JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The real MVPs of Fletcher’s preseason game against Nease played the game from the sidelines.
A team of equipment managers worked behind the scenes to keep the football players cool and safe during a heat advisory.
Seventeen-year-old girls Bryce James and Emily Carter have been equipment managers since their freshman year.
Now as seniors, they have formed a bond rooted in volunteerism.
“I did it in middle school. Ever since then we’ve fallen in love with the team and the sport,” Carter said.
BEATING THE HEAT
The group of girls started preparing for the game three hours before kickoff.
They met in the field house to begin preparing water and Gatorade for the team of nearly 40 players.
“We’re just really trying to keep the boys hydrated so they can do their best on the field,” James said.
The game started at 7 p.m., in the midst of a heat advisory that lasted from noon to 8 p.m.
James said the equipment managers must be prepared at any time to provide “water, Gatorade and ice baths in case anything were to happen. We also have ice towels that we squeeze on their necks.”
Just before kickoff, they rolled 40 gallons of ice onto the field, with plans to refill it during halftime.
Water breaks came in the middle of each quarter.
Cheerleaders, band members, and football players all took time to hydrate.
The equipment management team provided plastic Gatorade bottles for the players to share.
GET IT IN GEAR
The Fletcher High students do more than hydrate the team. They are responsible for the upkeep of equipment, which can be stressful at times.
“When something breaks you have maybe 30 seconds to fix it,” Carter said.
James remembered some anxious times last year.
“Part of the helmet popped out with one of our starters last year within 20 seconds,” she said.
There have been upgrades to the equipment during their tenure including air and water fans.
Carter says, “We have fans that blow water which is kind of new.”
The team has to get the fix in record time.
“They have a play before they can get back on the field and we have to fix a helmet real quick or get someone hydrated,” James said.
They have learned to work together to support the football team.
HE’S OUR SECOND DAD
The responsibility of holding the team together is rewarded by being a part of a group that feels like family.
“Coach Corey’s definitely been a big part of it. He’s our second dad. We’re a part of the team and it’s awesome,” James said.
The job does have its difficulties.
“We definitely need to be really close. Obviously there’s drama, and problems with schedules and obviously we can’t commit all of our time,” James said.
She says the teamwork grows over time.
“It’s definitely a big deal and we all get really close through the season,” she said.
With 39 players on the roster, they have plenty of guys who are protective of them in school.
“The guys take us in, and they have our backs. We look out for them, and they look out for us,” Carter adds.
“We’re like brothers and sisters,” James said.
That’s what sets them apart from other equipment management teams across the county, according to Carter.
“We are part of the football family. I think a lot of girls make a family of themselves, but we’re a part of the team,” she said.