“It never stops down there in the equipment room.”
This statement, by the University of Richmond Spiders’ Director of Equipment Operations Justin Clift, not only describes the life of an equipment manager, but sums up Justin’s love for the work. He just loves keeping busy. He loves athletics. He loves the equipment. He loves the preparation and the care and the excitement and the mundane and the required attention to detail.
And Justin has been doing this long enough to know.
AEMA Certification after years as an Equipment Manager
After starting out running errands for the visiting teams’ baseball players at Richmond’s Pro Park more than a decade ago, Justin moved up the baseball equipment manager ranks until he was running operations in Florida for the Atlanta Braves, then the AAA Syracuse Chiefs for the Washington Nationals (more on all that later).
He returned to Richmond nearly a year ago to rescue the equipment room from a dramatic situation.
“In 2017, Justin was hired at the last minute before the football season began,” wrote Ken Hart, retired Equipment Manager for the Spiders. Ken told us at Helmet Tracker that the equipment manager at the time had quit suddenly, leaving the team, well, ill-equipped. “Justin took the reins and with an attitude of servitude made great strides through the fall season toward reestablishing efficiency and professionalism in the equipment room.”
This is Justin. Now he seeks Certification through the Athletic Equipment Managers Association. He takes the exam at the AEMA Convention next month in Phoenix.
Justin is Helmet Tracker’s latest AEMA Certification Scholarship candidate. The Scholarship reimburses one Equipment Manager the cost of the exam and the study book after they pass.
AEMA Certification is required, or sometimes preferred, by many colleges and universities of their Equipment Managers. 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!”
Now, Justin prepares for the certification exam.
“Certification is required at more and more places. I’m getting into the study book and seeing the specifics of some of the work I did in the past but didn’t know the standard for everything,” he said. “It’s important for the student athletes and the coaches to know I have studied and become certified at this high level. They can trust my experience and expertise.”
Baseball to Football
Justin’s unique journey to the world of a college equipment room took him through baseball.
His story begins behind home plate, as a back-up catcher with the Mills Godwin High School Eagles near Richmond. He was a member of the 1999 State Championship Team, but caught mostly in the bullpen. It was there, perhaps, he first learned that the entire team was part of success—on the field and off the field.
“I enjoyed it as much as everyone,” he said.
After high school graduation, Justin took that job at Pro Park, the home of the AA Flying Squirrels at the time.
“It was then I began to have a passion for working with the equipment and in the locker room,” he said. “Being behind the scenes and working more in a private setting with these guys who would be stars one day—knowing I helped them out doing their jobs – that they didn’t have to worry about anything besides what was going on between the lines, that’s what I began to really enjoy.”
When he arrived at Radford University, he headed to the office of the baseball coach and offered his services. Soon, he was wearing a Highlanders uniform, managing the equipment, doing laundry, and sometimes coaching first base.
“I enjoyed it. Radford was a medium-sized, D1 campus and I felt like I could be successful there,” he said. “I was, and had a great time.”
He continued working at Pro Park during summers and after graduating Radford, accepted a graduate assistant coaching slot at Virginia with the baseball team and in the Sports Leadership Program. He stayed with the team for two years as a volunteer coach after completing the program, then began work with the AAA Richmond Braves, who took over Pro Park and renamed it The Diamond.
“After two years doing that, the Braves offered me the Head Club House Manager position for the Braves at The Diamond and I was there for the 2007 season taking care of the laundry, feeding the players—doing everything that had to do with the team behind the scenes.”
Justin was dedicated, and good at it—as good as the Triple A team was on the field. The team won the league that year and Justin was offered the Head Minor League Equipment Manager job for the Braves’ Florida operations. That meant taking care of day-to-day needs during Spring Training then overseeing operations throughout the year.
That lasted seven years and when the Braves made some changes, Justin found himself in the Washington Nationals’ organization—first for the Potomac Nationals, then in Syracuse working for the Chiefs, the Nationals’ Triple AAA club.
In a Pickle
The baseball grind was wearing, and with Justin’s folks getting older, he began looking toward Richmond again. Then, he found that the Spiders had been left in a pickle by a suddenly departing Equipment Manager.
“The equipment guy quit two weeks before football season started. Ken Hart came in after several years of retirement and I learn from Ken and we got through football season,” Justin said. With Ken’s blessing, Justin took over the office after the 2017 season.
“I think it’s something I was born to do,” Justin said. “I’m very detail oriented and my mind is always working.
“Being in the equipment room, it’s different every day. I don’t think I could sit behind a desk from 8 to 5 every day.”
Justin said he liked working with the folks he rubs shoulders with every day—the student managers, the athletes, and the coaches.
“The college athletes are student-athletes. These are super smart kids and they want to fill their minds with so much. They still have the rah-rah about them to really come together as a team and win as a team. I think that makes the equipment job more worthwhile.”
“I enjoy working with the coaches and when they are in a pinch I can offer solutions quickly and efficiently,” he said. “It’s so nice to come through and take the burden away from them – to look out there and see you had a hand in getting everything together so a team can be successful.”
As far as his future, Justin doesn’t look too far away.
“I’d like to be here for a while. It’s really pretty here and we have some good resources. I’m back home.”