Equipped to Compete
A crew of staff and students orders, launders, repairs and delivers athletic gear
Dedicated students help keep athletes ready to play. Pictured clockwise from top left: Ivy Severan Robertson, Nick Mortell, Kyle Kamau, Jaki Falch, Nicole Isemoto, Meghan Yamamoto, Brianna Lagat-Ramos
The hustle and bustle around the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s athletic complex late December 2007 must have resembled the second boarding of Noah’s Ark.
No animals two-by-two, but lockers and containers by the dozen were loaded onto moving trucks as the Warrior Football team headed to a bowl appearance an ocean and continent away. Thirteen foot lockers, each the size of a love seat; 113 player equipment bags packed with helmets, shoulder pads and shoes; ice chests and water coolers; practice and game uniforms; a stationary bike; dozens of footballs; 12 cases of athletic tape; quantities of coffee, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and pineapple…about 12,000 pounds of cargo in all.
Sorting, packing, unpacking and distributing all that gear (and reversing the process for the trip home) falls to 35-year equipment room veteran Ken Fujimura. With an assistant manager and a skeleton crew of five student managers and a volunteer, he gave new meaning to The Big Easy as they transformed the New Orleans Marriott ballroom into UH equipment headquarters.
"The equipment room is understaffed, but they do an unbelievably good job," says Associate Head Football Coach Rich Miano. "They are committed to our players and coaches and always make sure we are outfitted properly."
Practice helps. Hawaiʻi’s geographic isolation necessitates similar logistics every road game. "Most mainland teams pack a moving truck and send their equipment ahead while the managers fly with the team," says Equipment Manager Kyle Tateishi. "We have to pack equipment for the plane, make sure the stuff gets off the plane, rent a moving truck, pack all the stuff into that, and then go to the team hotel, where we unpack again and set up shop—all in the same day."
They do the same for 18 other athletic programs as well as ordering apparel, equipment and uniforms and managing laundry services and equipment repair.
Each team has a unique set of needs, notes Tateishi. "Besides fixing face masks and pads during games, we set up all the headsets at Aloha Stadium. (Former) Coach June Jones didn’t want any white to show on our players’ shoes, so during football season, we also had to spray paint all the guys’ shoes."
A good equipment manager is critical, says Joey Estrella, head baseball coach at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, where coaches are responsible for their teams’ equipment needs. "That person, if they do their job correctly, can save an athletic department tons of money."
Just as the right equipment maintains the health and safety of student-athletes, proper care extends the life of the equipment.
"The staff is underpaid for the time and effort they put in," Miano observes. Still, they enjoy working with student-athletes. "Like any job, it has its ups and downs," says Tateishi. "Sure, when we have all these sports going at one time it can get really busy. But I love my job."