At the Division III level of NCAA sports, athletics programs like find themselves walking a fine line that straddles two separate but equally demanding concepts. Programs like Trinity University must strive to bring student-athletes every advantage they can, doing their level best to follow best practices established by Division I and Division II programs.
At the same time, the realities of budget constraints and inability to provide student-athletes with athletic scholarships puts both student-athlete and the athletics program in a reasonably tight bind. Often, the love for the game must seriously outweigh any expectation of luxury.
As head athletic equipment manager for Trinity University, Quin Patterson, E.M.C., rides this tension like a wave. He manages the equipment room and all equipment for 18 sports at Trinity. Of his staff of 12 student workers, 10 of them are current student-athletes who both want a job and love their chosen sport. From baseball to wrestling and everything in between, Patterson knows how to make it all work.
“I love Division III,” says Patterson. “I talk to various equipment managers across the board at the DIII level. What it always comes down to is our budgetary aspects. The biggest constraint at our level is always budget. We don’t have the budget numbers of some of the bigger schools out there. We have 3,000 undergrads here. What’s kept me around is the connections. It’s more about the people for me. I love dealing with the equipment, but at the end of the day, in DIII, we have a very ‘family’ type of connection between our athletes, our coaches, and the department itself.
“Thank God for my department at Trinity,” he says. “Thank goodness for the understanding of all the coaches, the sports staff, my athletic director, associate athletic directors, student-athletes. They understand the weight of what we do, and that is what makes my job easy.”
Patterson’s success as an equipment manager stems from staying continuously educated within his profession, deftly managing people and budget resources year over year, and willingly embracing new equipment backed by fundamentally sound technology and scientific principles.
Staying continuously educated is a job unto itself in equipment management. As Membership Chair for District VII (Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado) for the Athletic Equipment Managers Association (AEMA), Patterson is active in the organization. His duties include welcoming and corresponding with new members to the district, answering any questions they may have, or directing them to the individuals in the organization who can assist.
To retain his certification, he must earn at least six continuing education units (CEUs) every three years. This represents 60 contact hours spent in educational activities during this period.
Many of these are achieved by attending the AEMA’s annual convention, much like football coaches earn Professional Development Series credits at the AFCA Annual Convention.
Continuing education demands that certified AEMA members become involved in a continuous improvement process, as well.
“For certified equipment managers, that continuing education is about learning different things that maybe you never thought of, or new developments in the market that help make your job easier and help improve the field. It’s about helping your department continue its own improvement,” says Patterson. “Year to year, it’s always different, but for example, because we were in Indianapolis last year, we had the NCAA come in and tell us about new rule changes that were coming into effect and how they would impact us.
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“That’s the kind of information that I collect and learn about and then pass on to our coaches to make sure that we are not only compliant, but we’re also protecting our student-athletes now and in the future. We want to protect our student-athletes, and we also want to be in compliance with NCAA regulations.”
It’s why certification is so important to begin with and why athletics programs should seek out and hire certified equipment managers if they have the wherewithal to do so.
“My school always wanted me to get certified, and I wanted it too, because it establishes fundamental principles behind how we perform,” says Patterson. “We’re not comparing ourselves to athletic trainers, but athletic departments wouldn’t hire a non-certified athletic trainer and trust him or her with student-athletes.
Equipment is also important to athlete protection and injury prevention. An athletic department can trust a certified equipment manager to do the right thing for student-athletes and use proper-fitting equipment to help prevent injuries.”
Trying New Technology
Part of an equipment manager’s duties is working with coaches and athletic trainers to identify equipment that keeps teams performing at their best, while also helping to create safer circumstances in which to play the game.
A recent example of this comes from selecting new helmets. Patterson outfitted eight of his football players with VICIS ZERO1 helmets earlier this season. It was the program’s first foray into choosing a helmet that hadn’t already been on the market for many years.
Talk to any equipment manager and you’ll soon learn that selecting a piece of equipment as important to player protection as a football helmet, is something they do not take lightly.
“This was a joint effort that included me, our head coach Jerheme Urban and our athletic trainer, who’s been here for 20 or more years,” says Patterson. “We always continue to have discussions about new advancements. A couple years ago, we decided to put down a lot of money to make sure we had better helmets, and at least improve our helmet quantities and also our stock, and then make sure we’re looking at the Virginia Tech studies and all the various studies. At the end of the day, we want our players protected and to make sure they’re getting to their futures. That’s our joint mission. We strive to give our student-athletes the best available products on the market.
“We know the science that’s gone behind it, we’ve seen the tests and we’ve seen the results. We’ve put our hands on the helmets themselves, seen the give, and all those various aspects.”
Trinity put the new helmets on their quarterback, starting running back, a defensive lineman, a wide receiver and a few other players. Where they’ve had the greatest impact is with Trinity’s middle linebacker.
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“He’s a smaller kid and he gets a lot of leverage underneath guys just because of his size and the way he tackles,” says Patterson. “Last year, he blew up two or three helmets just because of the way he hits. His helmet was sliding all around, doing things we didn’t want. This season, he hasn’t had any issues blowing up his helmet, no sliding or anything. It has that good fit, but also allows him to make the plays he needs to make without any repercussions.”
Regardless of equipment type or brand, Patterson says it’s the equipment managers job to learn about and understand the various aspects of any new equipment, and to be more than just reasonably sure it’s going to perform as expected.
“When you’re getting into something new, you have to find the best quality and understand if the company you’re working with is in it for the right reasons and doing it for the same reasons as yours, to keep kids protected,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a leap of faith, but if all lines up, you’ve got to go with it and see if it works.”
This article was written by Paul Markgraff, managing editor of AFCA Magazine and AFCA Insider. Follow him on Twitter at Football Coach Daily.