The contest that Ruppert Landscape sponsors on its annual field day has always encouraged camaraderie and sharpened workers' skills. Now it improves the community, too.

Since Ruppert's early days, employees of the $20-million-plus Ashton, Md., landscape contractor have gathered annually to compete at planting trees and maneuvering lawn mowers through obstacle courses.

The field day helps 400 employees at multiple locations keep in touch with one another and reminds corporate staffers of the company's roots, as they and the field workers lay sod side by side. The company reiterates its values during a mass meeting before the games.

Events once took place at headquarters. "But there was only so much we could do to improve our own property," spokeswoman Kathleen Obenschain points out. In 1992 Ruppert realized it could use the contests to revitalize a community park. It chose La Polvosa, "the dustbowl," a run-down soccer field in Washington, D.C. It felt good, Obenschain says, to involve the whole company in a charitable effort instead of simply donating money. And it especially gratified the 50 employees who live in the neighborhood surrounding La Polvosa.

Last year, after consulting with the local department of recreation, Ruppert's teams descended on a park located near four schools in northeast D.C. Again they planted trees, shrubs, and sod. And this time, working with an established subcontractor, they laid new hard-top basketball and tennis courts. The two projects have cost Ruppert a total of $70,000.

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