Todd Barnes arrives at school every work day at 5:30 a.m.
He cuts the grass and prunes the bushes. He cares for the grounds at Tarpon Springs High as if it was his Oldsmar home.
But one of his biggest tasks as the school's groundskeeper can often go unnoticed. Most people just arrive at the football game and don't even give the field a second thought. The sidelines are there. The yard lines are the proper width, the hash marks are in the correct place and the end zones are 10 yards deep.
"I'm a ghost in a sense," said Barnes, Tarpon Springs High's 13-year groundskeeper who maintains the school's athletic fields. "I don't socialize with the kids. The majority of the teachers don't know who I am. I try to keep quiet during the day. When the students leave, that's when I go out and do what I need to do."
Barnes, 45, has worked with Pinellas County Schools for 17 years. In 1997, he was assigned to Tarpon Springs.
From Day One, he was given the responsibility of lining the fields. In addition to the football field, he maintains and lines the softball, baseball, soccer, flag football, powder puff football and practice fields.
"I'm clean when I come in and covered in grass when I leave," said Barnes, a father of two who was raised in Palm Harbor. "It's a constant year-round process."
Three days a week, Barnes mows the football field. But how he lines the field can cause consequences beyond the gridiron.
"An official can delay play if he discovers that a field is not lined correctly," said Cristina M. Alvarez, the spokeswoman for the Florida High School Athletic Association "If the matter can't be rectified right away, then we may have to get involved to ensure that it is taken care of in a timely manner."
The FHSA follows guidelines of the National Federation of State High School Associations in terms of playing field dimensions.
"The thickness of the white lines has to be 4 inches," Barnes said. "You have to be careful because it matters."
Wayne McKnight, in his eighth season as the school's athletic director, said Barnes does a wonderful job of maintaining the grounds.
"I don't think people understand that there is a lot on the groundskeeper's plate," McKnight said, pointing to the fact that recent cuts in the school system's budget has increased Barnes' workload.
"What Todd does is extremely instrumental and vital to all the extra curriculum activities that we have.
"The more we can properly maintain our grounds, the more we can achieve from an athletic and extracurriculum activity stand point. We have an extraordinary number of programs that have to share a small amount of space."
After tonight's game against Countryside High School, Barnes will go to work on the field so that it's ready this weekend's 2009 Tarpon Springs Outdoor Music Festival. There will be more than 26 bands competing on the football field.
The school's football Booster Club paints the "T" in the middle of the field while Barnes handles the lines.
"I can call him for help and I know it's the last minute, and it's never an argument from him," said Rick Fisk, 53, the booster club's president. "He's always very positive."
Barnes never gets to see the folks enjoy his work. When his work is done, he goes home and spends time with the family. But still, Barnes said he loves providing Tarpon Springs students with quality grounds that they can be proud of.
"When other schools come in, I want the visiting team to say, 'this is a nice-looking field,' " Barnes said. "There is a very high sense of pride here and I have that same pride when it comes to how I try to keep the fields."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4174.