Written by Kristen Carver
Picture this: You’re a senior in high school, entering your final season playing the sport you love. But instead of enjoying that last hurrah with your team, you suffer a season-ending injury. Years later, after several surgeries, you discover the true cause of your injury and how it could have been completely avoided. What do you do? If you’re Josh McPherson, you sure don’t wish for a time machine. Instead, you decide that from there on out, you will do everything in your power to keep athletes safe with the ground they’re playing on.
St Louis CITY SC hired McPherson as its Director of Stadium Grounds in December of 2021. The Temperance, Michigan native enters his new role after spending 12 years as the University of Missouri’s Director of Sports Fields, a job he wouldn’t leave for just another.
“My family and I love Missouri and have been here for 12 years,” the father of two said. “This is the first job I applied for in the last 12 years. I had no intention of leaving Mizzou until I saw the position open up.”
One of the many coaches McPherson worked alongside while at Mizzou was the university’s former soccer head coach Bryan Blitz, who led the women’s team for 26 years.
“Teams were always so happy to play on our surface,” Blitz recalled. “Josh takes so much pride in what he does; he was always so passionate. And then off the field, he was just a great human,” Blitz said.
According to McPherson, Missouri is in the “transition zone”, where it’s not cold enough for the cool-season grasses and it’s not hot enough for the warm-season grasses. Therefore, it’s much more difficult to grow grass in this area. However, that hasn’t stopped McPherson from growing grass, including Bermudagrass, in the transition zone for the majority of his career. It was a task that Blitz completely trusted him with, resulting in one less thing for the soccer coach to worry about.
“When you don’t have (trust in your groundskeeper), it can be a distraction. With Josh, I could focus on winning games. It was fantastic,” Blitz said. “His work is playing a role in every single match, and every single practice that then transpires down to your Academy and who you can bring in. It’s just a seamless operation. It’s a non-issue for all the coaches and players. From a coaching standpoint, I can say that it’s a big piece of what you’re doing.”
McPherson’s journey to Missouri began after he graduated from Michigan State. He moved to Blacksburg, Virginia with his wife who was starting graduate school at Virginia Tech. McPherson returned to the classroom as well, making his way into Virginia Tech’s Turf Program and accepting a Graduate Assistant position with the university’s Athletic Department.
Then, at 25 years old, McPherson accepted a Head Groundskeeper position at George Mason University, where he received the College & University Softball Field of the Year award from the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) in 2007. After spending some time as an Athletic Field Maintenance Manager for Washington D.C. Parks and Recreation, McPherson joined the University of Missouri’s Athletic Department in 2010. Two years in, he received his next significant award, the 2012 STMA College and University Baseball Field of the Year.
McPherson’s list of achievements helps speak to his incredible work over the years, but the most recent award he was given acknowledges more than his innovative skills and beautifully kept fields.
The STMA Dick Ericson award, named after one of its founders, is issued annually to someone who positively impacts the sports turf industry while effectively leading their team to accomplish their goals in field maintenance. In other words, the accolade recognizes a true leader.
“When I was told that Josh had won, it came as no shock to me, just knowing what he’s been able to bring to our industry and how he’s helped improve our association as a whole.” STMA President Nick McKenna said. “He’s continually found a way to be involved with our professional association, to give back, and to help other sports field managers improve.”
The winner of the Dick Ericson award is usually kept secret until the STMA’s annual banquet in January, but due to the pandemic, McPherson wasn’t able to attend. Instead, McKenna surprised McPherson with the exciting news through a video call.
Tears filled McPherson’s eyes as he absorbed the words: “You are the 2021 recipient of the Dick Ericson Founders Award.”
“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” McPherson said. “I believe in this positive coaching philosophy, and it’s the reason I got the award. It’s neat to be recognized for how I coach my team, not just how I grow the grass, but how I treat people.”
It’s achievements like these that remind McPherson why he started groundskeeping in the first place.
“I truly do this to keep everyone safe. While studying at Michigan State, I learned I got hurt not because of how I was hit but because of how bad the field was. I learned that I could make fields safe and not take the experience of playing sports away from people. I learned how I could make fields safe so people wouldn’t get hurt and could keep playing.”
That mission remains the same as McPherson begins to build his crew at CITY. He said his team will be made up of individuals who can thrive in a positive coaching system and are willing to challenge themselves to be better people and employees of the club. He is making it a high priority to hire people with great attitudes that also have a passion for producing elite playing surfaces.
“I want to build a team of turfgrass professionals that is known not just by how we manage the quality of pitch but how we treat people and engage in the community.”
McPherson added: “What I’m really loving about CITY so far is that everyone here has a passion for what they do and what I’m seeing because of that is that everything is just better. It’s not the same old way of how you do things in athletics. It’s all these different ideas and it’s going to make an incredible experience for not only fans but the staff. I’m seeing things being done better than I’ve ever seen them done.”
What McPherson is witnessing now will be clear to all in 2023 at Centene Stadium.
“That first match-day is going to be incredible. To hear that crowd and to be a part of that, ha, I’m getting chills right now thinking about it.”
So are we, Josh. So are we.