George Toma Born: February 2, 1929 (Edwardsville, PA)
Graduated: Edwardsville (PA) High School, 1947.
“I always preach that the cheapest insurance for an athlete from preschool to the pros is a safe playing field.” Those words ring true for legendary groundskeeper George Toma to this very day.
Growing up in the anthracite coal region of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Toma’s father died when he was only ten and he needed to find work. But instead of working in the coal mine as many at Toma’s age would, he began working for a local farmer. At age twelve, Toma began his illustrious groundskeeping career working for his neighbor Stan Scheckler, the head groundskeeper for the Wilkes Barre Barons, a farm team for the Cleveland Indians.
Toma continued to groundskeep through the 1946 season, and at only age sixteen, the Barons promoted him to head groundskeeper. Toma continued as head groundskeeper through 1950, also building spring training sites for the Cleveland Indians with their groundskeeper, Emil Bossard.
In 1950, Toma had to leave the Barons behind as he was drafted into the United States Army. He served in the Korean War as a Sergeant First Class in the 105th Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.
In 1955, Toma became the head groundskeeper for the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate for the Detroit Tigers, and just two years later was faced with a crucial choice. Two jobs beckoned: head groundskeeper for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Denver or for the Kansas City Athletics. Toma opted for Kansas City and its notoriously poor fields, partly because he reasoned that nobody would notice if he screwed up. But in just six months, Toma turned Kansas City’s ballpark from one of the worst fields to one of the best.
In 1963, Toma also began groundskeeping for Kansas City Chiefs football, when the team relocated from Dallas. Toma earned a reputation as one of the best groundskeepers in the country, preparing fields for baseball, football, soccer, and concerts. Toma remained the head groundskeeper for the Chiefs and the As/Royals until 1999 when he officially retired from full-time groundskeeping.
Toma has served as the groundskeeper for every Super Bowl since the game’s inception, working Super Bowl LVI in California only eleven days after turning 93. Not only did Toma tend to Super Bowl sod, but he also took on many other challenging tasks along the way.
In 1984, Olympic organizers asked Toma to prepare both the Los Angeles Coliseum and Rose Bowl for soccer, a task that Toma considers one of his greatest challenges. Toma also rose to the challenge of preparing the 1996 Atlanta Olympics opening ceremony field in just 36 hours. Throughout his illustrious career, Toma earned the respect of athletes who played on his fields, including Brazillian soccer legend Pele, who called Toma’s field the second best he had ever played on, behind only Wembley Stadium in London. Toma’s reputation also earned him nicknames that included the “Sodfather,” “God of Sod,” “Nitty-Gritty Dirt Man,” and “Sultan of Sod.”
Along with his induction into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, Toma’s honors include the NFL Hall of Fame, the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, and the Major League Baseball Groundskeepers Hall of Fame,
Please Welcome George Toma into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Biography by: Nathan Swaffar
Photos Courtesy of the Kansas City Royals.