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Managing to keep up

By KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 6, 2002

It's Friday night, and Chelsea Veres is about to go to work.

Lecanto coach Dick Slack has called timeout on third-and-5 and is screaming for Veres and the rest of the student football managers to hustle out some water to his thirsty team.

The freshman springs into action, running onto the field, oblivious to the tone of Slack's voice.

"He gets overwhelmed with the game sometimes," said Veres.

Slack said he yells constantly so the managers have to be thick-skinned and know he is not angry with them.

"I just want things done right away," Slack said. "The girls who have been with me a couple of years know I'm not angry, I just get very animated on the sidelines."

It is all in a day's work for football managers, who work what Slack calls a "thankless job." At all three county high schools, managers such as Veres take care of the lesser duties so the coaches can deal with the X's and O's.

"We run water, get the bandages, and run the footballs, towels and the ice when the players get hurt," said Veres, who might also load and unload the buses, carry all equipment to the field, and help with laundry during a night's work.

But nowhere are there more responsibilities than at Citrus.

Junior Karrie Thompson is the head videographer, and Hurricanes coach Larry Bishop said her job is very important because the film is sent to opposing coaches and used for highlight tapes to send to college recruiters. It is professional quality and Bishop has never heard a complaint, which makes Thompson, 16, feel good about being trusted with the job.

"They tell me, "Thompson, your tape is awesome,' " she said. "When the guys watch the films, they thank me a lot."

Bishop has 13 varsity and junior varsity managers, and putting on a home game takes a lot of effort. Before and after varsity games, Citrus manager Sarah Bushman walks around with a checklist, marking off the duties.

At Citrus, managers work practices four days a week and must be at the game a couple of hours before kickoff. That checks out to about 20 hours a week, equivalent to a part-time job. If managers were paid the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, that would add up to about $400 a month and $1,000 for the season.

Said Thompson; "There's some really dedicated girls out there who really get it done."

Prospective Citrus managers come out the first day of spring practice for a trial period. Those who make the cut are invited back for the fall season. Managers must be there every day and be willing to work within a structured program and get along with coaches and players.

Managers are supposed to take a care and prevention of athletic injuries class offered at Citrus, which they leave CPR-certified and first-aid certified and able to tape players' feet and hands.

"We never have to look over their shoulder or their shoulders, second-guess them or check up on them because we know it's going to be done," Bishop said. "When you get that "program within a program' going, it helps the entire program operate more efficiently."

Crystal River coach Jere DeFoor uses his managers to mostly take care of the watering needs of his team, as well as doling out towels. He gets lots of requests from prospective candidates throughout the year and has to turn many down.

Missy Towns, 18, is in charge of giving Pirates players water on the sidelines when they switch from offense to defense or vice versa, and is constantly filling the water jugs. The senior, estimates the Pirates go through 12 gallons of water or more every game.

"We're constantly filling them up because the players are drinking or wetting themselves with the water," Towns said.

Towns, who works 26-28 hours a week as a grocery bagger at Publix, does not go to practices. Crystal River varsity managers Erin Ammerman and Ashley Prue also work junior varsity games.

Thursdays are especially hectic for Veres, who films junior varsity games after going to the varsity practice.

It is hard to deal with a manager's workload, especially in the heat. Some come out for a few days and never come back, Slack said. And if they are just there to hang out and talk to the players and each other, there is no place for them on the sidelines, he said.

"It's a job and they've got to understand that," Slack said. "It's all business at practice and games. During the day they can joke around with the players."

The schedule makes it difficult for a manager to play a fall sport. At Citrus, managers such as Amanda Sakowicz and Kelly Rodgers play softball, and Jennifer Zimmer and Rodgers also do weightlifting after the season is over.

There are not many tangible benefits of being a manager. So why do high school football managers put up with cranky bosses, few days off and working every Friday night?

One is to feel like part of the Citrus football family, Thompson said. On Thursdays, managers enjoy a team dinner in the cafeteria cooked by the football moms. The meals have a theme; last week's was Mexican food.

"They're great guys and when we have team dinners it's always "ladies first,' " Thompson said.

At the end of the season, 'Canes managers will get a letter, a Citrus pullover jacket, a manager pin and a certificate.

"They appreciate us so much and tell us that they wouldn't know what to do without us," Thompson said. "That's why most of the girls are out there, because the coaches are so great."

Veres said she will receive a letter for her work with the varsity and community service hours for the junior varsity. Veres said being a manager is fun and a lot of hard work, but somebody has to do it. She served as a middle school football manager last year, and works varsity with freshman Sandra Kirchaine and head manager Tasha Dotson, a senior.

Veres thought being a manager would be a good way to meet people, and said there is an added benefit to working with the football players.

"It's nice to know them, if anyone picks on me they'll take care of it," said Veres, who plans on being a manager the next three years.

Towns already got a shirt and picture for her efforts. She is friends with many of the senior players. If they win, she will make them brownies or cookies for practice or after a game.

"I just love football and love watching it," Towns said. "I know all the guys and had wanted to do it forever."

She plans to compete for the third time in a school-sponsored girls powderpuff game usually held in December, which the football players coach.

Maybe then, they will be able to return the favor when she gets thirsty.

For whatever reason, area high schoolers choose to work as a student football managers, the teams would have a hard time without them.

There might even be future opportunities for some interested in pursuing careers in athletic training and sports management.

-- Kristen Leigh Porter can be reached at 564-3628 or porter@sptimes.com.

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