In Delhi, N.Y., a rural Catskill Mountain town with a population of 3000, locals love to hunt and fish, attend the county fair, and meet up to watch the big game. They’re not only cheering on a favorite team, but also the equipment being used on the field — it’s a homegrown source of pride.
As a manufacturer of sports construction equipment since 1998, Sportsfield Specialties, Inc., (SSI) products have become a fixture in athletic stadiums throughout the United States and abroad. The company’s momentum has transformed a four-person operation into an over one hundred-employee operation. The company also recently added a 79,000-sq-ft expansion to its manufacturing facility.
The company owes a debt to the changing dynamics of athletic field design, which requires new systems for a growing sports construction market. One of its most visible items is the AdjustRight® football goal post, which was originally patented in 2006 to address nonconformity at construction sites associated with an installation. According to SSI Facilities Director Eric Hulbert, a deviation in the foundation can cause the uprights to lean a foot or more at the top. The design changes the company has made are small, but make a big difference. “When we see a problem, we find a solution,” said Hulbert, who manages a team of engineers, as well as the manufacturing facility.
MEETING THE DEMANDS OF MODERN SPORTS VENUES
The company’s Director of Sales for Sports Construction, David Moxley, described how issues arose when the sports construction market shifted focus from single sport to multi-use fields in the late 1990s, a result of an increased interest in soccer and the advent of synthetic infill turf. “The material allows for multiple sports to be played on one surface without the normal wear and tear associated with natural grass,” explained Moxley. “Suddenly, stadium managers were wondering why an 8-ft deep by 8-ft high soccer goal on a multi-use field couldn’t fit beneath a 10-ft-high football crossbar. Our response, ‘they can.’”
SSI offered the 8-ft offset gooseneck in 2001. Increasing the offset of a standard (6-ft offset) football goal post by 2 ft meant both sports could accommodate a single goal line with ease. Moxley said, prior to this design change, facilities managers were forced to paint separate goal lines for each sport and move equipment. Others shortened the depth of their soccer goals by bringing in the rear ground bar, which affects the equipment’s balance and makes it less safe.
Following the release of the original AdjustRight® in 2006, it wasn’t long before the company was patenting the next version of its football goal post, which included a rotating and hydraulically hinged system, along with the upright adjustability feature.
Introduced to customers in 2012, this model allowed the user to safely lower the goal post in less than 15 seconds for removal from the field, a feature enjoyed by venues hosting non-sports related events. The rotating feature allowed the crossbar to be revolved 180 deg, preventing possible interference during a soccer match. SSI also released a rotating-only model (with the upright adjustability feature).
As the company’s football goal posts became a popular choice for high schools, colleges, and community venues across the United States, its biggest break came when the NFL announced a rule change in 2014. Following a controversial field goal by the Baltimore Ravens that traveled over an upright (considered wide/no good) and was called “good,” its rivals, the New England Patriots, proposed the NFL raise goal post uprights by 5 ft. The team owners voted to approve the rule change and the rest was history.
“The rule was announced in April with an August deadline,” explained Moxley. He said the company spent the four months traveling to NFL stadiums with engineering and construction partners to coordinate and install new football goal posts with 35-ft uprights in 24 (of the 31) NFL stadiums nationwide.
“It was an incredibly busy time, but also very rewarding for our company,” Moxley continued. “We knew that our efforts to manufacture versatile and high-quality sports equipment paid off when the majority of NFL teams chose our goal posts.”
BUILDING THE EQUIPMENT
Constructing an AdjustRight® football goal post means marrying traditional welding and metal fabrication with new designs and craftsmanship. Beginning with the gooseneck, a 6-in. schedule 40, 6063 aluminum pipe is rolled with a CNC rolling machine. “Our team spends a considerable amount of time making sure the radius has a clean look free of bending distortions and material displacement,” said Hulbert. This process can take up to 25 minutes per gooseneck, but is well worth the effort. “The extra attention gives our posts a very professional aesthetic. It’s part of their appeal.”
The 6-in. schedule 40, 6061 aluminum crossbar is saw cut to fit one of three goal post sizes, which includes the college/pro (18 ft, 6 in.), high school (23 ft, 4 in.), or an expandable high school/college model.
Then, an aluminum gooseneck coupler is gas metal arc (GMA) welded into place at the center of the crossbar. Because of the high temperatures, the hollow-shaped aluminum pipe is prone to distorting upward with the heat, so early on the company was challenged to find a solution. Two convex trough-like work stations, called crossbar positioning fixtures, were fabricated to correct unacceptable curvature. Each fixture accommodates two crossbars at a time. The material is preloaded to allow for distortion from the heat, which preemptively corrects potential bending.
On each end, holes are milled on the top of the crossbar, a rotating sleeve is inserted, and an upright stub (where the uprights will eventually fit) is GMA welded into the sleeve. Hulbert explained that the welders contour the surface of the insert and crossbar ends using thermal arc spraying techniques, which prevents upright adjustments from easily going out of plumb. Finally, an aluminum cap is gas tungsten arc (GTA) welded to close each end. Hulbert explained that all visible welds on company equipment are GTA welded to maintain the professional aesthetic.
The 6061 T6 grade aluminum goal post uprights are saw cut to one of three sizes: 20 ft, 30 ft, or 35 ft, dependent on the level of play. Finally, an aluminum cap with an integrated directional flag clip is GTA welded into place. The goal posts have no exposed hardware, which adds to the clean look of the equipment.
ACCESSORIES FOR FIELD SAFETY
On the field, the football goal posts are installed with a base plate or ground sleeve foundation. An optional access frame kit is available to use with accessories, including the patented SG2S® rear ground bar anchoring safety system for soccer goals.
With this system, the GMA welded aluminum frame is installed into the ground and houses the adjustable soccer goal anchor, which can work solely with a soccer goal or be incorporated into the football goal post on multiuse fields. While in use, the anchor provides exceptional security from soccer goal mishaps, such as tip over. An aluminum plug covered with synthetic turf fits snugly into place, matching the facility’s playing surface.
“We use labels to warn about the dangers of climbing on soccer goals, but when an anchor is installed, there’s real peace of mind,” said Moxley. He explained almost all schools and universities purchasing soccer goals or the combination soccer/football goal system from the company install the anchoring system. Sky’s the Limit “Our recent expansion has really streamlined the manufacturing process,” said Hulbert. He explained the changes made to the facility have increased production, improved work safety, and decreased wait times for customers.
The project, which was completed in spring of 2016, included the addition of new state-of-the-art equipment, specifically: five overhead bridge cranes for transporting heavy products between stations, HG 1003 ATC-down-acting-hydraulic press brake for bending metal, LC2515C1 AJ turret punch/fiber laser combination, and a Fryer MB-14R CNC 3-axis bed type (with an automated tool changer) for milling. Additionally, 9000 sq-ft was added to the powdercoating operation.
With the busy season winding down, it was clear from the action on the production floor that the company’s investment was not wasted. Hulbert noted, in 2015, SSI sold roughly 800 football goals, a 10% increase this year. “We have the room for growth,” said Hulbert, “and an expanding customer base that trusts our products. Not to mention, we recognize that there are always innovations we can make to athletic equipment, so there’s endless opportunity.” The company’s expansion makes a strong argument for the rewards of recognizing and adapting early to a changing need in the marketplace.
This article was written by Christina Wood for Welding Journal, August 2016