More Than a Game - Choo Justice Part 2
Training Day: A Week in the Life
of a Pirate Equipment Manager
One of ECU’s best
trainers walks through the activities leading up to Game Day
Two of a Four-Part Series
12.12.03; Part 2,
12.14.03; Part 3,
12.19.03; Part 4,
Choo Justice - circa 1983
Choo Justice has been
through a Pirate game week a time or two in his life. He's quick to tell
you it is exhilarating every time, no matter how routine the activities
During Coach Ed
Emory’s tenure, the Pirate equipment managers had a regimented schedule
for preparing for Saturday’s kickoff. But, as Choo can tell you, the
choreographed schedule was always made exciting by the unscheduled, by
Justice takes us
through a typical game week for the Pirates, as he experienced it
day-by-day,week-in and week-out as one of the unsung Pirates in the
During Emory’s tenure,
the Pirates always began game week with a late Monday practice, and it
was critical that the managers prepare for it.
“On Mondays, we would
usually practice at night,” Justice said. “After going to class during
the day we would usually go over and (prepare) the practice fields in
the afternoon, grab a bite to eat then head to night practice.”
The bulk of the weekly
grunt work fell on Tuesday and Wednesday of a game week. If all went
right, the days would be as mundane as they were every week.
“You would get up and
go eat breakfast at the training table with the guys,” Justice said.
“After a few classes, we were back at the training table for lunch.
Then, usually, you headed over to the field house by 1:00. We would open
up the locker rooms and one of us would man the laundry window, handing
out practice gear – sweats, jerseys, etc. Another manager would man the
equipment room, dealing with helmets, shoes, shoulder pads, whatever
problems the guys had.”
The tasks were regular
and routine and each manager had his or her role.
“One of us would go
check in with the coach, get the practice schedules and check lists,
then head out to the field to set up the dummies, cones and other gear
needed for practice drills,” Justice described. “Practice would usually
get going good by 3:00. While practice was going on, each of us would be
assigned to a coach or a group of coaches. We helped with drills,
spotting footballs, charting plays. Occasionally, I played quarterback
for the offensive line when we were split up into individual position
“Early part of
practice, we would break up into small groups by position and run
drills. We always had one manager in the tower with Coach Emory, keeping
the clock for Coach. Another manager stayed at the base of the tower to
fix broken equipment and deal with emergencies.”
The days would end as
they started, with a routine designed to close out the day and prepare
for the next. There was equipment to re-shelve and laundry to do.
“My first three years
there, we had one washer and two dryers for 160 players,” Justice
recalled. “Laundry was literally, an all night job. It would take us
until 6:00 a.m. to complete it. We would do this at least once a week.
My last couple of years they built us a new laundry room with three
washers and five dryers. Laundry became only a four-hour task.”
were basically the same as Tuesdays, save one very important difference
– especially on travel dates.
were also a packing night,” Justice said. “We would pack all of the
equipment cases and prepare lists, finalize travel arrangements,
The packing was not
even all of the equipment. It was just the basic equipment needed for
the team when it was in transit.
meant more packing for the equipment managers at East Carolina. So, not
only did the crew have to know how to keep helmets and shoulder pads
working, run a laundry service, manage a practice schedule and keep the
team moving from obligation to obligation, they also had to be adept at
“Thursdays we would
pick up the truck,” he explained. “As soon as practice was over, we
would begin packing the players’ individual gear for the trip. When we
were done, we had an 18-foot truck stuffed full of gear.”
everything loaded, the team was off, making Fridays the best day of the
week for the managers, though it was very busy and involved a lot of
“Friday was usually a
travel day,” Justice said. “We would drive the truck to the airport,
unload onto the plane and fly to our destination. We would unload the
plane onto another truck, drive to the stadium and unpack. We would set
up the locker room, offense on one side, defense on the other. The team
would usually come do a light practice in shorts and helmets.
“Fridays were fun. We
spent time hanging with the kickers and punters trying to figure out how
the wind moved in that particular stadium. After light drills and
running through some plays, we would run two-minute drills. One of the
mangers would have a script the coaches set up.”
While the team
practiced, the managers had a specific set of activities, helping the
coaching staff prepare the team.
“We acted as referees
and time keepers,” Justice said. “We kept the balls spotted quickly as
the offense would move into high gear.”
After practice, it was
back to doing laundry for Justice and the crew, and then came setup.
“After the team left
for the hotel, we would put out the game uniforms. Jerseys always hung
from the locker where the players would see their names and numbers,”
Justice said. “We would spend a couple of hours cleaning helmets,
putting on new stickers, polishing them, replacing facemasks that were
bent, checking shoulder pads for straps and hooks, polishing shoes,
replacing worn cleats and such.”
And, there was
camaraderie with the opposing trainers.
“The home team
managers would usually stop by and give us a tour of their place,” he
said. “We usually found time to swap T-shirts with the opposing guys.”
While the team settled
in at the hotel, the managers were just getting started.
“We would head to the
hotel, eat with the team, and then head out for errands,” he said. “We
would go pick up cases of fruit and drinks, run by Burger King and order
100 burgers and apple pies for the evening snack. The players would
usually meet and watch film, then take in a movie. Following the movie
they would return to their rooms. We would come around at 10 p.m. to
check curfew and deliver snacks and take last minute requests for any
things that the players needed.”
Then… finally… lights
out and sleep.
SATURDAY – GAME DAY ARRIVES!
Game day was a
working day for the managers. Even so, they all got very good at
watching their Pirates battle on the field of play while working. It
became a special skill that the managers had.
mornings we would get up and eat breakfast with the team,” he said.
“Then we would head over to the stadium for last minute details like
setting up sideline phones, moving equipment cases to the field, getting
the game balls to the to the refs.
“When the team
arrived, we helped with warm-ups. During the game, we all had duties
that ranged from charting plays to holding sideline phone cords for the
coaches. One of us would be posted as a lookout on top of the equipment
case, looking for anything that might break during the course of the
game. After the game, we would pack everything up and head home.”
final whistle of the day, the managers would rapidly pack everything up
and prepare for the trip home. And home simply meant a bunch more work.
“We would usually
arrive back in Greenville during the middle of the night,” he said. “We
would go ahead and unpack the uniforms and one of us would stay up and
do the laundry. On Sunday, we would meet in the morning to unpack the
truck and put all the gear back into the lockers. Sunday afternoon,
players would come in for running and meetings, so we would be there for
that. And the cycle would begin again!”
And, when the Pirates
were at home, the routine would be very similar, except for the travel.
“On home game weeks,
we had similar days, but in the evenings we usually took care of
painting Ficklen Stadium game field,” Justice said. “In those days, the
managers handled that as well. It usually took us three nights to get it
Sneaking a peek at the game
being trainers, guys like Justice were still avid Pirate fans, and the
temptation to watch the game instead of working was always present on
Saturdays in the fall. But the trainers were professional and clever,
finding ways to do both without losing quality and efficiency.
“You learned to watch
while working,” he said. “We had to be aware of what was going on during
the game in order to do our jobs. We were always trying to anticipate
where we were needed, looking for broken equipment, helping coaches get
players, watching for specific things, signaling in calls, changing
plays for the coaches, etc. Actually, I have a hard time just watching
games today. I have to be doing something (while at games), which is why
I take the camera!”
Even sneaking a peek
when it is part of the job can prove to be a dangerous distraction and
Justice pointed out just how critical an error by an equipment manager
could be on game day, while in other instances, a heads up solution can
save the day.
Earnest started wearing a knee brace. Braces in those days were not as
advanced as they are today. They were made out of heavy steel. Earnest’s
would always squeak when he walked or ran so I always could tell where
he was without looking. In 1983, we were playing Missouri. As we were
driving down the field at a critical juncture of the game, the strap
broke on his brace. He ran over to the sidelines. We cut his pants,
taped the brace back in place. Before we could finish tearing the tape,
someone yelled ‘go!’
“Earnest took off back
into the game with a roll of tape bouncing behind him. As he broke the
huddle, he realized the whole roll of tape was hanging from his leg. He
was trying to tear the tape, which at this point was semi-wadded and
almost impossible to tear, as the ball was snapped. He fumbled the
handoff from (Kevin) Ingram and we ended up having to settle for a field
goal on that drive. I felt really bad and was worried that that might
cost us the game. Fortunately, we held on for a close victory.”
Sometimes, it cut the
“Byner always seemed
to require the most attention without trying,” he said. “As a freshman,
we put tear-away jerseys on the running backs. We would have 6-8 made up
for the starters, usually 3-4 for the backups. One game at home as a
freshman, Earnest played more than normal because of an injury to the
starter. He had his jersey torn off fairly quickly and we were getting
ready to put his regular jersey on him (which would help would-be
tacklers). Then, one of us got the bright idea to take trainers’ tape
and put 44 on a blank tear-away. We put it on Earnest and sent him right
back into the game. The next play, he went 53 yards for a touchdown,
leaving a defender with a hand full of tear away jersey and athletic
Mistakes were not
taken well by the staff.
“We were always
worried that a key player would miss an important play during a game, so
we worked hard at keeping everyone fixed up so they would have no down
Just another moment in
the week of an ECU equipment manager.
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