He once modified laundry hampers with supplies from a local hardware store so the $200,000 equipment would safely arrive in the Bahamas. No less than a year later, he had to make a phone call to overnight an entire team’s cleats from California on game day. That same season he encountered the dirtiest laundry challenge of his career thanks to a downpour in Louisiana.
Brian Ditmer could share stories for days about operations behind the scenes of Western Kentucky University football. His run as the longest tenured current staffer will come to an end once the final quarter ends in WKU’s season opener against Central Arkansas on Thursday.
“It’s crazy to think about,” Ditmer told the Daily News from his office in Houchens-Smith Stadium. “It’s a testament to the confidence the administration has had in me and my previous bosses have had in me, so I’m super fortunate for that.”
Ditmer has worked with WKU football 12 full seasons and has been the team’s head equipment manager the last four years. The 2019 season would mark his 13th with the school, but he’ll leave his tenured support staff role one game into the year to take a non-sports related job in Georgetown.
No one else on the current Hilltoppers’ staff has held a continuous role as long as Ditmer.
“It’s been a journey to say the least,” Ditmer said. “The coaching staffs have all been great. … It’s been a unique and awesome experience.”
Since Ditmer joined WKU in 2007 as a student manager as a freshman from Dayton, Ohio, he’s worked for six head coaches and helped carry out the team’s transition and redesign from Russell Athletic to Nike.
He was a student manager and then graduate assistant until 2012 through coaches David Elson and Wille Taggart. He worked as GA under Bobby Petrino’s equipment staff before moving into a full-time assistant job in Jeff Brohm’s first year as coach in 2014. The very next season, he was promoted to head equipment manager, a position he’ll see through one more game day in Bowling Green.
“It’s been a whirlwind just trying to make the transition as easy as possible for this team and this staff,” Ditmer said. “When I made the decision, the timing is not (the) best, but there’s never a good time in athletics to make this kind of move. I’ve worked with my assistant who is taking over to bring him up to speed and make sure we have everything we need and that’s been a whirlwind trying to pack and get ready for another job. That’s life.”
Assistant manager Ben Hayden, who’s been with the team three seasons, will take over as head equipment manager. Ditmer’s next job will be as a representative for Galls, which produces apparel and tactical gear for firefighters and police units. Ditmer finds a parallel in the immediate demands for equipment in both fields.
“When people want something, they need it now and I think that’s one thing I bring to the table with them working from this side of athletics is when people need something, we’re going to get it done,” Ditmer said.
Case in point: When WKU played in the Bahamas Bowl in 2014, the standard equipment transportation procedures that fit in a 53-foot trailer wouldn’t fit in the carrier underneath one of the two Boeing 737s leaving the United States. Anything that previously went into a secure travel trunk then had to be transported in laundry hampers, including the expensive headset system for coaches. The equipment staff removed the trunk facings and went to Lowe’s to jury-rig a safe method with plywood, duct tape, glue and cushions.
“We were flying 100 percent blindly that this was either going to work or fail miserably,” Ditmer said. “There was no plan B at that point.”
For his first game as the head equipment manager to start the 2015 season, an issue with a footwear supplier left the team without cleats before playing at Vanderbilt on a Thursday. He had connections with Under Armour and had cleats shipped overnight from California for the game.
Later that year, his staff had the messiest laundry challenge with WKU’s trip to LSU.
What presumably became a mud bowl turned into overtime hours for the staff cleaning the road white uniforms.
“I still have a picture of Tyler Higbee’s jersey just covered in mud,” Ditmer said. “To get that back to white, we were pretty proud of that. That was a huge laundry challenge. There was a lot of scrubbing and a lot of hours to get those jerseys back to where they needed to be.”
Other challenges Ditmer has embraced have been the consistent upkeep of WKU’s signature chrome helmets and the switch from Russell Athletic to Nike gear, a move that was accelerated and pulled off over a five-month window.
Now with Saturdays in the fall open, Ditmer said he plans to still attend a few WKU games, but over a decade in the business has formed relationships with coaches from six different staffs that have come through the program.
“I haven’t had a weekend off in a long time,” Ditmer said. “I’ve got friends in various schools and coaches that have reached out who found out I was leaving and they’ve invited me to their games. It’s going to be a different world, that’s for sure.”