There’s no such thing as a typical day in the life of facilities and equipment manager Shawn McAvey. When we tried to find him to conduct this interview, he wasn’t in his office or on the field—he was snaking between basketball practices and gym classes, helping make repairs to the audio system in Harrington Auditorium.
Every aspect of WPI Athletics, from the freshly pressed uniforms to impeccably kept equipment, wouldn’t happen without him and his team.
When asked what his job entails, McAvey laughs and gestures from the balcony to the gym floor below. “It’s a little bit of everything,” he says, and that’s putting it mildly.
Setting the Stage (or field, or court…)
The elevator pitch of McAvey’s job is to support the varsity athletes and teams, whether that’s with their uniforms and related equipment or setting up and breaking down games. His role also includes anything involving spectator enjoyment. The breadth of what McAvey and his team are responsible for might come as a surprise to some, but one of the most surprising things is a fact he readily admits:
He’s never played a sport in his life.
“I first got this job because I know how to do laundry and take care of a pool,” he says with a laugh. “All the additional work I do now has just evolved from there.”
Although the job has changed since McAvey first arrived on campus in 1990 as the assistant equipment manager (he took over as equipment manager in 2002, as well as facilities manager in 2007), the one constant is that as the seasons change, he’s always got something new and different going on.
“It’s the variety,” he says of what he enjoys most about his work. “Different teams, different sports, different players. I’m not tied to my desk or to the same task month after month. I also like the hands-on aspect of it all.”
“How ya doin’, kid.”
There’s no question that the labs and classrooms are busy on campus, but another area that sees just as much traffic is the equipment room. All day, at least four different things are going on at one time, from uniform organization and laundry, to equipment repairs and checkout. Student athletes filter in and out to grab their uniforms, ask questions, or just say hello, and McAvey offers an easy greeting to each one.
Although he didn’t play sports before arriving at WPI, about 20 years ago McAvey joined up with the running group made up of faculty and staff on campus known as the Footpounders. The group has been in existence since the 70s, is still coached by Brian Savilonis, and has given McAvey a glimpse into the dedication of the student athletes he works with.
“When I started to train as a runner and participate in races, it gave me a better understanding of what it takes to be an athlete, and with that, a greater appreciation of the level of commitment that our athletes bring to their sports here at WPI.” -Shawn McAvey
“When I started to train as a runner and participate in races, it gave me a better understanding of what it takes to be an athlete, and with that, a greater appreciation of the level of commitment that our athletes bring to their sports here at WPI.
“I learned that at this level [Division III], you’re not playing for money; you’re in it for the love of the game and to be a part of something,” he says, adding how impressed he is by the students and their dedication to the game while balancing academics, their social lives, and other commitments. “I have a lot of respect and a great appreciation for our student athletes.”
The Family Business
In addition to being a fixture of all things athletics at WPI, McAvey also spent a significant amount of time helping his family run their own business, the Worcester staple Mrs. Mack’s Bakery, until it closed its doors earlier this year after being open for nearly 90 years. He’s no stranger to family businesses, and working at WPI, especially for so long, has echoes of a familial environment, as well.
“WPI’s like a small city unto itself,” he says, explaining that, when he’s on campus, he likes to be able to pick up the phone and know who he’s talking to on the other line. “It’s like having an extended family. If you don’t know someone, they know someone.”
(Also, in case you were wondering, McAvey’s favorite baked good from his family’s shop? “Oh, the brownies. Definitely the brownies.”)
The Game Must Go On
At the 2018 Athletics Homecoming banquet, McAvey was the recipient of the Frank C. Harrington Award, which recognizes those who have been significant contributors to the WPI Athletics program and the quality experiences of WPI’s student athletes.
While McAvey says that it was nice to be recognized, he’s also quick to add that he’s just doing his job.
“I’m old school,” he explains. “For me, I don’t mind what has to be done. I’m here to do a job, and the job calls me in different directions. When we have a home contest, the ‘show’ must go on. I appreciate getting this recognition. I was happy to know that people do notice, that over the years I’ve done my job, and maybe a little bit more sometimes.”
- By Allison Racicot