just ‘city employees,’” notes Ken. Ken’s philosophy also involves the establishment of support systems that consist of trustworthy people in the industry, such as his peers, educators and other industry personnel. “I was taught to be a team player, which evolved into being a team leader. The best advice I’ve been given in the field was to never try to solve problems and issues alone.
There are so many intelligent people in this industry who are willing to help and who you can rely on for expertise,” says Ken. “And to quote former MTA member, Bud Thigpen, ‘The grass is actually brown on the other side,’” he says.
At the municipal level Ken and his team deal mostly with youth sports, which he considers to be the foundation for the development of players from peewee league to professional. He enjoys watching the children mature and grow into well-tuned athletes. “What I like most is that I have the opportunity to provide the best playing surfaces possible for all l levels of play. My team and I pride ourselves on providing safe, playable and aesthetically pleasing sports fields,” Ken says.
Of course there are challenges that come with his territory, including tight budgets and personnel issues that obviously affect everyone. His biggest challenge is educating upper management, operations and the public about maintenance practices and procedures. “Nobody wants to see a ball field closed for maintenance, and our fields are booked constantly throughout the year until they are worn out. It’s then that we really get all the attention!” says Ken.
Ken plays golf occasionally and jokes that his favorite course is wherever he can play for free. His favorite event is the annual Cruisin’ on the Coast car show that takes place in Biloxi. Ken has three cars: a 1966 Mustang, a 1990 Ford Thunderbird, and his recent purchase of a 1972 Cadillac Eldorado convertible that he will debut in the show this coming October. Ken’s number one sports event is Little League World Series baseball. He never misses it and in the near future will be volunteering at the Little League World Series Complex in Pennsylvania.
Ken is a highly decorated military veteran with 22 years of service. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Management from Park College in Parkville, Missouri along with an associate’s degree in Golf and Recreational Turfgrass Management from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He is Past President and current board member of the Mississippi Turfgrass Association, and Sports Turf Management Association member who has served as Chairman of the Scholarship Committee for the past four years,
is Adjutant in the American Legion Post 228, and a member of Shriner Temple No. 148 in Gulfport. Ken’s proudest honor and accomplishment in the Turfgrass industry was becoming the first Certified Sports Field Manager in the state of Mississippi in 2005.
Ken and his beautiful wife, Priscilla, reside in Gulfport and have been married for 28 years. They are blessed with twins! Keair, age 22, is a senior at Mississippi State University and majoring in Agronomy with a specialty in Sports Field Management. Their daughter, Kendra, (22), is also a senior at State and majoring in Microbiology with a Specialty in Pre-Pharmacy. Way to go, Keair and Kendra!
We want to thank you, Ken, for your service in our nation’s military! We are grateful for your commitment in our chapter and can’t wait for this year’s Deep South Turf Expo. You will make a terrific President.