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Dynamics beyond the sidelines

More Than a Game
Friday, December 12, 2003
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer

More Than a Game - Choo Justice Part 1
It’s a Great View from the Inside

Former equipment manager has seen
the Pirate program grow across the decades


Part One of a Four-Part Series
Part 1, 12.12.03; Part 2, 12.14.03; Part 3, 12.19.03; Part 4, 12.21.03.

Former Pirate Equipment Manager, Charles
Justice. (Submitted Photo)

The names of the former Pirates who make up the fabric of East Carolina football lore, tend to role off the tongues of the faithful as if recalling cherished and revered friends from another time.

There’s Blake and Jones and Koonce and Valentine and Long and Kepley... Summerell and Robbins and Schulz... Byner and Colson. There’s Garrard and Henry and Gizmo... and Strayhorn and Alexander and Green...

 The list goes on and on and on.

Not so identifiable are some greats who were every bit a part of the team and every bit involved in the evolution of the Pirate program.

They are names like Doc Gibbs, Todd Moore, Todd Creekmore, Joe Leggett, Warren Brookins, Mike Meyers, John McTillman, Bill Barrett, Coby Heath, and Choo Justice. Not your every day names, but certainly very important people in the Pirate past.

These men were the equipment managers that forged a methodology to keep the Pirates ready to play, day in and day out. While it may sound mundane, the work done by these men and their current-day counterparts is and has been critical to the success the Pirates have found in recent decades.

Student Managers for the 1983 Pirate Football Season. Kneeling (L to R):
Tracy Gibbs, Todd Creekmoore, Charles "Choo" Justice. Back Row (L to R):
Tood Moore, Jud Crumpler (Manager's Aid), Ward Douglass, Joe Leggett.

One of those men who has seen the role of the equipment managers evolve over the years, took the time to share some insight and much more.

Charles Justice, better know to his friends as Coach Choo, may have been the first equipment manager “recruited” to East Carolina. Though recruited may be a little bit of a stretch as Choo was already determined to go to East Carolina, he was approached to join the under-funded, fledgling equipment managers under then-coach Ed Emory.

“In high school, I was a manager/trainer for the football team and ran track,” Justice said. “I had decided to go to ECU and was thinking about pursuing Sports Medicine. One of my former coaches, Bob Sanders, had just been hired to Ed Emory’s staff. I called (Sanders) to see about getting hooked up with the Sports Medicine program.

"About the same time, the head student manager, who was from my hometown, happened to be home for Spring Break. In those days, there was no full-time manager. It was all students.”

That student manager was named Jerry Copeland. Copeland, through a family connection, learned that Justice was headed for ECU and contacted Justice to gage his interest in becoming a manager. He then called Sanders to let him know that Justice was joining the crew.

“The next think I know, I am getting a call from Coach Holland,” Justice recalled. “Holland asks me if I would be interested in getting a scholarship. Of course, I said ‘Yes!’ The next day he calls me back and tells me that they will pay for my room and I could stay in the same dorm as the football team and eat at the training table. That sealed the deal! In those days, that was a whopping $1,200. Today, that wouldn’t get you a semester of meals!”

That East Carolina was giving scholarships to equipment managers is a testament to the commitment to change the program was experiencing in the early 1980s. But, as Justice quickly learned, the state of the art program was hardly state of the art then.

“When I came to ECU, I thought that it was a Mecca compared to what we had in high school,” Justice joked. “The reality was that ECU had far less than most college programs. Once I started traveling with the team, I realized that our facilities and budget were not very good compared to most of our competition. In the early ‘80s, we had little space in the field house, the locker rooms leaked, and our budget was really small. But, it seemed great.”

It was during the early ‘80s when the ECU equipment managers forged the reputation that they hold today, and much of that was due to the mood in the program set by Emory.

“Coach Emory was really a players’ coach,” Choo said. “He bred a certainly loyalty that is hard to find. He was tough on us and expected the best from you. But you knew he would always be there for you when you needed him."

Both the players and the managers had a hard time adjusting to the style that Emory brought with him to ECU.

“Our first couple of years were tough,” Justice said. “During preseason we practiced four times a day – except for Sundays, when we practiced three times.  We hated it, but we saw what Ed was doing. He was developing a strength program and he got as many coaches as he could. Even had some volunteer coaches like Coach (Jack) Boone coming out to give us as much help as possible.

“(Ed) was a relentless recruiter and got his team involved in selling the recruits on coming to ECU. His door was always open and we knew we could always go by his house and we were welcome. His wife Nancy was like our mom.”

The family, open-door atmosphere was only part of the maturation process of the trainers under Emory.

“He instilled a passion for success and taught us to always give 100%,” Justice said. “He taught us to be driven. He always said, ‘Respect everyone, fear no one.’”

Emory’s equipment managers were a wholesale part of the team and the players and managers all felt that bond.  The almost seamless integration of the managers into the team made for a strong relationship with the players, one in which the managers intuitively knew the needs of the players they were charged with keeping geared up to play.

While Emory instilled the passion, the managers also got an infusion of financial help.

“Bob Helmick was the Associate AD when I was in school,” Justice said. “He took all the managers under his wing and made sure we were taken care of. He always made sure we had jobs during the off-season so we had spending money. Once Bob got involved, our budget improved and we were able to do more for the team.”

Over the years, Justice has seen the program evolve from a trainer’s perspective. When he graduated, he became the first-ever, full-time equipment manager at ECU, a post he held for three years.

“After me, we have had a long line of great equipment managers,” Justice said, reflecting on the equipment management game today at ECU. “Mike Sinqufield, James Frazier, Dan Glinski, and now Chris Schieder. They each have taken our program to a new level and our equipment staff is one of the best. I am very proud of where we have gotten to in the equipment business."

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Special Four-part Series on Charles 'Choo' Justice

Friday, Dec. 12 — PART 1:
Choo Justice Profile — It’s a Great View from the Inside
Sunday, Dec. 14 — PART 2:
Training Day: A Week in the Life of a Pirate Equipment Manager
Friday, Dec. 19 — PART 3:
Telling Tales: A Collection of Stories from Inside the Program
Sunday, Dec. 21 — PART 4:
Choo Justice's "All-Tape & Bandages" Team

Quick hits with Choo Justice

Choo's Favorites

Favorite all-time Pirate uniforms:

“I always will have a spot in my heart for the 1982-83 Pirate uniforms. I actually designed the uniforms we wore in 1986-88, so I like those as well. I never liked the gold pants. White on white was always a favorite combo. Purple pants weren’t bad with white jerseys. I never really liked the all purple look. Without a doubt, I think that the Script Pirate helmet will always symbolize ECU football to many of our fans. I hated it when Coach Lewis switched to the NFL look with all the stripes, but have to admit that this helmets looked sharp.”

Best places to play from a trainer’s perspective:

“Southwest Louisiana always took the best care of us and we had a great relationship with their staff.”

Best and worst part of the training gig:

“The games were the best, especially the travel. We got to meet a lot of good people all over the country. The worst part was spring ball and winter conditioning – 6 a.m. conditioning practices in the middle of winter.”

Favorite Pirate team:

“The 1982 and ’83 Pirates. These were guys that I went through college with and lived with in the dorms. Obviously, our success and the battles we faced created a great bond.”

October 29, 1983 Game Program - ECU
vs. East Tennessee State - Homecoming

Worst Pirate year you can remember:

“1984. Everything fell apart after two great years, a lot of stress, the coaching staff was let go at the end of the year. Bad way to go out in my last year of college.”

The Trainers’ Lexicon:

Jolly Roger: “Described the warm-up part of the practice. You would say something like, ‘I’ll take care of it at the Jolly Roger.’”

The Tower: “The tower on the football field where coach would observe practice, we would film and where we could blow the horn and flip periods.

Periods: “The time increments for practice, usually five minutes long. A two hour practice would be 24 periods. Coaches would plan the practice accordingly. One of the managers would sit in the tower and every five minutes flip cards with number and blow the air horn to signal the start of a new period. Players would offer bribes to you to make the periods shorter. Coach Emory would usually lean over and say, ‘Hold this period until I give you the signal!’”

Red/Green Dots: “Helmets came in two sizes that were adjustable by putting in air or taking it out. Red Dots were the smaller size and Green Dots were the larger. If you wanted to joke about someone’s head, you would make up a color and say their head was so big that they needed a Blue Dot!”

Head gear: Helmets

Cages: Facemasks

Sanitaries: Shorts the players wore under their practice gear.

Shells: Practicing without shoulder pads, only wearing the web pads – foam pads that go under the hard shoulderpads.

Skeleton: Passing drills without linemen. Just receivers, backs, defensive backs, and linebackers. Also known as Skels.


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02/23/2007 02:11:06 PM

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