Sports Notes

Jim Taylor (right) and assistant Dave Haefele in the Merrill Gym equipment room.

Equipment manager Jim Taylor

by Aaron Todd

Football player Kevin Madden ’05 was a little full of himself when he arrived on campus three years ago — a feeling reinforced when he discovered he didn’t even have to wash his uniform. Jim Taylor, the Bates equipment manager, would do that job for him.

“You think you’re a little more high on the hog than you really are,” Madden recalls. “I remember coming in and thinking that people just did your laundry and that was it.”

But like thousands of Bates students before him, Madden soon learned that he and Taylor would meet on a two-way street. Call it the equipment manager’s Golden Rule: “You don’t mess with the guy who does your laundry,” Taylor says.

Yet even if Taylor doesn’t control the starch in your shorts (figuratively speaking, as only detergent and occasionally bleach are used on Bates uniforms), he still sends a message to all who deal with him. “He’s endowed with a presence,” says Brad Weeden ’85, who used to work baseball games with Taylor, a former high school and collegiate umpire. “It says, ‘I’ll work hard and treat you right — but don’t screw with me.’ That’s about as genuine as you’re going to get.”

Bates students love it.

“You can go back and forth with Jim and wing each other a little bit,” says Madden, who, as part of the student crew that helps with home track meets, has gotten to know Taylor. “Sometimes it makes you feel like you’re a little bit older. You have a relationship with your coach, but he’s still an authority figure. Jim is just a regular guy who is willing to help you out with anything.”

“I always use Dial at home,” Taylor quips, but at Bates he and Haefele clean uniforms with Super Flokon, Flo Det, Lever-Pro, Soft Brite and Trust oxided bleach.

Keeping game and practice uniforms clean and in good repair is the priority for every equipment manager, but the best are also omnipresent fixers. “They anticipate your needs, whether it’s getting kids’ bags packed with clean uniforms or finding someone to videotape a game,” says head coach Jim Murphy ’69, who works with Taylor during women’s soccer season and with Dave Haefele, Taylor’s assistant, during women’s basketball season. “All I have to worry about is coaching.”

As Murphy indicates, “equipment manager” doesn’t describe half the work Taylor and Haefele do. Their presence at nearly every athletic contest, from a Friday night basketball game in the winter to a track meet on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the spring, gives them complete credibility with students.

And they do it all with smiles — a surprising burst from the gregarious Taylor, belying the stern game face he shows rookies the first time around; a shy and reserved grin from Haefele — that win over coaches and students. Taylor and Haefele need complete cooperation from the teams to manage various deadlines, and while no system is ever perfect, Taylor feels like he and the students have this one just about mastered. “In seven years here I’ve met close to 5,000 kids and only had a problem with two,” Taylor says. “And that was one person twice in the same day.”

He might have a trademark glare and tough-guy persona (think Lou Gossett in An Officer and a Gentleman), but Taylor’s real gift is a quick wit that keeps everyone loose. Weeden recalls umping a game with Taylor and getting into an argument with a coach. “Jim normally kept his distance and let me fight my fights,” Weeden says. “But this time he intervened early. ‘You’re like two old women,’ he said to me and the coach. ‘Stop bickering or I’ll throw you both out right now.’ We stopped.”

In 2003-04, Taylor and Haefele handled uniforms and kept track of issued equipment, from pads in football to shin guards in softball and baseball, for 30 teams totaling 696 roster spots. After every athletic contest (418 last year), they wash each uniform in one of four 50-pound-capacity machines. Gone are the days of wool or cotton, as nearly all uniforms are made of lightweight, breathable Dri-FIT polyester and must be air-dried in front of large fans in the Merrill and Alumni gym equipment rooms.

Haefele, an All-America lacrosse goaltender at SUNY Cortland, also serves as an assistant coach for the women’s lacrosse team working with the goaltenders. “I don’t think I could ever fit into a 9-to-5 position,” he says. “I’ve been to a lot of places, and this is one of the nicest in terms of the people you work with, the atmosphere, and the students.”

And while Taylor is proud of his appearance in the annual football team photo (everyone waited last September while he scoured the campus for the “Bates football” banner), the punctual Haefele tried to avoid appearing in the women’s lacrosse team photo by showing up late on photo day. His quiet nature, however, does not keep students from noticing his efforts. A thank-you card from one of his charges, starting women’s lacrosse goaltender Liz McNamara ’05, hangs on Haefele’s bulletin board.

Taylor has been connected to Bates for much of his 58 years. The son of Margaret Nichols, Bates registrar for four decades, he spent childhood afternoons in Alumni Gym, playing any sport he could with Bates students and coaches. A Lewiston High School graduate, Taylor was a well-respected Maine umpire by the 1970s, eventually working an NCAA Division I schedule and winning the Al Card Sportsmanship Award from the Maine chapter of the Collegiate Baseball Umpires Association upon his 1998 retirement. For six years starting in 1986, he served on the Bates football staff under then-head coach Web Harrison ’63 before becoming head equipment manager in 1997.

He also spent 13 years as the athletics director at Lewiston Middle School. Being at Bates “is a great way to still be connected with sports at my age,” Taylor says. “I don’t have to worry about wins and losses. I just make sure that all the kids are taken care of, and they make it enjoyable for me.”