When I went to Butler University, I walked-on for the golf team my freshman year.

At that time, the head baseball coach was also the golf coach (golf was a fall sport). Things weren’t working out for me, primarily because I didn’t have a car during my freshman year. That meant I had to get a ride to the golf course from someone else on the team every day, and they got tired of that. I missed some practices and the coach, who was aloof to say the least, didn’t remember my name by the end of the season and didn’t even give me an exit interview.

 Late that fall, I got my officials license for basketball and started reffing middle school games on the north side of Indy and some JV and varsity games at the Indiana School for the Deaf.

My next door neighbor in my door was Matt “The Cat” Yoder, who was a student manager on the Butler Women’s Basketball team.

Somehow the coach, who himself had his Indiana basketball officiating license, got wind (though The Cat, I’m sure) that I was a new referee and he invited me to their practices. I took him up on that. What the coach wanted was to make their full scrimmages in practice as realistic as the games would be, including having a referee calling fouls and travel and everything else.

I went every day for a week, and while the girls thought it was corny, they went along with it and accepted me for what I was.

During the home games, I was cutting my teeth broadcasting on the small student run radio station that covered campus and that’s about it. I found that being at practice and watching them really helped me be a better broadcaster.

The longer the season went, the earlier I got to practice and the later I stayed. Eventually, I advanced from rebounding during free throws and shooting drills to helping fill water bottles and sweep the famed Hinkle Fieldhouse floor.

I even got to go on a road trip with the team to Purdue, which was pretty cool.

For the next three years, I was a full-fledged manager on the team. Still officiating, but helping out in every way.

During that time, I really came to appreciate the role a student manager plays on a team. No, let me rephrase that: I came to appreciate how important a good student manager is to a team. I was not a good student manager. I was a broadcaster, and the difference was standing to observe and analyze like a broadcaster would compared to the almost constant motion of a manger.

I never forgot that time. That’s where I first discovered the concept that I wanted to work “with” people and not “for” people. I had never and have never lost track of who had authority over me and who had the final say in every situation. I just liked to feel part of the group.

Having quality people filling roles outside of making shots or tackles or base hits is imperitive. A new coach in any sport will quickly put together his staff. The wise coaches seek out those who have been student managers and those who could be student managers and get them in the fold.

It is a thankless job, quite often. It means arriving before the players do and leaving well after everyone has gone home for practices and games. It means handling sweaty practice clothes and game uniforms, and it means writing that paper for “Lit” class while they are washing and prepping for tomorrow’s chemistry while they’re in the dryer.

Only once, on senior night, does the PA announcer every call out your name and the home fans applaud.

It’s a gig of service. It’s about sacrifice for the good of the overall group. It’s for people who have a servant’s heart.

But why is it important?

Because not having to do laundry frees the coaches to watch more film, do more preparing and crafting more effective game plans. Because every uniform and practice jersey that goes home is one more that a parent has to wash and have ready for the next day, and is one that might get forget to be taken back to school the next day by the athlete.

Because who would video tape games?

Because having accurate stats for coaches to analyze during a game is very helpful in making adjustments. Because not wasting a second at half time trying to remember who has the key to the locker room says valuable seconds.

Coaches are enjoying their summers, but most of them are also plotting the course of their next team.

I guarantee you that every single one is looking for student managers to help