If this is your first time here, welcome. Before reading on, you might want to check out the two equipment manager posts leading up to this one, Part 1 and Part 2. This post will pick up where the last one left off, around the time I left the San Francisco 49ers and moved to Fort Collins, CO.
So. Yes. About that. I moved to Colorado when my internship with the 49ers was over for a full-time internship with the Colorado State University Rams – this was the time I really started getting into the field of equipment management and got a taste of what it was like to actually work in athletics, not just as a student. Equipment managers are the guys who make things happen for their teams and don’t seek any of the glory. Often their jobs are tiring, thankless, require long hours and involve a great deal of physical labor. The responsibilities I had at CSU were similar to what I experienced in San Francisco, except with about 16 different teams of different sports, I was much more involved from top to bottom and learned something just about every day I was there. On some days I was a chemist, mixing industrial grade laundry chemicals to get the right mix of acids and bases to clean uniforms; some days I was a repairman, fixing everything from cleats to heavy machinery to field equipment and everything in between; some days I was a purchasing coordinator, responsible for ordering a year’s worth of equipment and apparel about 6 months in advance of the next school year; and most days I was a mentor to students and student-athletes.
On a different note, the culture of athletics on the CSU campus was definitely unique and very different from anything I had experienced in the past – different community, smaller department, bigger campus, public v. private, etc. Having grown up in Las Vegas, NV with time spent in South Bend, IN and Santa Clara, CA, I thought it would be easy to transition to Fort Collins – I was comfortable with change and thought I was pretty well-rounded and pretty capable, but those very different experiences and work opportunities situated in varying levels of diversity as well as organizational expectations coupled with my new environment in Fort Collins reminded me that I hadn’t yet “figured it out.” Each new experience reminded me to never really get too comfortable with what I was doing or with whom I was working. You never really know all of what is going on and can always be learning something. Another piece to this period of my life was the fact that I was living on an intern’s salary, barely scraping by (eating mostly Top Ramen, which I have always loved!) but still making ends meet by getting a second job on the weekends.
In some respects my transition to Fort Collins was both very smooth and very rocky. (haha, get it? Rocky Mountains? I’m joking.) But in all seriousness, it was a great learning experience in terms of patience and understanding, discipline and perspective. Plus, I absolutely fell in love with the mountains all over again. I bought my first mountain bike while living in Fort Collins and have loved hiking, biking and off-roading ever since. Because I lived in the Midwest for four years before moving west again, I think I may have forgotten how great it is living near/on mountains. If you’ve never been to Rocky Mountain National Park (or any National Park for that matter), I highly suggest you visit if you ever get the opportunity. Breathtaking and beautiful.
My next post will dive into what I did as an equipment manager at Notre Dame, so stay tuned and…
The previous post, Athletics Equipment Manager Part 1, didn’t actually talk much about athletics or sports equipment nor equipment services. It did give a pretty basic outline of what did eventually lead me into athletics as a career, primarily as an athletics equipment manager at first. My time as a student manager of athletics intrigued me enough that I did not want to leave the sports world and opened a few doors that allowed me to make a living doing so. In this post, I’ll go more into the technical side of what I did as a football equipment manager and a bit about the positions I’ve held in that field of work.
Upon graduation from the University of Notre Dame, I accepted my first job as an equipment intern with the San Francisco 49ers NFL football team. In July of 2006 I was flown in to Santa Clara, CA from my home and picked up by the full-season intern who would be with the team until their very last game. From the airport, the other interns and I were driven to what we would call home for the next 7 weeks, the Santa Clara Holiday Inn. Yes, you read that right. I lived in a Holiday Inn hotel room for 7 weeks straight. That part really wasn’t that bad actually – we had someone to clean our room everyday, we had clean sheets every other day and had fresh towels every day too! Plus with all the “free” hotel soap and shampoo, we didn’t have to purchase any of that stuff either. Our meals were covered by the team on the days that we were working, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, so we basically had no living expenses to worry about at all. The day that we arrived we also checked in to the 49ers headquarters, situated about a mile from the Holiday Inn and adjacent to a sizable theme park in the area. We got to meet our bosses, a few of the coaches and front office staff and got a tour of the facilities, both upstairs and downstairs.
The 49ers headquarters and practice facility was, at the time, arguably one of the best in the NFL. In addition, they were probably one of the only teams that actually had all of their staff in one place. The main structure was a two-story building with office space, kitchen and dining area upstairs and locker room, meeting rooms, equipment room, players lounge, rehab facilities and training room all downstairs on the first level. Outside the back doors of the building were 3 full size practice fields (including the nicest Field Turf field on which I’ve ever stepped foot) a separate building for the grounds crew and their equipment and tools, the video staff offices and their equipment and miscellaneous team storage. At the far end of the fields were also the largest Tuff Shed storage sheds I’ve ever seen that housed all of the team’s field equipment and training dummies. The entire setup was first class all the way.
The day after we landed and checked in, we got right to work. The interns were split into two groups that took turns working different indoor/outdoor shifts. First – the outdoor work. The outdoor work had to do mainly with the field equipment the team would use at practice. We took an inventory of all the pads, dummies, shields, cones, and everything else that was out there so the coaches would be able to plan their practices accurately. In addition, each coach was able to request what they’d need for the year and if they didn’t already have the appropriate quantity or item, the equipment staff would order the appropriate items and make sure they were in full working order at all times. During that first week on the job we removed all the equipment from the sheds, cleaned every item with soap and water and then gave all the appropriate items a nice coating of Armor All (a car care product). Once clean, all items were organized and stacked inside the sheds according to size, frequency of use and position coach.
Next – the inside work. As an equipment manager, nobody should ever really notice you. The only time you ever really see an equipment guy is if something is going wrong – like the wrong name or number on a jersey. Because the work of an equipment manager is so public and so important, we spend a great deal of time making sure those kinds of things do not happen. So, that first week with the 49ers was spent issuing equipment and gear to all the players lockers (the players hadn’t arrived yet) and then organizing everything in the back storage areas to make sure we had everything we might need for every possible contingency at both home games and on the road. That first week we also inspected every player’s shoulder pads and helmet, checked each locker for all the correct and matching pants pads, cleats and any other specialty type equipment issued by the athletic training staff. The specialty equipment could be anything from a neck roll, arm sleeve, ankle brace or something much more advanced and custom fitted to the exact specifications of the player’s injury or physical restrictions.
Because the San Francisco 49ers were, at the time, based in Santa Clara and played their home games at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the equipment staff treated every game like an away game. That means we basically packed the entire equipment room into movable trunks of various sizes, loaded up a semi-truck and hauled everything, and I mean everything, to the stadiums where we’d be playing for every game all season long. So, we had numerous lists of everything that would go into these travel trunks that got checked and re-checked every time we opened them up or got some new inventory from our vendors. This was a constant process that we tweaked every day leading up to our preseason games.
So about a week after we first arrived in Santa Clara, the players started to arrive for camp to begin. With about one day of orientation, we were into full practices the day after they arrived. Fall camp means long hours and hard work for everyone. Most weeks of fall camp involved 3 or 4 days of two-a-day practices, a scrimmage day, and an off day (for the players only). For at least the first 3 weeks we were on the job, the equipment staff had NO days off and the full-time guys didn’t get any days off until about mid-September after the season go started. We were responsible for all the laundry of the all the players’ practice gear, game uniforms, field setup and break down for practices and games, various locker room tasks, and we were constantly checking the players’ equipment to make sure it was in full working order. At this point, I had been through 3 years of football practice at Notre Dame and never seen anyone actually break a piece of equipment through normal play. (There were a few times where guys would throw their helmets on the ground out of frustration) During my short stint with the 49ers that lasted only about 7 weeks, we had a line backer that literally broke a set of shoulder pads and a defensive lineman that literally cracked two different helmets. WOW! That was one of my most memorable experiences of the NFL. This went on for about the next 5 weeks with 4 preseason games mixed in there. After each week the fall camp practice squad was cut down to what would eventually make up the final roster of players and a few practice guys. By the first week of September, my last week on the job and the first week of the season, we had our full team ready to go.
So by now this post is getting pretty long and I’ll try to wrap it up. Equipment managers are the team behind the team – we do laundry, we set up the field for practices and games and put it all away, we organize, we’re the first ones there are the last ones to leave, we prep our gear and keep our athletes safe and we make sure our facilities are always looking their best. Most of all though, we’re planners and helpers and there’s no task too small or great. If you need something to get done, an equipment manager is the one for the job. It takes a great deal of patience and organization to keep a roster of athletes and coaches well equipped for their duties and equipment managers are prepared for all possible contingencies regardless of the circumstances. We’re always prepared. Despite all the millions of things going on in our mind, we get stuff done – on time, on budget and exceeding all expectations. Period. We’re responsible for moving an entire team and all of the “stuff” that keeps them moving and on the field ready to go to battle. I didn’t talk much about the transportation aspect of team travel, but we’ve got contingencies for that too. So if you really want to know what makes athletes tick or coaches motivated or a team functioning, ask an equipment manager. They are the ones in the background, not seeking attention but keeping everything in line.
If you’ve got any questions about the field of athletics equipment management, please let me know in the comments below – I’m happy to tell stories or answer questions. You can also subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button at the bottom of the screen.
A few weeks ago I asked some of the people I work with what they would want to read on my blog. One of the things that came up was my past experience as an athletics equipment manager. They knew I had gone to the University of Notre Dame as an undergrad and at least one knew I was a full-time equipment manager there, but neither knew what I really did in those roles. My experience as an equipment manager began during the time that I was a student and was further developed well after graduation – about 4 years. There are many different stories I could tell about my time at ND and/or as an equipment guy in general, but I’ll reserve those for some more appropriate time. For the purposes of this blog I’ll simply keep the commentary to duties, responsibilities, a few of the perks of the job and a bit more about my history. Part 1 – Student Managers Organization, or “SMO.”
The storied past of the University of Notre Dame and its athletics programs often speaks for itself. The story I intend to tell here is one that is often under the radar and one that very few people know about. If you’ve seen the movie “Rudy” or know anything about the Notre Dame Football team, you know about the Golden Helmets and the managers that paint them. This is the story of the team behind the team, the Student Managers Organization at the University of Notre Dame.
The Student Managers Organization at the University of Notre Dame has its roots dating back to the late 1920’s during the time that Knute Rockne was the football coach there. Coach Rockne enlisted a few students to help him out with various responsibilities as it related to the university’s athletics programs. Over time, the SMO evolved to cover numerous duties of varying levels of responsibility for literally every sports team at Notre Dame. Of course as different coaches were fired and hired by Notre Dame, their expectations of control over their respective programs influenced some of the changes within the Student Managers Organization. As the needs of the coaches and teams changed, so did the organization of the SMO. Perhaps the biggest change to the University of Notre Dame as a whole was the admittance of its first female class of students in the fall of 1972; since it’s founding in 1842, Notre Dame had been an all-male campus. As a result of this decision and future passing of the legislation called “Title IX,” the SMO began to cover the newly minted varsity women’s athletics programs as well.
When I joined the Student Managers Organization as a freshman during the Winter of 2003, the program was much different from what it is now. At that time there were 21 senior student managers, 21 junior student managers, about 50-75 sophomore student managers and roughly 300-400 freshman student managers who managed various responsibilities for 26 different teams. The SMO was open for all students to join during the winter of their freshman year and fall of their sophomore year and only during these times. If you were not a freshman or sophomore, you couldn’t join the SMO. The aspects of the program that make this type of student job unique are that, at the beginning, it is open to literally every student who wants to join in addition to the level of responsibility held by the junior and senior student managers.
As a freshman or sophomore you sign up, get your work gear package of shoes, jacket, polo, and a few workout shirts and get on the work schedule. At this level, your basic responsibilities are to assist the junior and senior managers with whatever it is they need. This could be anything from shagging foul balls at practice, running bases, filling up water bottles, moving equipment, videotaping practices or folding laundry – very basic tasks, but important ones for the people running the teams. Perhaps the best or most fun parts of being a sophomore student manager is working football practice, assisting with locker room duties and prepping the players’ helmets for the famous 23 carat gold paint. The helmet prep process is actually quite involved and happens before every game. First, the helmet exterior must be cleaned and free of any dirt or grime. Next, the existing paint must be smoothed out with paint thinner and any flakes or rough edges removed and evened out. After that, all the vent holes, ear holes and all other openings must be covered and sealed with tape or plastic. Finally after all that prep, the junior managers would actually mix the paint with the gold flake and apply 1-3 coats, depending on various independent variables.
At the end of the sophomore year, just before the spring football game, all of the managers at this level would go through an intensive peer evaluation process. Part of that process included a peer ranking of all the sophomore managers from 1 to however many there were in the group with only the top 21 making it to their junior year. Those top 21 sophomores would be allowed to continue on as junior football managers whose main responsibility was to learn from and assist the senior managers, a title they would assume the following year. At the end of the football season their junior year, those 21 managers would then rank their peers again from 1 to 21 with the top male and female managers getting a full 100% tuition scholarship, the next 9 managers getting a 75% scholarship and the rest of the managers in that class would receive a 65% scholarship. In addition, the top ranked manager would have their first choice of sport assignment, the second ranked manager would choose their assigned sport and so forth. A few of the manager positions would be assigned to more than one team of the same sport; for example the golf manager worked for both the men’s and women’s teams. From this time on at the midway point of the junior year, the juniors were instructed to shadow and learn from the senior managers in preparation for their own senior year as the head sport manager.
The senior managers were the true leaders of the Student Managers Organization and their roles with most teams was much like that of a full-time operations manager – scheduling practices and facilities, coordinating laundry and equipment services and organizing travel details including meals, hotels, and flights, in addition to daily office tasks and directing summer camp operations that the team might host in their respective off-seasons. The senior managers would be responsible for most of these tasks in addition to their responsibilities to their education as students.
Overall, my experience as a student manager at Notre Dame was an incredible opportunity to learn the business of sport with real world, hands-on experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. The time commitments were significant and the responsibilities critical, but certainly worthwhile growing opportunities that have given me the tools and understanding I couldn’t have received any other way. I remain very appreciative for the people who gave me a chance to succeed and am ever grateful to them. I hope you enjoyed this entry; my next post will be about my time as an athletics equipment manager as a professional and discuss my work history in that field.
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There are some definite advantages to watching games on TV – the food is cheaper, the beer is cheaper and the couch is pretty comfortable. If you’ve got a big TV and surround sound too, then yes, that’s a pretty tough argument as to why going to a game isn’t that great. However, there’s more to it than that.
The University of Washington Department of Intercollegiate Athletics external staff are deep into Seat Selection Central right
now whereby we are assisting our season ticket holders select seats at the newly renovated Husky Stadium. As part of the setup, season ticket holders can select their new seats online using the “Virtual Venue,” call into the Seat Selection Central or actually visit the Seat Selection Showroom in person to get a better feel for how the seating will be at the new Husky Stadium. For most people, picking new season tickets is a big deal and not something to be taken lightly. The financial investment is a consideration, however there are so many other factors that come into play as a result of the unique situation taking place.
How many opportunities is a sports fan really given the choice of sitting anywhere they want? Let me tell you – not many, if ever. Well, Husky fans have that option this year. For the last 20 years or so, fans have only been able to improve their seats as other fans drop out or don’t renew their season tickets at the same rate or level. There are probably other ways to get better seats, but for an honest, hard-working season ticket holder, this was really the only way you were going to get better seats – by someone else dropping out, not being able to afford the same price level, etc. Now imagine that your team completely demolished their old stadium, built it completely brand new from the ground up and gave you the option of sitting ANYWHERE you want. Yes, every seat was available to the first season ticket holder to select.
That’s exactly what we are up here are the UW. Our season ticket holders, in priority order, get to choose from any available seat when it gets to their selection appointment time – what an opportunity! This is really a once in a lifetime event for our fans to choose seats in a stadium for which they will be the very first person to sit in that particular seat.
So, to answer the question at the top of this post, why is this better than watching at home? Well – the new Husky Stadium is a pretty big draw and almost speaks for itself. In this case, you’ve pretty much got the option of picking wherever you want, you’ll be the very first person to actually sit in your seat, the amenities and game experience are very much improved and it will arguably be the most modern stadium in the country at the time that it opens.
In general, the advantages to game attendance versus watching at home are numerous, though I’ll only give a few points here. The biggest thing that I hear people talk about is the sense of community and the feeling you get by being at a game. Even though you may not know anyone else at the game, you get a sense of belonging and pride for being a part of something bigger than yourself. You feel like somehow you being there makes a difference to the team and you want to be a part of their success. Somehow you feel connected to the other fans in the tailgate areas, in the stadium and you can’t explain that sense of belonging any other way.
Another more tangible advantage to watching a game in person is the fact that you can see the entire field all at once. This is my favorite reason for watching in person – I want to see what both teams are doing at all positions at all times. As a former lineman, I want to see what those guys are doing on run plays….how their form is on a passing play. TV hardly ever shows what these guys are doing except once in a while when something bad happens or just by chance they are in the camera view that includes the quarterback. You also get to see the entire defense setup and can easily read what formations they break into and how the coverage changes depending on the offensive formations.
The last advantage I want to mention about watching a game from a stadium seat and not on TV is that it keeps getting better. As a fan, you want to know that the organization is doing what they can to stay competitive on the field, but also trying to make it as easy as possible for you to get to the game and have a good time regardless of the final score. The halftime entertainment is getting better (something you don’t get to watch on TV), the seats are getting more comfortable, the prices more competitive, and when something big happens you get to say that “I was there!” It does take more of a commitment to getting out to the game, but once you do, hopefully you’ve got the feeling that it was well worth the trip.
As a sidebar, I am fully aware of the fact that TV revenues are an important factor in funding sport related enterprises and give many more fans the opportunity to watch what is happening. The numbers involved in those deals
are often significant, especially in the last few years and foreseeable future, and really do provide the opportunity for organizations to field their teams well-funded. That said though, the best game experience, in my opinion, will always be in person – a conversation the staff here at Washington will be having on a daily basis until at least the end of May. So let me close by saying that if you haven’t been to a game in a while, go check it out. Whether it be a minor league baseball game, an indoor lacrosse game, a college football game, a high school soccer match or any other sporting event – get out and have a great time being a part of something greater than yourself.
I love sport and will always enjoy events in person better than on TV. How about you? Leave your comments below.