The Management: Summit High football managers help team on, off the field
Come each Monday afternoon during football season, upwards of 55 football jerseys and britches from the preceding Friday’s game reside on the floor of the Summit Tigers locker room — inside, next to and around a pair of duffel bags.
From there, it’s up to the quartet of the football program’s unsung heroes — team equipment managers Sierra Kelley, Madison Lebow, Liliana Lopez and Megan Willitts — to clean them up and have the uniforms ready for the next Friday’s game.
Though the student managers describe working with the team as being a part of a family, the stench of used football equipment is, well, not exactly something you get used to. No matter how much Tide detergent you use.
“I don’t know how to describe that smell,” Lopez said. “It’s like rotten feet.”
Doing the team’s laundry certainly isn’t the only thing juniors Kelley and Willitts and freshmen Lebow and Lopez help the program with. Summit varsity head coach John Shirkey said the quartet “does a ton” for the program.
They keep the team going, whether that means filling up water containers and bottles, helping Summit High athletic trainer Rob Courtney walk an injured player off of the field, or walking to a McDonald’s while on the road to fetch a coach coffee.
On Friday night at 7 p.m. at Tiger Stadium, when the Tigers (3-6, 2-2 3A Western Slope League) wrap up their season with a Senior Night tilt versus Palisade High School (8-1, 4-0) the equipment-managing quartet again will help with the little tasks. They are the rarely-noticed duties necessary for the Tigers program to perform at its best.
Each Monday, effectively the start of the varsity team’s work week, the duties are preparing the laundry for the games and water for practice. On Tuesday, the four finish up the varsity’s laundry and begin the junior varsity’s from their weekly Monday night game. On Wednesday, JV’s laundry is finished and the crew begins to hang up, in numerical order, the varsity jerseys for Friday night’s game. Also in time for that game, the students hang each player’s jersey and britches up in their name-plated lockers.
Come game day, the managers actually get out of class 15 to 20 minutes ahead of the varsity team in order to get everything ready for a nightcap at Tigers Stadium or a road trip to a rival school. If traveling on the road, it’s on the quartet to lug the big Gatorade containers, the two water cartons with twelve bottles each, the hefty game equipment box and any other items onto the bus.
Departure from the school for road games is, the managers said, sometimes a chore. It’s not uncommon for the team to leave about a half hour after coaches plan to depart, due to the tedious preparation process from some individual players.
Still, the team typically arrives at their preferred time of two hours before kickoff. Once at the venue, it’s up to the equipment managers to track down the opponent’s athletic training room and the best spot to fill up the team’s supply of water.
During the game action, managers find themselves helping with everything from keeping excited players behind the sideline boundary, aiding trainer Courtney and listening while players vent about something that just happened on the field.
“I’m constantly yelling, ‘Get behind the yellow line,’’ Lopez said.
During road games when the Tigers are down, Kelley goes as far as to incite the Tigers players on the sideline to keep up their volume. It’s a competition of who can root for their teammates the loudest.
“She’s the hype person,” Willitts said.
A couple of weeks back, the team managers arrived on Monday only to find coach Shirkey had already started up the varsity team’s wash. The idea of not having to corral 55 pairs of dirty football uniforms was a sudden, encouraging notion for the quartet.
It was also another example that the Tigers football program under Shirkey is truly a tight-knit group where the man at the top is as selfless as the equipment managers he brought on a few months ago.
Back in August, at the start of pre-season camp, Shirkey brought his team together and introduced them to the managers. He told them, Willitts said, “These are not your moms. These are the managers. You need to treat them better than the coaches.”
The quartet will conclude this season on Friday night with their own literal pieces of the Summit Tigers football fabric. The managers received pairs of game socks signifying the varsity team’s special edition Breast Cancer Awareness and Salute To Service games.
Beyond those tangible items, though, even if they’ve never donned full pads and a helmet, the group of equipment managers now know what it feels like to be part of a football team.
“The relationship you make with the team and coaches is really something special,” Lopez said. “You really are a part of a big family.”
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