By MIKE SCHOEFFEL
If there’s one thing David Tanner can’t stand, it’s seeing grass where it shouldn’t be.
“I can’t stand it growing in curbs and sidewalks and stuff,” he said. “It just burns me up.”
That’s not a bad hang-up for Tanner to have, considering it’s in his job description to keep weeds and such from popping up in unwanted places. He’s a bonafide field maintenance guru, a one-man grooming crew who keeps Liberty Hill’s state-of-the-art athletic fields — some of the most renowned in the state — as prim and proper as humanly possible. As he put it, he takes pride in “keeping everything looking like it did on the first day.”
Tanner seems to be everywhere all of the time. He has a cell phone, but if you want to track him down, it’d be just as easy to stop by the Liberty Hill High School campus on any given day and roam around for a while near the athletic facilities. You’ll most likely find him scooting about on his small green tractor, working on this project or that, enacting the plan of attack he lays out in detail each morning. When you speak with him, he’ll talk in the soft, level demeanor of a man who takes a deep sense of pride in what he does — and knows exactly what he’s doing.
“I think this place should look like a university,” he said, sitting in the press box a few hours before the varsity baseball team’s one-game playoff against Navasota on May 5. “That’s what motivates me. I want the kids to be proud of what they have.”
Tanner, a former truck driver who turns 67 in November, understands it’s the details that separate the average from the great. With that in mind, he goes the extra mile.
He routinely pressure washes the sidewalks to keep them looking nice and neat. He created a flower bed at the school entrance to add rustic flair. Most recently, he stenciled in the “LH” logo behind the pitcher’s mound on the baseball field. It’s these small touches that make Tanner such a valued member of the LHHS community.
“They don’t see that anywhere else,” said Tanner of the stencil. “It’s just a little something to keep them motivated.”
The baseball team, which is in the middle of one of its most successful runs in recent memory, so appreciates Tanner’s contributions that it recently presented him with a home plate plaque signed by each player. Head coach Mike Kristan said Tanner was immensely grateful for the gesture.
“He didn’t believe me when I told him the kids bought a gift for him,” said Kristan. “He was totally overwhelmed and excited. David is a tireless worker who would do anything to help improve the kids’ performance and daily experience.”
It’s not the first time a varsity coach has shown an appreciation for Tanner’s hard work. Last summer, former head football coach Jerry Vance invited Tanner to join in on the team’s official picture. It was a small gesture, sure, but it was something that Tanner said he’ll never forget.
“I’ve never been in a picture with a football team,” said Tanner. “That really stuck with me. Coach Vance didn’t have to do that.”
All this praise surrounding Tanner seems warranted — simply stated, he puts in the hours. Forty per week, to be exact. As he sees it, “the kids and coaches are out there on the field working hard, and I want to do the same thing. Some days it’s 120 degrees down there on the turf, but I’m out there grooming it in the middle of the heat to keep it looking the way it should.”
All of the high school’s main athletic fields are composed of grassy artificial turf. Tanner spent five years tending to grass fields at Florence High School before coming to Liberty Hill four years ago.
Turf is “a little easier to maintain,” Tanner said, considering he no longer has to worry about watering and fertilizing, among other things. But turf has its quirks, and it still requires a high amount of attention and upkeep.
“You can’t just walk off and leave these fields,” he said. “You have to take care of them.”
Perhaps Tanner’s most important job is field grooming, which he undertakes about once a week. He hooks up a grooming machine to his small Kubota tractor and takes to the field, picking up trash and shuffling around the small black pellets — essentially artificial dirt — that make up the turf. If the field isn’t groomed, said Tanner, the pellets will “settle down and get hard as a rock, then it becomes a safety issue.
“The last thing I want to see is an injury that I could have somehow prevented,” he said. “That would tear me up.”
After spring sports come to a close in the coming weeks, Tanner will turn his attention to preparing the football field, and the campus in general, for the pomp and circumstance of high school graduation, which will take place in June. And if Tanner sees to it, everything will be in its right place, and no one attending the ceremony will see a single piece of grass poking its head out of the concrete.
“I want the kids to be proud of these facilities,” he said. “When our kids go to other schools, I want them to say ‘Wow, we’ve really got it made here.’”