Equipping the Syracuse lacrosse team

Assistant equipment manager George Frank has learned the art of keeping one the nation's top college teams ready for battle.

When the Syracuse lacrosse team ran out onto the field in its NCAA quarterfinal game against Maryland, it sported new neon yellow gear. Created by Nike and Cascade, the Volt color was meant to amp up the players while distracting the opposing team.

The lacrosse team was sportingly outfitted on the field, but the man behind equipping each player worked for six days to organize, distribute and fit each player with the neon gear.

“It’s a system. It’s training your mind to think a little more organized. You change your way of thinking.”

This man is assistant equipment manager George Frank. Frank has worked with the Syracuse men’s lacrosse team, along with the women’s and men’s soccer team, for three years.

Nike approached the captains to see if the team was interested in wearing the equipment. The captains unanimously supported the switch to the Volt gear.

The approval created a buzz among the players but a mound of work for Frank. He spent the week handing out the equipment to the guys piece by piece. They received the cleats on Tuesday. Helmets came the next day, all 52 adjusted by Frank by hand using a screwdriver. Socks were reserved for right before the game as not to distract the players from the task ahead.

“The point was to distract the opposing players on the field, not the players,” Frank said. “They knew what was coming, but I just kept the socks hidden until right before the game. The kids were very excited to use the new equipment.”

Frank approached the equipment swap with the same organizational approach he does with every game, using a checklist and keeping a tidy workplace. This was a skill that Frank learned throughout his career, however, and is a far cry from his technique years ago.

When Frank was in college, organization was not a quality he possessed. As a student equipment manager at St. Lawrence University, his workspace was messy, tools strewn across the floor of the room and things out of place.

Three years as an equipment manager at Syracuse University drastically changed Frank’s organizational skills. In the equipment room at Manley, everything is in its place, down to the very last screwdriver.

This orderly system also translated to Frank’s home life. While his apartment in college was in disarray, his living space now is as organized as his work.

“My first year [at Syracuse] was so hard because I would forget things and I never made lists,” Frank said. “Now it’s a system. It’s training your mind to think a little more organized. You change your way of thinking.”

Frank began his career as a college equipment manager at St. Lawrence. Through growing up in the area and knowing the coaches well from participating in their clinics, Frank was offered a position as a student manager with the ice hockey team. He worked with the team for three years before graduating in 2008.

Immediately after graduation, an equipment manager position opened at Syracuse. He originally applied for the women’s ice hockey position, but he was turned down for the job.

Syracuse instead offered Frank a job much closer to his heart - the managing position with the men’s lacrosse team.

“It was crazy because I grew up a big Syracuse lacrosse fan and I played lacrosse,” Frank said. “When they said, ‘We want you to be their equipment manager,’ I think I literally said, ‘What?’ on the phone to the associate athletic director. It was really awesome.”

In the course of a year, Frank went from being a student-equipment manager at a small university to having a full time job at a large university to becoming a part of the 2009 National Champion lacrosse team.

“Knowing all that those guys sacrificed to be a part of that team, it was amazing,” he said. “Being on the field when they won was just unbelievable.”

Other than having another equipment manager show him how to sharpen skates at St. Lawrence, Frank is self-taught and found out most of what he knows learning through mistakes.

One near-catastrophe occurred his first year at Syracuse. At an away game, a player’s helmet got trapped underneath a pile of bags and was smashed. Always bringing a spare, Frank replaced the helmet. But then another player came up with the same problem, and Frank lacked a second replacement.

Luckily Frank caught his boss, head equipment manager and men's lacrosse radio announcer Kyle Fetterly, literally as he stepped out the door of Manley on the way to his car. Fetterly was also traveling to the game for his job as the radio announcer, and he grabbed some extra helmets that arrived to the game shortly before faceoff. Crisis averted, but Frank learned from his mistake.

“I definitely remember to bring extra everything now because you never know,” Frank said. “Not only does it look bad, but it’s a horrible feeling because you let the kid down.

“All you have to do is just pack it and bring it. If you don’t use it, then you don’t use it.”

Although the 2011 season - and the use of the neon gear - ended abruptly in overtime against Maryland, the loss means the start of the offseason for Frank and the other three Syracuse equipment managers.

With only a short break for Christmas, Frank has worked without a vacation since the beginning of the school year. He and the other managers will now get some much coveted vacation time.

“This is the time we get to take long weekends or even a week,” Frank said. “We started looking forward to summer break even more than some of the students. It is a long grind from the fall to the spring.

"I’m just looking forward to sitting on my couch, catching up on television and doing nothing, waiting for the next season to come.”

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