Hillsdale College hosts hundreds of athletic events every year. These events require much preparation, setup, and coordination in order for everything to run smoothly and for teams, referees, and fans alike to enjoy the event. Behind all of this is one hard-working, unsung hero: Rich Alvarez.
Alvarez has worked for Hillsdale College as the athletics equipment manager for 23 years. Most of his work takes place behind the scenes at football, basketball, and volleyball games. He travels with the football team, driving the bus with the support staff for the team, which includes student trainers, student filmers, and student coaches.
In years past, Alvarez would load and unload the equipment bus and drive for long distances wherever the equipment was needed for the team — sometimes as far as 13 hours away. Now he has a team of 10 students, most of them athletes themselves, ready to help him out with loading and unloading the busses, as well as anything else he may need with his job.
Once at the game, he makes sure the sidelines are ready for players and coaches, setting up field markers, headphones, extra helmets for players, and equipment for trainers. At home games, Alvarez has a similar job. He makes sure the referees know where their locker rooms are and that they’re completely ready, well stocked with ice bags, heating pads, or anything else the referees might need. He takes pride in prioritizing the visiting team and making sure they’re greeted, know where to go, and have all their equipment with them.
“My goal has always been to make sure visiting teams have the best experience they’ve had anywhere — and we’ve heard from some of the other equipment managers around the league they like the way we do things at Hillsdale,” Alvarez said. “They wish they could do things the way we do things for them at Hillsdale.”
Though Alvarez has always called Hillsdale home, he was born in Abilene, Texas into a family of nine children, one of whom currently lives in Jonesville. He is still very close with all of his siblings and loves to spend time with his 17 nieces and nephews, though he says it can get difficult with so many conflicting schedules.
Through his sister, Alvarez met and married his wife JoAnn just a few years ago. Alvarez told the story of how his sister, from the same high school graduating class as JoAnn, ended up in charge of planning their class reunion. Because she was living in Texas at the time, she asked Alvarez to help out with most of the legwork in Hillsdale, and because he did so much to help, she invited him to come along to her reunion. JoAnn almost didn’t attend. Her car had broken down on her way to the reunion, but Alvarez said something was telling her “you’re more than halfway there, just keep going,” so she went to the reunion, met Alvarez, and the two began dating.
JoAnn now works at Bon Appétit, and Alvarez said they eat lunch together almost every day.
“It’s a rare occasion that we don’t,” he said.
Alvarez has also spent a lot of time in the past coaching a variety of sports from softball to baseball to wrestling. He started out by officiating baseball and then moved on to coaching both baseball and softball for kids ages four or five all the way to college-age.
He has even taken up mentoring some athletes and helping them improve their skills individually. One high schooler, in particular, needed his help with her softball swing. After much diligent work, Alvarez said, “It was real rewarding when her mom called and said that she got her first homerun.”
Though his work schedule keeps him busy, Alvarez said he loves to fish in his free time, especially in the summer, and has even tried a bit of ice fishing in the winter. He also loves to read, work out, and spend time with his wife.
“My wife and I enjoy going out to eat, we like to try different restaurants — there’s not a lot around here but whenever we travel we enjoy going out to eat.”
Chris Stewart, a senior baseball player who works on Alvarez’s student equipment team, revealed a little bit about what it has been like to work side by side with Alvarez over the past three years.
“Alvarez is kind of a funny guy,” Stewart said. “When it’s just me and a couple of other workers, he can be funny, carefree, making jokes, but when it comes to the basketball court and preserving the field, he can put on his hard face and act real tough. From a distance he might seem mean, but he’s really a nice guy and he’s been a really great person to work for.”
He went on to describe the relationship between Alvarez and another student on the team, Ryan, who has since graduated.
“Alvarez and Ryan used to go at it jokingly,” he said. “I think Alvarez would fire Ryan every week and then when the next game time came around, Ryan would always get the message, ‘Hey be here for setup,’ so that was always funny to watch.”
Pat Hornak, director of football operations and Alvarez’s best friend, says the two would share endless jokes on the many long drives to away games. They shared the same ones so many times now they don’t even need to finish the joke before they are both laughing at the memorized punchline.
Alvarez’s work, though almost entirely behind the scenes, is essential to the smooth operation of the many sports games that Hillsdale fans enjoy every season, according to Stewart.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize everything that Alvarez does,” Stewart said. “When it comes to the sports complex, if something is wrong, Alvarez is the person who’s actually doing it all — a bunch of the little things that no one really realizes. Alvarez is behind all of it.”