By Thomas Grant Jr.
For over seven decades, Lawrence Gardner has helped Airport High School football players look good and play safe on the field.
He’s not a coach, but his role is just as important and crucial to the athletics department. It’s one which has put him in direct contact with future NFL running back Duce Staley and every head coach who has worked on the Eagles sidelines.
Gardner’s duties as the director of football operations, equipment manager, and field house manager at Airport has earned him induction into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
In addition, the man affectionally called “LG” is also the unofficial “historian” of Airport football.
“I met him…he prints off a sheet right away saying here’s every head coach on record,” Airport head coach Shane Fidler said. “My name’s already at the bottom. Then, he pulls up on his computer and pulls up the equipment that Duce Staley wore in 1994. He can tell you exactly what numbered helmet it was, what shoulder pad style, everything. It’s unbelievable.”
“He is Airport football. The tradition of Airport football. He’s the good ol’ boy that’s been around here forever that knows everybody. Every person that’s come through those doors and wants to help the program knows LG.”
During the fall, Gardner spends countless hours distributing, maintaining, and accounting for the uniforms, helmets, cleats, and all athletic equipment worn by the 120 football players on varsity, junior varsity and now the C-team.
“Everything that a football player is issued is clean, is disinfected, is serviced to check for any type of problems,” Gardner said. “Everything from the helmet to the shoes. Everything.”
Gardner began working at Airport as a student in 1969. Following his graduation, he spent two years away before getting called back by former head coach Don Richardson.
At the same time, Gardner worked for the city of Cayce’s fire department. He spent 37 years there before retiring as the fire chief.
While calling his work at Airport a “hobby,” Gardner approaches it as meticulous as possible. His fall days at Airport usually start in the afternoon as maintaining and distributing uniforms and equipment often keeps him in the equipment room as late as the head coach.
“I left out of here at 9:30 p.m. and he was still working,” said Gardner about Fidler. “That man doesn’t slow down. He’s got the greatest wife on the planet.”
“He’s an amazing human,” Fidler said. “He’s up here until 9:30, 10 o’clock doing these kids laundry, making sure laundry is put back in their locker the right way. He treats them first class. He takes care of these pads. He takes care of everything for these kids because he wants them to have a wonderful experience and he wants Airport football to be good.”
Along with presenting a presentable product, Gardner puts a top priority on safety and finding deals on necessary athletic products. Most recently, he was able to secure at a discount a valuable helmet skull cap for the players to use during practice.
These caps go over the helmet and helps lessen the chances of concussions.
He estimates the total cost of dressing a football player is around $1,200 with helmets, which are reconditioned every two years, being the most expensive.
“Coach (Les) Evans used to say when you give a kid equipment, would you give it to your kid,” Gardner said. “And the bottom line is if I don’t think it’s good enough for my kid, it’s not good enough for yours.”
Fridays are a busy day as Gardner insures everything is distributed and accounted for the varsity game. Gardner then gets to watch his finished product from the sidelines.
This season, he’s hoping for the on-field success to match the work put in.
“If our season is any indication of the amount of time he puts into it, we’re going to have a good year,” Gardner said. “We may win only one game, but we’re going to have a good year.”