No games were played by the 2020 Dayton football team, leaving equipment managers like Brenna Reilly without the chance to do her “favorite job.” Photo courtesy of Flyer News.
“In the moment last year when COVID broke out, it truly did feel like the world was falling apart.”
Senior medicinal pharmaceutical chemistry student Brenna Reilly works as an equipment manager mainly for the football and basketball teams at the University of Dayton. But when the Sars-CoV-2 (or COVID-19) virus reached the United States last March, that quickly changed for her.
Normally, Reilly and the other equipment managers arrive at UD about a month before school starts to help with summer ball. She said she and the other equipment managers spend most of the day helping the football team run through two practices each day.
In regular times, Reilly works to set up practices by arriving on the field about 45 minutes before practice begins.
“(We) set up the whole field, make sure all the ducks are in line,” Reilly said. “And then when practice starts, we stay the whole practice, we fix helmets, we (inflate) footballs, we participate in practice to help make sure it runs smoothly.”
Reilly said the equipment staff also assists the coaches with anything they need during practice and her boss — Tony Caruso, Head Equipment Manager for the Division of Athletics at UD since 1981 — is “understanding” when an equipment staffer can’t make a game. Instead, staff are able to come in and help with laundry to still work the hours for the job.
But when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, things changed dramatically.
“Since I’ve been here (at UD), we’ve had the privilege to work the First Four games for the NCAA Tournament,” Reilly said, referencing the games that kick-start the NCAA Tournament and bring in a big source of national revenue and attention to Dayton. “And as we all know, COVID broke out the weekend before that whole thing was supposed to happen. It really was so unfortunate how it played out, because me and my roommate, we both work. We were going to stay over the Spring Break and stay for the First Four games, help with practices. We didn’t really think the First Four games were going to get cancelled.”
First, the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament was cancelled, and was quickly followed with the cancellation of the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments. Reilly said neither she nor her boss knew what was going on or what would happen next, but 3-4 days before they were supposed to work March Madness, Caruso texted the equipment managers to go home.
“‘I can’t have you coming in to work, whether that be for basketball or for laundry, we’re shutting down, you have to go home,’” Reilly said Caruso texted the staff. “Which was super unfortunate to hear because March Madness is a well-known thing that everyone watches.”
For the rest of the spring, Reilly said there wasn’t much to do because with everyone being at home. The equipment staff also missed out on summer ball for football because of COVID-19, and they couldn’t move in early.
“The first month-and-a-half was really rocky with football because (UD) had a huge spike (of cases), and then the coaches didn’t want us to stay because they wanted to make sure the players were safe,” Reilly said. “It was always kind of being delayed, the start date to come in and start working, and then before you knew it, it was already late October and then we were finally able to kind of go in and help with practice or do laundry at night.”
Reilly repeated the delay of the season as being a challenge, and during the time when there wasn’t a chance to work with the teams, she said it was hard to find a new job as a senior.
“That was kind of tricky,” Reilly said. “I was just hoping work would catch up or it would work out, and it never did. I’d always text my boss, ‘Hey, I know you’re not supposed to, but are you sure I can’t just come in to do like a few hours? I could do arranging, I can go through clothes, like anything, any hours.’ But it was super frustrating and stressful because I don’t have a lot of expenses, but groceries and gas always add up. So the first semester (back) was pretty stressful with work and trying to be in school as well.”
But when the chance to work with the teams came again, Reilly said she was “really excited.”
“It’s my favorite job by far because you get to work with pretty much all the teams that we have on campus, and I do have bonds with some of the coaches that are here. So it’s nice to see them and feel like, ‘Oh, we missed you,’ and it was just super nice to feel somewhat normal again, because we haven’t had normalcy in over a year now.”
Some of that normalcy came this past weekend, when Reilly worked with the football equipment staff to manage the Flyers’ exhibition game at Welcome Stadium on April 17 against Ashland.
“It was nice to kind of have a normal reality again.”
For Reilly, it seemed like time was slow in the time since it felt like the world was falling apart because of the unique situation of quarantine that we all had to live through. But now, it seems like time went really fast.
“I’m still so shocked that it was a year ago that we had COVID (start). We’ve made so many great improvements, so there’s a lot of hope for the future as it is.”