While the spotlight will be on the Columbus East football team during Friday’s state championship game against Kokomo, plenty of preparation is taking place behind the scenes.

Five students and the school’s equipment manager, assistant coach Jonathan Martin, are responsible for transporting the players’ equipment to and from their destinations. On Wednesday, they were headed to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the Olympians were set to practice that afternoon.

Martin, an assistant coach for 25 years and equipment manager for the past 20, teaches elementary physical education at Richards Elementary School during the day and works with the varsity wide receivers coach during afternoon practice and evening games.

“I’m just kind of the overseer and the driver,” Martin said of his equipment duties.

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While the players were boarding two buses to head to Lucas Oil Stadium for Wednesday’s practice, Martin and his student volunteers were preparing about 80 bags of players’ equipment, footballs and other items in a large trailer pulled by a red pickup truck parked near the Columbus East Fieldhouse.

“There’s a lot of things behind the scenes to make the program work,” Martin said.

That involves making sure equipment, helmets and shoulder pads are in top shape. During the off-season, he inspects every piece of equipment to determine whether it needs to be reconditioned or repaired.

“It’s a never-ending cycle,” Martin said.

His equipment room, filled with totes labeled with various items, is organized from top to bottom, including junior varsity and varsity jerseys that hang on the wall.

But his greatest satisfaction is working and interacting with the players, he said.

“We’ve got great young men, hard-working young men and it makes it fun to come and deal with them,” Martin said.

Yet, he admits that the job of equipment manager that isn’t for everyone.

He estimates he spends about three hours each day for two straight weeks after the season ends, making sure equipment is ready for the following year.

“It’s not a glorious job, not everyone wants this job, but it has to be done,” Martin said. “I’m like a mule, I’m always working.”

Players such as East senior Charlie Burton praised Martin for his work in helping the team and getting its gear to the field.

Coach Bob Gaddis recognized Martin’s strong organization skills, and said he appreciates his work on behalf of the team.

“I don’t have to worry about a thing,” Gaddis said.

Michael Tungate, an East sophomore, is one of the five student volunteers who lend a helping hand with equipment.

“We have a lot of fun together,” Tungate said.

Another benefit of being a student volunteer is having a field-level view of Friday’s championship game, Tungate said, with everyone respected for what their particular role happens to be.

“I’m enjoying the ride,” Martin said.

More game-prep logistics

Other components of Friday’s game also involve logistics.

Marching band director David Rodgers is gathering high school band members — on a scheduled Thanksgiving break this week — to perform at the game. Expect to hear the school fight song from the Columbus fan section, and perhaps a few other musical delights.

A state championship game wouldn’t be the same without students selecting and embracing a dress theme in the stands.

Look for a “Sea of Orange,” this year’s theme, said Jamie Doughty, who works with the East cheerleaders.

Fans will be picking up nearly 300 T-shirts or sweatshirts to wear to Friday’s game. They’re orange, of course, fitting the theme and purchased through Hoosier Sporting Goods, 611 Washington St., in partnership with the Columbus East Quarterback Club. Game gear pickup starts at 9 a.m. Friday at the store.

The amount of support shown to the Olympians has been overwhelming, said Lisa McCarter, president of the Columbus East Quarterback Club.

McCarter will be among supporters who plan to gather by 3:15 p.m. Friday at the high school for a team sendoff, urging others to join in.

“Columbus is an amazing town when it comes to supporting their teams,” McCarter said.

If you go

Columbus East will play Kokomo at 7:05 p.m. Friday in the Class 5A final at Lucas Oil Stadium, 500 S. Capitol Ave., Indianapolis.

When, where to get tickets

General admission tickets for Columbus East’s Football State Finals game against Kokomo are available in the athletics department office of East High School, 230 S. Marr Road. East will keep a portion of the proceeds from each pre-sale ticket sold.

Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Cost: $15, good for all three championship games Friday.

  • Class 1A: Pioneer (14-0) vs. Eastern Greene (11-3), noon
  • Class 3A: Brebeuf Jesuit (10-4) vs. Evansville Memorial (13-1), 3:30 p.m.
  • Class 5A: Kokomo (9-4) vs. Columbus East (13-1), 7 p.m.

Team sendoff, caravan, tailgate party

The Columbus East Quarterback Club is inviting fans to join them Friday near the East fieldhouse for a team sendoff and caravan behind the team buses as they have a police escort out of Columbus. Fans are invited to decorate their cars, bring noise makers, pompoms and signs, and cheer for the Olympians as they head to the buses. Arrive by 3:15 p.m.

The official Olympian State Championship Tailgate Party will be held at the heated Gate Ten Event Center, 343 W. McCarty St., Indianapolis, across from Lucas Oil Stadium. Food and drink will be available in the food court. Cost to park is $15. Order parking passes in advance at goindyevents.com

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com