Stained: The man behind the jerseys

The Hugh Marshall story, Case’s Athletic Equipment Manager


photo credit Mary Kate Macedonia / Observer

Case Western’s Athletic Equipment Manager preps the diamond at Nobby’s Ballpark prior to a game.

Marques Winick, Contributing Reporter

In an office that smells like detergent, next to a bin of clean baseball uniforms, a short email pops into the inbox on Hugh Marshall’s computer.

“Good news,” the message reads. But Marshall prepares for the worst.

In three lines of text, the message says the baseball team at Case Western Reserve University will be heading south for the weekend to escape from the bitter Cleveland cold. It’s indeed good news—for the players. But they’ll be leaving one day earlier than expected, and for Marshall, the Athletic Equipment Manager, this means his whole week is about to change.

For the man who has prepared the laundry for every sports team at CWRU for the past two and a half decades, this surprise is nothing new. Every time a team’s schedule changes, his does too. He’s often the last one to find out, which makes planning his week a nightmare. He even speaks in laundry lingo.

“There is no average day,” he says. “I have no sleep cycle.”

Still, he tries to make things easier on himself by planning ahead. He remembers what each team’s schedule is supposed to be, and he knows what needs to be washed, folded, and sorted before players can take the field. But, as he’s seen many times before, everything can change at a moment’s notice.

Sometimes it only takes three lines of text.


Marshall slowly bends over to pick up the next pair of clean baseball pants from the bin at his feet. He makes sure to give each pair the same pristine fold – creasing every seam – before dropping them softly onto a turquoise chair to his left. He wasn’t going to fold these today, but thanks to the email, they’ve become his top priority.

The pants he picked up still hold dull orange stains from a player’s slide, even after going through the wash.

“Man,” he says. “These have seen better days.”

Marshall’s slender, 60-year-old frame is concealed beneath a tan button-up shirt that is faded with age, and an equally worn pair of black pants. Underneath his neatly combed blonde hair sits a pair of wide-rimmed glasses that fit snugly around his nose on either side. His voice is high-pitched but unwavering, though it can’t hide the stress that comes with never knowing his own schedule.

For 26 years, Marshall has spent his days at CWRU running through the same routine of washing uniforms, then folding and sorting them neatly into piles based on jersey number.

Once a team’s uniforms are sorted, he heads to its locker room, where he places each uniform into its corresponding locker.

“I’ve done this so many times that sometimes I feel like I can do it in my sleep,” he says.

Not all of this laundry comes from the athletes, however. He smiles as he points to his own pile of clothes.

“Why would I do it anywhere else?”

The folding and sorting all takes place in his office, down the hall from the laundry room. It still resembles the storage space that it was before he took over. Shelves, drawers and lockers line the walls, and though the room is around 25 feet long on either side, it feels much smaller because of the clutter that has accumulated over time. Marshall had to ask for heating and air conditioning to be installed; unlike the revolving drone of the laundry room, the heater’s buzz is the only ambient noise in the room.

The floor’s paint has faded from a blue to a dull gray from years of unending activity, much more than an office usually sees. But that makes sense, because Marshall doesn’t consider it an office.

“This is the freight yard,” he says. “And I’m the yardmaster.”

It’s an accurate description; laundry is constantly shuffling in and out, and he oversees it all. Sometimes, this means juggling more than 20 loads at once. But with all those uniform-filled trains trying to ride the same track, crashes are inevitable.

The earlier Marshall finds out about schedule changes, the easier he can adjust. This time, he’s actually luckier than usual. It’s only Tuesday; he has three days to get the baseball uniforms ready before the team heads out. He doesn’t always get that much lead time.

Once, a football coach told him that the players were having their pictures taken that afternoon, giving him just a few hours to ready the uniforms for almost 100 athletes. He recalls that encounter with particular disdain.

“I almost thought he was joking,” he says. “I thought to myself, ‘do you think you could’ve let me in on the secret a little bit earlier?’”

Luckily, coaches have been getting better at warning him, though some situations are unavoidable. The football team will sometimes return late at night from an away game, and they’ll have a junior-varsity game the following morning. When that happens, it’s not uncommon for Marshall to skip an entire night of sleep in order to finish the team’s laundry on time. He might not get home until 7:00 p.m. the next day.

“At least they grant me overtime for days like that,” he says. “If they didn’t, I’d tell them to go screw themselves.”

Most of this work happens behind the scenes. Many students on campus only know him as the guy who walks around with a big black dog that sometimes pulls him harder than he can pull back. They don’t see what happens in the Veale laundry room, after everyone else has gone to sleep, and the only sound is the constant hum of the laundry machines.

They don’t see the man who spends his days and nights sweating next to piles of sweaty clothes.


Every time a laundry machine finishes a cycle, it starts to beep, and it doesn’t stop until Marshall turns it off. He’s come to hate that sound, and he often yells back.

“Shut up! I’m coming, dammit!”

Marshall’s job duties include more than just waiting for the next machine to beep. He could be asked without warning to help with any number of administrative tasks outside the laundry room. In the past, he’s had to prepare playing fields, host visiting teams, repair equipment, run scoreboards, and even clean up trash after games – as if his laundry duties didn’t keep him busy enough.

“I’m a jack of all trades, and not necessarily master of any,” he says, cracking a smile. “And it can be a pain in the ass.”

Because he can perform so many tasks, he’s essentially always on call. He’s proven to be the grease to the athletic department’s engine, making sure that every event runs without issue.

“I feel like he’s one of the most valuable members of our athletic department,” says Taylor Fletcher, a junior soccer player. “If you need stuff done, you’re always going to Hugh. And he knows what he does is important, because it’s important to us. It’s instrumental in what we have to do.”

Despite his importance, however, Marshall says he often feels under-appreciated.

He remembers how, just a few years ago, the athletic department replaced all of the furniture in a coach’s office, even though the furniture had only been there for a year.

Meanwhile, just down the hall, his chair was so old that the cushions were leaking cotton. He was given a replacement years later, but he found that it too was cheaply made, and quickly fell apart. He eventually had to buy himself a nice one, which cut into the salary that he has long thought should be higher.

After 26 years, his annual salary has climbed into the $30,000 range, but he feels he deserves more. Twelve years ago he was astounded to learn that a sophomore with work-study in the Biomedical Engineering department pocketed nearly the same amount of money that he did after 14 years of loading laundry machines. Ever since that realization, he’s felt undervalued, and since then, not much has changed.

“I’m the most senior member of this department,” he says. “But in terms of respect…no.”

While he feels under-appreciated within the athletic department, he is quick to point out that the exact opposite is true for the student-athletes themselves. Because his job often has him working more closely with players than with administration, Marshall believes that players like Fletcher have a much higher appreciation for what he does.

“He’s super valuable to us, especially because we don’t have an army of workers doing what he does,” Fletcher says. “It’s just him, and it’s really impressive. He sacrifices so much for us. I’m always grateful, because I always see him at weird hours. I’ll go in at 12 because I’ll have forgotten something, and he’s always there.”

Fletcher is not alone in his appreciation. A few years ago, a group of students learned that Marshall was about to work his 200th consecutive CWRU football game, but that the athletic department wasn’t going to recognize the milestone in any way. So, they took it upon themselves and made a sign for Marshall commemorating the achievement, which they hung from the stands during the game.

He points to a picture of the sign on his computer.

“That right there is worth a million bucks to me,” he says.

Still, it’s frustrating for Marshall to work as hard as he does while receiving such little acknowledgement from the athletic department. Sometimes, this has made him think about stepping away. But this is where the players have had their strongest impact on him—and he expresses it with another laundry metaphor.

“There have been times where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel,” he says. “More times than you could shake a stick at. But then I think about the kids. Without the kids, I wouldn’t be here.”

The players have not only convinced Marshall to keep his job, but they’ve also enabled him to retain his signature sense of humor. Any athlete who crosses his path is sure to leave with a smile, and he’s even been known to bring referees ice-cold beers at the halftimes of games, just to laugh at the horrified looks they give him.

His humor is part of what landed him this job, after working as a subcontractor and assistant football coach at nearby West Geauga high school for almost four years. In fact, shortly before he applied, the job description was changed to make it a requirement that applicants have a sense of humor, which seemed strange to him at the time. But after a couple of years on the job, he began to understand why.

“There’s so much shit that happens,” he says, “that sometimes you just have to sit back and laugh.”


Interim athletic director Pat Kennedy sits at his desk, a webpage for the new sports fad of bubble soccer open on his computer screen. He has been looking for a way to bring the expensive new sport to Case; it seems to be the perfect mix of nerdiness and fun. He takes a break from his research to talk about Marshall, who he says is the most senior member on his staff.

“Compared to him I’m the baby,” he joked.

Kennedy extolled Marshall’s virtues, including his dedication to student athletes.

“No task is too demeaning for Hugh,” Kennedy said. “He sees a need and he fills it.”

While the script may not stay the same, Kennedy knows Marshall knows how to think outside the box.

“He is great at what he does.” said Kennedy, “I do appreciate Hugh. We are very fortunate to have him.”

However, Kennedy knows that there is only so much money to go around.

“We all want to be paid a little more, be appreciated a little more,” Kennedy said. “But we do it for the students.”


Marshall has never been married, and he’s never had kids.

“My only child is a two-year-old labrador retriever,” he says. “And he is my baby.”

His dog, Raleigh, has short black hair, and weighs an athletic 80 pounds. On days when Marshall can finish his work early and the weather cooperates, he often takes to one of the fields on the CWRU campus to throw Frisbees to Raleigh, who snags them out of the air and returns them to his owner faster than Marshall’s arm can recover.

He never expected for Raleigh to be his only family, but he says getting married was simply not in his cards. After feeling the pain of his first real relationship falling through, he decided he’d never put himself in that position again.

He also never thought he’d spend the bulk of his life as an Athletic Equipment Manager. He’s had plenty of practice; while attending West Geauga High School, he was the manager for just about every sports team the school had to offer. But he never thought his career as one would last as long as it has.

Still, he has few regrets with how his employment has taken shape. He believes that it’s better to be an underpaid, under-appreciated laundry man than to not aspire to be anything at all. He offers a valuable lesson to every athlete whose laundry he washes.

“They say the best way to never lose is to not play at all,” he says. “But of course, you soon realize that you can’t win that way either.”


Marshall sighs as he slumps over into the turquoise chair in his office; the only real source of color in the room. He has just finished sorting the last pair of baseball pants, and he can finally relax – that is, until the laundry machines beep again.

He plans on retiring when he turns 65, if he can afford it. But of course, things rarely go according to plan.

As he leans back in the chair and crosses his right leg over his left, he exposes a blue stain on his white sock.

Marshall has no more power over that stain than he does over his schedule changing at the last minute. All he can do is listen for the next beep, wait for the next email, and prepare for the next surprise.