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Groundskeeper gets moment in the lights

ELKTON — Almost every day of the school year, hundreds of spectators enjoy the work of Walter Price, probably without ever knowing it.

That’s because whether they are taking in a Monday field hockey game, a Thursday lacrosse game or a Friday night football game, Price is the man responsible for the fields on which all Cecil County high school athletes play.

His work has most likely gone unnoticed, until now. The Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches recently chose Price as their Groundskeeper of the Year.

Jim Leitgeb, the athletic director at Elkton High School, nominated Price at the association’s meeting last month. He also made his case to roughly 160 high school baseball coaches, highlighting the fact that Price is head groundskeeper at all five county high schools and has worked on the fields for 31 years.

“It was really nice to be recognized by the coaches,” Price said. “I didn’t even know that Jim was going to nominate me.”

Price began working on the county’s high school playing fields after graduating from Bohemia Manor High School in 1979, where he played baseball and soccer.

“I saw that the board was hiring a groundskeeper and I thought it was a great way to stay close to the sports I love,” he said.

The hardest part of his job is just keeping track of all the different games and events happening across the county and making sure each field is prepared by game time, he said.

“My team’s responsibility is 32 fields, five days a week, between practice fields, junior varsity games and varsity games,” Price said.

While hundreds of fans enjoy his football fields in the fall, Price says the spring season is the busiest for him and his coworker, Tom Frick.

“In the spring, you have lacrosse, softball and baseball all running on top of one another, so we have to really plan our schedule strategically,” he said.

The two yardsticks by which coaches measure groundskeepers are the quality of the fields and whether or not they are playable after rain, Leitgeb said.

“I can’t tell you how many times (Price) has saved us,” he said. “He can turn a muddy mess into a field in a few hours.”

Price said a lot of work goes into making that happen.

“We put down blowers to dry the infield and use a combination of buckets and squeegees to get the top water off,” he said.

“Until the other day I didn’t realize how privileged we are with Walter,” Leitgeb said. “I often hear from other coaches around the state that they have to line their own fields. I’ve always thought that, with Walter, we had some of the straightest lines in the state.”

Price, who recently began considering retirement, was a little more humble about his skills.

“I would hope that after 31 years I could draw a straight line,” he said.

Price will be personally recognized at a ceremony in February at Camden Yards in Baltimore.