Summertime is one of the few opportunities for relaxation in college football where workouts, practices and recruiting seem to fill the entire calendar. Those who work in that world take advantage of the slower summer months (in between camps, of course) to get out and away, traveling to beaches and big cities or just relaxing at home with books or TV.
Mississippi State’s Assistant Equipment Manager Jason Hubbard, who spends his year getting football players and coaches all the gear they need, catering to all their desires, spent his vacation doing more of the same. But instead of doing it in a locker room in Starkville, Mississippi, he spent three weeks taking care of kids in an orphanage in Zambia, Africa.
Hubbard is part of a growing group called Managers On A Mission, a collection of equipment managers from college football programs around the country whose aim is to use their expertise and resources to help those whose needs line up with what managers can provide. They partner with the Rafiki Foundation, a group running orphanages in 10 African countries where needy children are given a full education and a place to live and grow.
Naturally, the managers use what they have in front of them every day to help the kids: equipment. They’re not handing out shoulder pads and helmets to children, of course, but those who have seen the equipment rooms of major college football programs know how many T-shirts, pairs of shoes, shorts, jackets and the like are leftover at the end of every year. Rather than ask people for money, the managers just ask coaches for those leftovers, putting donation boxes in coaches’ locker rooms across the country.
Many of the gifts go straight to the orphanages in Africa, while much of it is also sold on eBay to help raise funds, rather than having to ask people for monetary donations. This summer, for the first time, Hubbard was able to take those gifts straight to the kids himself as he led a team with student managers from Kansas State and Michigan. The experience was one he believes will stay with him throughout his lifetime.
“They have no clue who Mississippi State is, who The U is, who Ole Miss or any of them are, but when they get that stuff, it’s awesome for them,” Hubbard said. “To see the appreciation and excitement on their faces is like Christmas in July.”
Hubbard has worked with the program since receiving an email from MOAM’s executive director a few years ago, and he recently took his involvement to a higher level, joining the board of directors as their only active equipment manager and getting the opportunity to go on one of the trips this summer. In fact, he wasn’t even the first MSU manager to go, as his enthusiasm for the project led to one student manager going on last year’s trip.
Word has spread quietly but quickly through college athletics with more and more schools and managers participating, as well as several coaches taking a more active role. Last year, MOAM only took one trip, and that grew to three this year, including the trio in Zambia led by Hubbard. By next summer, he says, they hope to be able to send the small teams to as many as five or six locations, and eventually they’d like to be able to visit each of the 10 orphanages at least once per year.
MOAM and the Rafiki Foundation are natural partners, and the pairing of Hubbard and the group of fellow managers was one of the easiest things he’s done. He and MSU equipment legend Phil Silva worked together to provide gear the last few years and help spread the word through their network in college football. As Hubbard’s involvement grew, so too did his passion.
“The more I heard about it, the more I became glued to what they were doing,” Hubbard said. “It was constantly on my mind and I wanted to help out any way we could. At the same time, I felt like the Lord was leading me to take on a bigger role with my faith in athletics. It seemed like the perfect way to live that out. To know that we can have a positive impact on kids, not just here at Mississippi State, but across the country and the world – that’s why I have this job. It’s why I’m here.”