Enter a locker room inhabited by a team that plays in pads — hockey and football in particular — and you’re likely to encounter a distinct and unpleasant musk.

Being tasked with washing any of the laundry that piles up in a locker room is an unenviable chore, but somehow, the satisfaction that comes with working as a student manager seems to overpower the odor.

Of course, there’s far more to it than just laundry.

At each of Johnson County’s football-playing high schools, managers are counted on to help keep the entire operation running smoothly, both during practices and on game days.

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Some managers’ tasks are as simple as setting up cones and pads for drills and passing out water. At some schools, team managers tape ankles and input data into computers. Regardless of the depth of responsibilities, area coaches are unanimous in their praise of students who help out.

“We couldn’t have football without them the way that we do,” Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher said. “They are the ones that are making sure that all the stuff that doesn’t happen between the white lines goes the way it’s supposed to go.”

Fisher puts a great deal of trust in his student managers, even going so far as to name his highest-ranking one the Warriors’ director of football operations.

Senior Michaela Adams, who holds that title this year, is in her fifth year overall as a student manager. She was approached as a seventh-grader by her science teacher, Whiteland’s assistant athletic director Todd Croy, and began helping out the following year.

At the outset, Adams’ duties consisted largely of passing out water, but she has taken on more each year. She is now responsible for coordinating every aspect of the program, making sure that the strength coaches, trainers, athletic department and football staff are all on the same page, Fisher said.

Simpler tasks get delegated to the less experienced managers on the staff, but no matter who winds up doing a particular job, Adams is in charge of making sure it gets done right.

“If we screw up a task or don’t get it done in time, it definitely affects the whole team,” Adams said. “Coach Fisher has a schedule, and it’s down to minute by minute.”

New Franklin coach Chris Coll is trying to give his managers a bit more responsibility as well. Assistant coach Sean Little, who oversees the Grizzly Cubs’ student staff, notes that his kids learn how to assist with video in a pinch and also help the school’s athletic trainers.

That versatility comes in even more handy for junior varsity and freshman games on Saturdays, since trainers seldom travel with those teams.

“We’re looking to utilize them in a different way,” Little said, “not just filling up water bottles.”

Managers have varied experiences as students, and several are current or former athletes themselves. Adams, a member of the Whiteland girls track and field team, was a state qualifier in the shot put last spring.

Monica Dile, a senior at Greenwood, had played volleyball as a freshman and sophomore at Southport — but figuring she wouldn’t be playing in college, she gave it up when she came to Greenwood last year.

A friend convinced Dile to work with the football team, and she liked the job so much she also became a manager for boys basketball and baseball.

“I really enjoy helping the boys out and doing that stuff,” Dile said.

And the players appreciate the help. The old caricature of the big, bad football player picking on the puny water boy is largely a fiction in this day and age.

“The football guys treat all the managers like family; they watch out for us,” Adams said. “If there’s a problem, then they’re usually there to help. It’s like they’ve accepted us into the family as well.”

“The parents acknowledge us, along with the coaches,” Franklin junior Sarah Lyle added. “And the players — especially when we give them water.”

After high school, many of the local managers hope to fill a similar role for a collegiate program, which is something many former graduates have gone on to do. Fisher is fond of saying that his Whiteland program has produced more Division I managers than Division I players.

“If you’re good at this, there are places where you can make money,” Indian Creek coach Brett Cooper said. “Like at IU, they pay student managers to be there.”

At the high school level, the satisfaction that comes with being an integral part of the program is payment enough.

“Wherever we’re needed, we assist,” Lyle said. “It’s a great team to be a part of.”

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.