By Ken Morley III
The microcosm of school athletics is really a world of its own. Most of those involved on the surface are coaches, athletes and parents all excited to compete and prove themselves in the arena. Lurking in the shadows of these heroes of the day is a network of people that make sure everything is ready for the daily competition.
Transportation, uniforms, insurance, venues, fundraising, and supply purchases are all an integral part of preparing to participate in school athletics. Here, we are going to focus on the equipment side of things, an arena that typically does not come to mind until something breaks and is needed yesterday. Less than half of athletic equipment purchases at schools are planned months (sometimes years) in advance.
Having been in the business of selling schools their athletic supplies and equipment personally for 25 years and as a family business since 1931, you should believe me when I say I’ve heard it all. Equipment breaks.
Whether it’s a tornado, flood, a student hanging from a backboard or a herd of loose buffalo (yes, it happened), at some point, typically the day before a competition, you will need to replace a piece of athletic equipment.
The fact that you will be rushed to get it delivered and installed can result in a terrible purchase decision…so keep these pro tips handy.
Pro Tip #1: You get what you pay for.
What does that mean in terms of athletic equipment? Well, if it’s so cheap it’s too good to be true…stay away! The last thing you want to do is buy equipment from some company that assembles things in the basement of their house. We’ll touch on several reasons for this below, but first and foremost, it’s likely that their methods of assembly and welding, as well as the raw materials, are of lower quality.
On the other hand, if the price is too high and it’s attached to a “top” brand name, there’s a good chance you are paying quite a bit for the honor of having that brand name prominently displayed on your equipment. Don’t get me wrong, some top brands are the top brand because no one sells anything better, but not always. This is where a trusted equipment dealer to work with comes in handy.
Pro Tip #2: Nothing lasts forever.
While this is true, you would hope that your new shiny equipment will last a long time. Equipment expenditures are expensive, oftentimes taking a very large, unexpected chunk of a budget. Even the best equipment will break under the demands of facility use eventually. It is for this reason that you should make sure the brand you are buying offers replacement parts.
Volleyball systems, for instance, have parts that need to be replaced. Make sure the vendor you are using can get you these parts down the road. You may want to ask that you are quoted on equipment from manufacturers that offer replacement parts as well as companies that are sure to be in business still down the road when you need those parts. Another reason to avoid those bargain basement products.
(Mini Pro Tip: Before you buy anything brand new, see if you can get replacement parts for what broke in the first place. I love selling big equipment, but over the years, I have found that nothing makes a customer more loyal than being able to get a replacement part in their hands quickly to get them back in the game. They save thousands of dollars, and I get to be the hero for a day…win win.)
Pro Tip #3: Inspect, Maintain…Play Again and Again!
Athletic equipment is usually very durable. There are typically two things that happen to it. Vandalism is the most shocking. It’s terrible, but it does happen occasionally, prompting unexpected equipment replacements. Soccer goals and football goal posts seem to be the victims most of the time here. People love to hang and swing from them.
Sadly, the #1 thing that takes your equipment out of the competition is lack of proper maintenance. I cannot say this enough…set up a regular maintenance schedule. Most facilities have dedicated maintenance staff, and they do a great job, but they have a lot on their plates. A regular schedule of inspecting athletic equipment is probably not at the top of their list.
We suggest that the athletic department make this part of their responsibility. Sorry, we don’t want to add to your already hectic schedule, but believe us when we say catching a small problem before it becomes a catastrophe is better than realizing you need a new soccer goal the day of a match.
Inspecting equipment preseason, in season and postseason is important, but the postseason inspection could be most important. Don’t put it away broken! Noticing an issue before storing equipment after a sport season will save a lot of problems and unneeded stress at the beginning of next season.
Another reason to inspect equipment diligently for loose or missing parts is less chance of lawsuits. It does happen, and you will wish you had repaired or replaced that equipment should an equipment failure result in a lawsuit.
Need an example? Here’s a scary story that will keep you up at night. If you’re squeamish, skip ahead. Picture it, sunny California, 1997, a coach decides it’s a good idea to have his athletes use an aluminum bench as a hurdle, jumping over it end to end. This results in a very unfortunate accident in which a student tripped before making his jump and his face hit the end of the bench, which damaged his right eye permanently.
What does this have to do with maintenance, you ask? The end cap from the bench had fallen off and was never replaced, leaving a sharp edge exposed. A tragic accident that could have been avoided (in several ways) and a lawsuit that cost the school tens of thousands of dollars and two years of time. Inspect your athletic equipment!
Ken Morley III is the current president of Morley Athletic Supply Co, Inc., which provides athletic equipment and supplies to schools across the United States. While they are still a small family business, they do offer an extensive online team catalog at www.morleyathletic.com.