Before some University of Georgia track and field meets, Perry Waddell rents the biggest U-Haul he can find, loading equipment such as poles up to 17 feet long for the pole vaulters into the back. Then he drives for hours, sometimes overnight, to competition sites.
Georgia’s track and field athletes have elevated themselves to one of the top programs in the country, setting a multitude of school records and winning a plethora of events in both the indoor and outdoor seasons. With the Southeastern Conference outdoor championships this weekend in Oxford, Miss., and the NCAA championships rapidly approaching, Georgia is looking to make a statement at this year’s outdoor finales.
While the spotlight shines on the athletes and coaches, an unsung hero works toward their success in the shadows. Waddell, the team’s manager, keeps the team afloat every single day.
“When it comes to track and field and Perry, they just go together,” said Keenon Laine, a former UGA jumper and current volunteer coach.
Waddell’s main duties include making sure all equipment, from hurdles to cones to those long poles, are set up before practices and put away afterward. He also travels with the team to every meet, working with the director of operations to ensure all needed equipment is ready and in place for warmups. Additionally, during meets, he films every event and breaks the footage down for the team website.
Waddell’s dedication for this type of work goes back years. His father is a seasoned triathlete who has competed in Ironman races. Waddell was a track competitor in high school in Bainbridge, Georgia.
He carried this passion to the University of Georgia while pursuing a sports management degree. He started working for the team five years ago as part of the grounds crew before landing the manager position his sophomore year of college.
“Just being able to work and see these high-level athletes, these Olympic-caliber athletes,” Waddell said. “It makes going to work exciting every day.”
Without Waddell there would be “chaos,” Laine said. Waddell ensures everything is ready before they even ask him to do so, going so far as to remember the specific equipment needs of each athlete.
“You have to be organized in track and field ‘cause if not, it’s gonna be a cluster really, it’s gonna be chaotic,” Laine said. “[Waddell] does a big part that people really do overlook sometimes.”
Waddell said he wants to make it as easy as possible for the athletes and coaches to fully focus on their performance. Waddell accomplishes this goal exceptionally, UGA head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert said.
Waddell is more than just an equipment manager, Laine said; he brings energy and good vibes to the team and everyone loves having him there as a friend.
“You need him when you need a laugh or like if you need a pump, he’ll hype you up and everything,” Laine said.
Waddell is graduating with a master’s degree in sports management this week. But he has no intention of leaving his position at Georgia.
He is interested in coaching and administration work someday. He would be a perfect fit for this role, Smith Gilbert said, due to his ability to communicate with all types of people from diverse backgrounds that are commonly found on track teams.
“Perry doesn’t have any issue with talking to the African American kids or the international kids or the junior college kids or the Carribean kids,” Smith Gilbert said. “He has no problem communicating and getting through and everyone likes him, so I think he has a big future overall in our athletics.”
For now, Waddell is focused on continuing to help the team succeed as that hero in the shadows.
“As I see their success,” Waddell said, “I get a little enjoyment out of that too, knowing that I was able to help a little bit.”
McGregor Rowland is a student in UGA’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.