Tim DeWitt, athletic equipment manager

On game day, John Stiegelmeier and his assistant coaches strike a snappy image on the sidelines in their Nike, swoosh-emblazoned pullover vest and shiny, nylon pants.

But it’s just one snapshot in a reel of images for the SDSU football program. There are 100 players in separate uniforms for games, practices, and travel. Wherever they go and whatever they do, Tim DeWitt has been there before them.

DeWitt’s job as Jackrabbit equipment manager makes him responsible for every single item used by the twenty-one varsity sports at State.

That includes polo shirts, pullover vests, and nylon pants that arrive in mid-summer the for twelve-member football coaching staff. The shipment must be sorted, checked against the order, and reshipped to another company for lettering.

The details could overwhelm a lesser man, but DeWitt handles it with a smile and twenty-six years of experience.

Athletes expect a clean jersey in their locker, and with about 500 Division I athletes, that duty in itself makes every day a laundry day. But DeWitt’s responsibilities extend far beyond sorting lights and darks, and folding shorts.

The equipment manager also makes sure all equipment preparations are in place for practices and games.

Consequently, DeWitt’s post at the HPER Center makes him like a one-man toll-bridge operator, always on duty. He claims a weekly schedule of forty hours to sixty-five hours (when hosting a tournament) with a lot of fifty-hour weeks during seasons.

Of course, with sports from August through May, most of the year is in season.

Not that you will find DeWitt complaining. “I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I’m enjoying the people I have around me. To have the opportunity I’ve had here at South Dakota State is far and above anything I could imagine,” says DeWitt, who grew up in the Brookings area.

He started as a teacher and a coach, spending three years in Groton and two in Kimball after graduating from Dakota State in 1975.

DeWitt began work at SDSU in 1980 at the research farm and then spent three years with the physical plant until the equipment manager post opened up, giving DeWitt a chance to be involved with athletics again.

 An unparalleled personality

Obviously, every athletic department has an equipment manager. What makes DeWitt unique, other than his twenty-six years in the position, is his personality.

While he could hide out behind the computer or not lift his glaze from folding clothes, that just isn’t DeWitt’s personality. Whether it was the star player or a community member using the locker room [in the days before the Wellness Center], a smile and a “how ya doin,’ man?” is as guaranteed as the sunrise.

“I’ve been told so much, ‘I don’t know how you maintain your smile.’” He explains the key: “Enjoy each day when you have it, and the next day, enjoy it again.”

Football coach John Stiegelmeier says it is an expression of DeWitt’s servant attitude. “He’s truly happy when he’s serving rather than being served.”

 From recruit to lifelong friend

Michael Torrence ’99/’01 started a friendship the day he met DeWitt in July 1996, and they continue to connect. Torrence had spent three years in the military and was looking to play college basketball when he made a recruiting visit to campus that supported 8,350 students.

But during the summer, SDSU “was pretty barren” of student activities. “All the students were gone,” recalls Torrence. “No one was on campus except coach and (fellow player) Jason Sempsrott.”

Of course, DeWitt also was there.

Meeting with DeWitt was like talking to “someone like you’ve known them all your life. You just pick up a conversation and talk about your interests,” Torrence says.

In that initial conversation, Torrence recalls DeWitt saying, ‘We’re going to be really good. You’ll be a good addition’ and he asked me about my family. I had been on several recruiting visits before and no one had asked about my family. I found that warm.

“I thought, if there is one person like that in Brookings, there is probably going to be more.”

‘Someone I confided in’

Torrence says that hunch proved right as did his assessment of DeWitt.

“Tim was a great sounding board for me. Tim was someone I confided in. He kept my comments and his comments to himself. In today’s world, that’s really hard to find.

“Sometimes a guy just needs a pat on the back, a hug, or a good ribbing. Tim was always good on that,” says Torrence, who is an academic dean at Lehigh-Carbon Community College in Allenstown, Pennsylvania.

Part of DeWitt’s success in enjoying each day at work can be attributed to the family feeling within the Athletic Department.

“The total support of the administration and the Athletic Department is incredible. We are one large family that helps each other every day. If you don’t have the support of the administration, it’s hard to do the job. I look forward to coming to the job every day,” DeWitt says.

An important part of his family is full-time assistant Sonja Anderson and his student helpers.

Favorite memories

His job puts him in contact with sports-page headline makers as well as allowing sideline glimpses of all the home games. One of his strongest memories also is one of his first as equipment manager—the 24-12 1985 defeat of the No.1-ranked University of South Dakota at Coughlin-Alumni Field on Hobo Day.

“The atmosphere and the crowds [16,193] and the anticipation were just amazing,” DeWitt says.

He also fondly recalls the Division II national wrestling championship in 2000. “We had tremendous crowds. To be able to visit with coaches from all those other teams, the athletes, the fans, was an uplifting experience. Time just flies.

“I thought, ‘This is great talking to these people,’” DeWitt says.

‘A great ambassador’

His cordiality extends to the game officials.

Stiegelmeier notes, “He takes care of the officials. He’s got to meet them Friday night. You drive up to the HPER center and he’s waiting on the bench for the officials to come. That’s their impression of South Dakota State.

“I can’t tell you enough how officials have praised him about his care of them. He’s a great ambassador.”

The confidence and twenty-five-year relationship he has with some officials is an example of “another relationship that many people may not get to have,” DeWitt says.

Stiegelmeier, who has worked with DeWitt since 1988, adds, “He loves to hear what’s going on in your program and have an opportunity to share what’s going on his life. He’s an avid hunter. He makes me jealous about all his stories of geese and pheasants.”

And the future?

DeWitt’s demanding job hasn’t left him married to his job. He enjoys hunting, fishing, and being with his grandchildren.

“I’m a 100 percent family man. Married thirty-eight years. I want to be at [the grandchildren’s] birthday parties and games as much as I can,” he says.

The 58-year-old DeWitt has been eligible for state retirement for several years and admits he has thought about it, “maybe three or four years down the road.” He notes that his job will make it more difficult to make the grandkids’ games as they age.

“Right now, with the change in the economy and how I enjoy my job and the support I have from the Athletic Department, retirement is only in the back of my mind.

“It’s hard to quit something you enjoy.”


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