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Dynamics beyond the sidelines

More Than a Game
Sunday, December 14, 2003
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer

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


Part Two 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.

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 may be.

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 the unexpected.

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 program:


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 groups.

“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.”


Wednesdays were basically the same as Tuesdays, save one very important difference – especially on travel dates.

 “Wednesday nights were also a packing night,” Justice said. “We would pack all of the equipment cases and prepare lists, finalize travel arrangements, etcetera.”

The packing was not even all of the equipment. It was just the basic equipment needed for the team when it was in transit.


The morning 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 logistics.

“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.”


With 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 work.

“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.


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.

“Saturday 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.”

After the 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 ready.”

Sneaking a peek at the game

Along with 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.

“In 1982, 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 other way.

“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 tape!”

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 time.

Just another moment in the week of an ECU equipment manager.

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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 02:11:07 PM

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