Norwich University athletic equipment manager Scott Mullen’s day starts early. He gets in the car at his home in Claremont, New Hampshire in time to arrive at Norwich University at 6 a.m. The drive takes over an hour.
That has been his routine for 18 years.
“It’s not bad. It’s all highway,” Mullen said.
The drive up I-89 is the only thing that is the same these days. The work of a college equipment manager has been so different during the past year.
“I have been doing this over 30 years (previously at Dartmouth College) and I never thought I would be wearing gloves and shields and disinfecting everything,” Mullen said. “It takes a lot more time.”
“Things have been very different. We are tier one personnel meaning we have direct contact with the athletes so we have had to do things differently,” said Rutland native Larry Hare, assistant athletic director and head equipment manager at Kansas University.
The pandemic has changed many people’s jobs. Someone who is entrusted with the health and safety of athletes and is responsible for the cleanliness of their uniforms and equipment, has had their workdays changed dramatically.
Some college-age athletes tend to think they are invincible so Mullen must be on guard for himself and the athletes.
“I won’t pump up a kid’s helmet unless he has a mask on,” Mullen said.
The spring is about to get interesting or in Mullen’s word “chaotic.”
Teams missing out on their fall season will be trying to recapture some of what they lost by having a short spring season.
Mullen has been told the women’s soccer team, for example, might try to piece together a six or seven-game season.
The hockey and basketball teams are getting off to a late start and might go through mid-March. The Cadets are planning full-pad football practices in the spring.
“We could have 20 teams doing something at the same time,” Mullen said.
The logistics are a new science. The soccer team can only have 10 in the room changing at a time and then must clear out for the next group.
“Only five people are allowed in the equipment room at a time,” Mullen said. “It’s nuts.
“We just found out on Tuesday that Norwich is a vaccination site so that’s good news.”
Hare said they had to move Kansas athletes into the softball lounge to give them a larger space for fitting equipment.
“When I am fitting a helmet, I not only have to wear a mask but safety glasses and the athlete must be in a mask,” Hare said.
Hare has the title of assistant athletic director but this year he has been reverting back to his days as a student manager at Boston College, doing things that have to be done because there are fewer people available to do them. He is back in the trenches.
“It’s whatever it takes,” Hare said.
Student managers are covering sports other than the ones they are originally assigned to. There are simply fewer people on campus to execute more duties.
“It takes a buy-in by everyone,” Hare said.
He has seen that in his own family with two high-school age children. Mason goes to his job at Chick-fil-A willingly wearing a mask as does Elizabeth when she competes with her high school volleyball team.
“Anyone who is on the front lines as a health care professional knows that wearing a mask for eight hours is a lot. I am in a mask six to 10 hours a day because our school has mandated wearing a mask no matter where you are,” Hare said.
When he fits the Jayhawks in footwear, Hare is not only wearing a mask but special tinted, fogless glasses.
“It has been a tremendous learning curve. Everything is many more steps, more deliberate and more time consuming,” he said.
Simple things like being more conscious of giving the hamper a thorough cleaning after the dirty uniforms have been emptied are now meticulously checked off.
Saturday afternoon, the Jayhawks host Iowa State in a men’s basketball game.
The day for 1992 Mount St. Joseph graduate Larry Hare will begin well before the 1 p.m. tip-off time and last long after the final buzzer.