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Weight list: who's making the buying decisions for high school weight rooms?

Mike Nitka and Patrick McHenry are in the minority.

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As certified strength and conditioning coaches at Muskego (WI) High School and Ponderosa High in Parker, CO, respectively, Nitka and McHenry have full autonomy when it comes to choosing and purchasing strength equipment for their schools' weight rooms.

Unlike the collegiate ranks, where staff strength and conditioning coaches are the supreme rulers in the decision making process, a vast majority of high schools don't have a full-time, certified strength coach. Thus, the football coach and/or the athletic director, in many instances, generally wield the purchasing power.

"Most of the strength and conditioning coaches at the high school level are physical education instructors, primarily," said Nitka, MS, CSCS, the 1994 National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) High School Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year, who has been at Muskego High for 30 years. "That's my main job description. And then they assume the after-school duty of the design of the program and operate the strength and conditioning facility. There are several schools now that have a guy or gal who are full-time and are basically paid either as a head coach or as an assistant coach. But that's kind of few and far between."

McHenry, MA, CSCS, is one of four certified strength and conditioning coaches in Douglas County School District RE-1, the most in Colorado. The others are at Highlands Ranch High and two at Chaparral High, including a football coach that is a CSCS.

A call to the NSCA, to which both Nitka and McHenry are members, could not reveal a definitive number of certified high school strength and conditioning coaches in the U.S., only that the number was small.

"At the high school level, there are very few full-time strength coaches," said Bruno Pauletto president of Power Systems. "A few teach general weight lifting classes. The football coach is generally the predominant decision maker, aside from the athletic director, when it comes to the buying decisions. They have the final say. Whoever is the person in charge of the weightlifting at the school, I think those are the people who make the decisions and then, of course, with the approval of the AD and the school board."

"The smaller the school, the more hats different people wear," said Scott Schroeder, sales & marketing director, Samson Equipment, Inc. "The larger high schools, you're dealing with either a head football coach or someone who basically runs the strength and conditioning program. Nine times out of 10 you're dealing with football. There are just more kids there. So they dominate that weight room. There seems to this ideal that if you take care of football facilities-wise, you take care of everybody. Then it just becomes a matter of scheduling; who is using it when?"

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Said Darwin Takkinen, chief engineer, New York Barbell: "If there is a strength and conditioning coach, he usually has the last word. He will make the first recommendation and then submit that. The strength coaches are usually very precise in what they want to do. They know what body parts they want to exercise and how they want to do it and what their goals are."

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For Nitka, the strength equipment selection is based on the philosophy at Muskego, which is primarily free-weights. That being said, a little more than half the school's 4,200-square-foot weight room is dedicated to free weights.

Having started his program with a Universal Gym, Nitka now has a better understanding of what works and what doesn't and what fits his needs. Every year he attends the NSCA Convention to view the latest and greatest apparatus.

"I spend an awful lot of time in the exhibition hall and I just walk up and down the aisles looking at the different pieces of equipment offered," said Nitka. "Once I get an eyeball of what looks interesting to me, I then go and work it out. I'm thinking about how it feels, moves, and how I can utilize it. Then I will meet with a salesperson and talk about price. It's a negotiation process between what the rep can actually sell that piece of equipment for and if I want to pay that much money for it."

Being the savvy shopper that he is, Nitka has a few companies to which he is loyal, one being Magnum Fitness in South Milwaukee, 15 minutes from the Muskego High campus. He receives the company's catalog to keep abreast of the products and prices.

Nitka says he tries to buy the most heavy-duty piece of equipment available. Instead of buying several pieces at once he prefers to purchase one every year or two every three or four years.

"It has to be heavy duty," said Nitka. "I don't mind paying the top price. Of course I am going to negotiate the best deal. And I don't mind buying refurbished stuff. I'll paint it up and put new upholstery on it. To the high school kid, it's still new to them. If this were a professional gym, then you would want new stuff because that is how an adult thinks. Kids don't care."

McHenry, following school district protocol, is required to get quotes from three different companies. He doesn't necessarily have to go to the lowest bidder.

"But I try and deal with a company that I have done business with before and a company that has good equipment," said McHenry, in his seventh year at Ponderosa. "I'm kind of in a unique situation. In our summertime program we charge the kids. I pay my coaches out of that summer budget and that's what I use to buy equipment. When I am purchasing the equipment, the football coach and the volleyball coach--since I do a lot of work with them--agree to pitch in financially."

Ponderosa only has a 1,800-square-foot weight room, so it's a tight fit.

"We have probably 99% free weights," McHenry said. "Mainly because of the expense of machines. They're nice, but one machine can do just one thing whereas I can take a bar and do 30 different exercises with it."

The question then begs: Is an uneducated consumer the best customer? Especially when it's not unusual for a school to spend upwards of $50,000 on equipment.

"They should be a lot more educated," said Tom Proffitt, director of sales Athletics/Education, Hammer Strength. "There are too many situations that still exist. You're dealing with over 20,000 high schools in the country. So you can imagine that all of them don't have a good qualified strength coach, so to speak, especially your smaller schools or inner city schools. They're on limited budgets. Then you have your big schools and your powerhouses, if you will. Whether it's a P.E. guy or a football coach, or, if they have the financial capabilities, hiring a full-time strength coach just to run the weight room. The school that has a strength and conditioning coach, and an established weightlifting program in place, is more privy to the buying decisions."

Chris Poirier, general manager for Perform Better, and Leo Totten, president of Werksan Sports USA, have a wealth of knowledge regarding this issue.

Poirier was the football coach and de facto strength coach at South Kingstown H.S. in Wakefield, RI, in the early 1990s. Totten is a retired AD from Francis Scott Key Senior H.S. in Union Bridge, MD.

"From a program standpoint, knowing what I know now, having been in the strength and conditioning industry for 15 years, my programs were wrong," said Poirier. "I would have done it totally different. But we were doing something. My first year, I didn't need to order anything for the football team. They were all set. We didn't have a weight room. It was horrible. So with my budget, I ordered some weights. I'd be embarrassed to tell you about my program. But it was a typical program 20 years ago."

Said Totten: "It boils down to whoever is in charge of the weight room has the input. And the athletic director is the one who has the purse strings. I was the athletic director and I was also in charge of the weight room. So I had kind of a bias as to what I put in the weight room. I also got input from all of the coaches--not only the football coaches."

Totten's situation was different. Having been involved in the sport of weightlifting for over 30 years, whether with USA Weightlifting or coaching both nationally and internationally, he had a very extensive background in working with different schools and athletes.

"I knew what I was doing at the time," he said.

Power Systems' Pauletto also speaks from experience. He served as the head strength coach at the University of Tennessee for 15 years. In fact, he started the Volunteers' weight program from scratch in 1978 before stepping down in 1992. So he knows the intricacies and politics involved in getting things accomplished.

Pauletto explained that there are two driving forces in developing a weight room: aesthetics and functionality. Aside from the obvious--weights--you also have to consider flooring, proper ventilation, and air conditioning, among other things.

With so much to know, it is imperative that strength companies provide education initiatives to the uninformed or novice decision-makers.

"Ninety-nine and a half percent of the time it's one of the coaches or assistant coaches that has some weightlifting experience and some free time," said New York Barbell's Takkinen. "That can be a mistake in many cases because they don't have the knowledge to perform the exact exercises and they don't know the types of equipment available."

Hammer Strength, for one, tries to educate via CD's or DVD's that depict how to use its equipment in a safe manner. Additionally, if the company designs a weight room for a high school, it will follow-up with an in-service which is videotaped for proper use and etiquette of the equipment. This way, in case there is any turnover, the next coach has the information readily accessible.

"We need to educate. Whether it's doing mailers or creating a high school brochure, where we have several layouts depicting our equipment in various-sized rooms--1,800 square feet or 2,000 square feet, even 800 square feet," said Hammer Strength's Proffitt. "Just show them what they can accommodate in that area. And explaining the benefits and how we have products that can basically will suit all of their needs: from the cardiovascular side of it to the training side of it."

"It takes a lot of visual," said Samson's Schroeder. "That's why we do a lot of layout work to begin with. We don't send out a lot of catalogs. We get people to go to our Web site to provide them with a vision for their room."

That's not to say that all of the non-strength coaches have a deer in the headlights mentality when it comes to the weight room.

Mike Richardson, sales & marketing coordinator for Power-Lift, says that he is seeing more and more younger coaches who have grown up around weights, and who have been involved in strength training, making buying decisions that can benefit the entire school.

"Sheboygan (WI) South High School just redid their facility and the head football coach, Chris Hein, is the one who bought all of the equipment," said Richardson, whose company has three salesmen who are NSCA certified. "They have eight weight training classes a day. The weight room is also being used by the P.E. classes."

Samson's Schroeder says that most of the time the non-certified coaches have an initial concept of what they are seeking.

"They have idea of their space, No. 1, but they also have an idea of what they like or don't like as far as machines and where they were located and where they would like to place them now," he said. "The ones who have no idea are looking for someone to tell them what to do. The main thing is to give people what they want within reason."

Said Werksan's Totten: "They know what their program is all about. They know what their emphasis is. Every situation is different. Some schools have 1,000 square feet to work with, almost like a classroom, and others may have 3,700 square feet. That's a big difference. The equipment that you can fit in your respective weight room will vary from school to school. Some schools will spend a lot of money on machines and we're finding more and more wanting the platforms and the Olympic weights, which is great for us."

More help is on the way. According to Power-Lift's Richardson, former U. of Nebraska Strength & Conditioning coach Boyd Eppley, considered the Godfather of strength coaches, who is now at the NSCA, has started the Fly Solo program, designed to instruct P.E. teachers and coaches how to work in a weight room.

"There are more and more full-time high school strength coaches," said Power Systems' Pauletto. "It is changing and will continue to change in that direction. Somebody has to be qualified to be training people in the weight room."

Said Hammer Strength's Proffitt: "Let's put it like this. In this day and age of suing, liability and all of that, more and more schools are becoming more conscientious as far as getting a guy like Mike Nitka--someone who's certified--and designating them as the official strength coach for their facilities. I think it's becoming more prominent or more of an issue, if you will."

RELATED ARTICLE

Ken Mannie, Head Strength/Conditioning Coach at Michigan State U., and Scholastic Coach & AD's Powerline guru provided MSU's purchasing policies:

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* I have a specific budget that is renewed every fiscal year (July 1st) with a "Capital Equipment" line from which I service the equipment needs for three athletic department strength/conditioning facilities.

* I am responsible for doing all of the research and groundwork on the equipment in question, and I must produce the best possible validation for its functionality, effectiveness, safety, and durability. Depending upon the facility to be equipped, the equipment may have to meet certain standards regarding adaptability and diversity across a wide range of athletes and body types (i.e., equipment that will readily accommodate both genders and all sizes and shapes of athletes).

* Once we decide to go with a particular piece, I must initiate all of the required paper work--be it credit card or purchase order--and arrange for delivery and set-up. Of course, I must track all purchases and keep close tabs on expenditures and file all receipts, warranties, and other vitals for quick reference and inventory purposes.

* I try to develop a relationship with as many equipment companies as possible, in order to keep-up with new design ideas and to offer ideas of my own. Doing this also opens the door for "demo" pieces, which affords me the opportunity to bring in new pieces for an extended "test drive."

* Once you develop a strong working relationship with equipment vendors, they understand that your facility is a "showcase" for their company, which often results in discounts and/or extended warranties.
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Title Annotation:FACILITY FOCUS
Author:Newell, Kevin
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Apr 1, 2007
Words:2536
Previous Article:Ten qualities of a successful coach.
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