She used to describe herself as “half girly girl and half tom boy,” but now forges a new identity: Equipment Manager.
Here’s how Larry Hare, Assistant Athletic Director, Equipment Operations at Kansas University describes her: “Kenzie is truly a unique and extraordinary young woman,” he wrote to us at Helmet Tracker. “Kenzie is a passionate and strong young woman. She has a true appetite for this profession.”
Kenzie Obrochta is Helmet Tracker’s latest candidate for our AEMA Certification Exam Scholarship.
She hails from the western-most reaches of New York State and finds herself now about 90 minutes from the Pacific Ocean.
This is her story.
Hyper-competitive on the Water
As a kindergartener (her story doesn’t go back much further than this) she idolized an older girl, a girl who served as her a kindergarten buddy. This girl rowed on a crew in high school and young Kenzie set her sights on doing the same.
Years later at the all-girls Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, she told her mom she was done with swimming and done with ice skating and was going to join crew.
“I am super competitive, so I needed that in my life,” she admits. “I went to one tryout and I loved it.”
She made a place for herself in the 4s and the 8s before realizing her physical stature wasn't going to make it easy to row in college. She allowed herself to be talked into the coxswain’s seat (“I’m pretty scrappy”).
“That’s where it all started for me—being a rower and then being able to experience how a coxswain works was helpful,” she recalls.
Kansas recruited Kenzie to its rowing team and after showing off that scrappiness to get into KU she soon was shouting stroke counts for the Jayhawk rowing team throughout the Midwest as a DI student-athlete. Here’s the thing, though, growing up in Buffalo Bills’ country, Kenzie is a football fan.
“When I got to Kansas, I declared for Sports Communication, but soon learned it required a lot of writing so I continued to researching what I could do related to football. See, football is my thing. I love football,” she said, her voice rising with excitement. You can hear the emotion in what she says. “My Grandpa is a big football fan and since I was a little kid he was dressing me up in Notre Dame sweat shirts. I love Notre Dame and hate Michigan.”
“So I ended up with a Sports Management degree.”
Kenzie said that in one Sports Management class, someone mentioned working in the Equipment Room. She looked into it and asked around.
“I met with Larry (Larry Hare, Assistant Athletic Director / Equipment Operations) and he invited me to come in for the summer before my Junior year. Everyone was so interesting,” Kenzie said. “I loved having to get everything organized and see uniform and helmet designs before they were public.”
Kenzie was assigned to work with the rowing team for a year.
“Over the course of 2 years, Kenzie carved out 10+ hours per week working in the Equipment Room in addition to her commitments as a student-athlete as well as maintaining a full undergraduate course load,” Larry wrote us, impressed.
Notre Dame Dream
Her work there lead her to apply for a dream internship: Fighting Irish Football. In the summer before her senior year at Kansas, Kenzie moved to South Bend and interned for the Notre Dame Football Equipment Room.
“That was my dream summer,” she said, words pouring out. “It was everything and more. I could not have asked for a better summer. I learned so much. It was the best summer of my life. We had football practice in the morning. We did laundry, set up practice, set up cones and such. We’d be busy in the early mornings, then in the afternoon there were usually shipments in to organize, then we had kids camp. We fit helmets, had a womens’ camp thing, and specials.”
When she returned to Lawrence, Larry assigned her to the equipment room for the KU football team.
“To her credit, the student managers and staff in both locations found her to be a valuable asset each day and a trusted wingman with whom to complete projects,” Larry wrote us. “Kenzie is a passionate and strong young woman. She has a true appetite for this profession. “
“I enjoy working in equipment. I think that is the biggest thing. People see it as laundry and one of the biggest things I like is telling people what they don’t know about equipment management,” Kenzie said.
She said the variety of the work, and even the amount of work is what she enjoys about working in the equipment room.
“I am so go, go, go and busy, busy, busy and that’s my personality. With equipment there is always something to be done, something to be doing.”
Being a woman in the equipment room comes with some misconceptions, she says. She is not interested in meeting football players to date (“Definitely not.”).
“I like to break the status quo. ‘Watch me’ – I’m going to be the girl who works in the equipment room and I am going to be the bomb about it. I’m in this because I love the equipment and I love the job and I like working with athletics.”
Kenzie said it is important to her to work with the student equipment managers and with the student athletes. She competed at the DI level, so she understands the pressures, the expectations, and the rewards.
“Being a friend and a leader is the biggest thing I can do as an Equipment Manager,” he said.
Kenzie will take the Athletic Equipment Management Association Certification Exam in June at the organization’s Phoenix Convention.
“Taking the exam is important. My career started with meeting Larry and Larry won the Equipment Manager of the year and I understand the importance of being certified,” she said.
“I look to him as my role model.”
Kenzie knows that AEMA Certification gives her an advantage when applying for a job—but also helps her to understand more about equipment services outside of football.
“I need to know everything I can know about equipment and being a female I think I need to know it better.”
Kenzie is a candidate for Helmet Tracker’s AEMA Certification Scholarship. The Scholarship reimburses one Equipment Manager the cost of the exam and the study book after they pass. Candidates must submit at least one photo, recommendation, and interview.
AEMA Certification is required by many colleges and universities of their Equipment Managers. Others prefer Certification. Some will pay for the exam and book and if that is the case and a sponsored Equipment Manager wins the Helmet Tracker Scholarship, Helmet Tracker will reimburse the institution.
In 2017, University of Nevada’s Michael Dryer won the scholarship. However, Damien Garnett, Assistant Athletic Director of Equipment at Nevada, asked Helmet Tracker to pass it on as the Wolfpack had paid for Michael’s exam. We did, and Eddie Hardin, now the Assistant to the Director of Equipment Operations at Tennessee State University, received the reimbursement.
““I am grateful,” Eddie told us at the time. “It means a lot going from an intern to my first real job—having bills to pay!”
Kenzie said she will look for a job, any job, in an equipment room once she finishes her internship at Oregon. Then, as she builds her career, she will aim to work with a Power 5 football program.
Larry doesn’t doubt that Kenzie will achieve her goals.
“We have such great anticipation for observing Kenzie’s career progression and are proud to have her as part of the Kansas Equipment Operations family tree.”
Meanwhile, outside the equipment room, Kenzie enjoys exploring and finding adventure—whether that is discovering a new Oregon waterfall or finding the best food in town.
“Also family!” she adds. “Without my family I never would have got to where I am.”