Helmet Tracker spoke with Clifton Perry a few days after he won election as the new Athletic Equipment Managers Association President. He takes office at the conclusion of Monday's AEMA Members's meeting at the 2018 Convention in Phoenix.
“I am surprised by how many people have reached out to say congratulations,” he said immediately.
Clif found about the AEMA when working his first equipment manager job at a Florida high school where he worked as a teacher.
“I was the youngest coach and that was something the youngest coach had to do,” he said. “If I knew then what I know now, I would fire myself.”
He served the US Naval Academy during a year-long internship, then landed at Princeton in June 2004, where he now serves as Head Equipment Manager.
We found Clif to be fun, but serious about his latest opportunity for leadership.
This interview, both questions and answers, has been edited for clarity.
Tell us about your background?
“I was a high school teacher and coach in South Florida. I taught health, personal fitness, and physical education. I was born in Michigan and raised in South Florida.”
When did you get involved in the AEMA?
“I passed the certification exam in ’03 in Cleveland. I was District 1 Assistant Director in ’06 and ’07, then Director from ’07 through ’14. Then, after running for president against Dan Siermine in ’14, I became Vice President.”
What were the issues you ran on?
“My biggest platform, which was Dan’s (Dan Siermine, outgoing AEMA President) last thing, too, was to get the policies and procedures rewritten—they need to be more up to date.”
“I don’t want to tick anyone off and I am appreciative of where the association is currently—but we aren’t where we need to be. In ’74 when we started out, the guys got together to get to know each other and to help each other out.
“Now, most of us are in charge of well over $1 million in inventory. We are not sock and jock guys anymore.”
What is the most difficult barrier to overcome?
“The hardest part is that each of us is responsible for a lot of things and we aren’t recognized for the work we do. Everyone knows we do laundry, but they need to know about the spreadsheets, paying the bills, those types of things.
“We must change culture within the athletic department to realize that we are just as important as anyone else. I will be working hard in next few years toward getting us as an organization to recognize ourselves as professionals
“There are times we need to be seen as the same level of professionalism as our boss. We need to dress the part, present the part.”
“We need to be treated like the professionals we are. The only way we will get that respect—and the title and the money and everything that goes with it—is that we must look and act the part.”
What specifically do you recommend?
“Wear school gear everywhere, and represent the school. If we want to be treated like professionals, we have got to act like professionals.”
Some say there should be two certifications through the AEMA—one for football only and one more general. What do you think?
“I don’t necessarily disagree with that. Now, you have manufacturers with several different helmets and none of their parts are interchangeable. To be a football guy, you have got to be up on your stuff.
“But there is so much more. How many of our guys know the correct length of a field hockey stick? As an Equipment Manager, I pride myself on equipping every sport.
“I wonder if it really a good thing to separate the football guys out from the rest of the equipment manager? Football coaches are gaining more power over their entire staffs and more and more they want their own Equipment Manger to stay with them. Then, suddenly someone shows up in the equipment room who needs to know about field hockey suddenly.
“At the end of the day, are we Equipment Managers or are we football Equipment Managers. Obviously a lot of questions for that.
How many sports do you oversee at Princeton?
“Thirty-eight sports. That’s myself, two full time, and two part time Equipment Managers.
What about student managers?
“There are no student managers here. The students are more focused on their careers. However, we do have 10 girls who do laundry.
What else do you intend to work on as AEMA President?
“Well, certification is not required everywhere. Some schools that don’t require it. We see so many ads for an Equipment Manager job and they don’t require certification. Applicants for the job may or may not be up to date with the latest. What are we doing to make the certification viable from the standpoint that you want to keep it?
“We have a lot of people who get certified, but then don’t keep it so we need to figure out the value of it to continue.”
What else will you focus on?
“We have more than 1,200 members, but I’m not sure that we had like 500 people vote in the election. Same with the convention. Why is there only 500 or less there? We need to offer more to get more people.”
What do you enjoy about your job as Equipment Manager?
“The thing I enjoy the most about the job is the relationships you develop with the kids. It keeps you young. The kids I have experienced at Navy and at Princeton have been great kids and being around them makes my job more fun and easier.”