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Meet the man behind the Tigers’ athletic equipment: Clif Perry

A man uses a screwdriver to repair a football player’s helmet on the sidelines during a game.
Perry repairs a football player’s helmet during a game.
Photo courtesy of Jared Montano.

Behind every Princeton slam dunk is solid footing, powerful momentum, weeks of training, and a committed support staff. 

Meet Clif Perry, director of athletics equipment operations and the leader of the support system behind the University’s 38 athletic teams. For almost two decades, Perry has devoted himself to athletic operations, from placing million-dollar orders for Nike gear to laundering uniforms for almost 750 student-athletes on a daily basis.


Outside of Princeton Athletics, Perry has served as president of the nationwide Athletic Equipment Managers Association, which aims to promote and improve the profession. Perry is also active in children’s health initiatives, including the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, for which he dyes and shaves his hair every year to raise money for children’s cancer research. 

The Daily Princetonian sat down with Perry last week to discuss his career and his management philosophy. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.

The Daily Princetonian: To start off, how would you describe your role on the basketball team as the equipment manager?

Clif Perry: I’ve been here almost 20 years, and my role has changed over the years. When I first started, I was actively involved with all aspects of both the men’s and the women’s basketball teams. Until COVID-19 hit, I was based in Caldwell Fieldhouse and working with all the teams all the time and adding support for football. Now, I’m the primary person for football. I don’t make as many day-to-day decisions for basketball, but I still help oversee the designing of the uniforms and practice gear, things like that. 

DP: You mentioned that you work with many different sports, like football and basketball. What was your path to becoming an equipment manager for Princeton? 


CP: When I graduated from college, I wanted to be a coach, and I spent the next nine years teaching and coaching in the state of Florida. I missed being in college athletics, so when I found out that there was a national organization called the Athletic Equipment Managers Association, I contacted a guy at Florida Atlantic, and he told me about the membership procedure and the test that you had to take to become certified. And I did all that. So my wife and I took my one-and-a-half year old daughter and moved to Annapolis where I worked at the United States Naval Academy for a year as an equipment room intern. When that ended, I was offered the job here at Princeton, and I accepted. 

DP: How would you describe your current responsibilities as equipment manager in relation to your previous roles as a teacher and coach? 

CP: In some respects, it’s the same in that I still interact with student-athletes, which I really enjoy. Instead of formal lesson plans, Nike is kind of like my lesson plan. The thing that most people don’t know is that when we order gear from Nike, you have to have it ordered by Halloween for the following school year. So, I don’t know who the new students are going to be. All of our orders start coming in around June, and if we were at a bigger school — one of the Power Five schools — they would come in pre-logoed. Our stuff all comes in blank, so there’s nothing on it, and then we send it out to get “Princeton Basketball” or “Princeton Football” or whatever logoed onto the clothing item. There’s definitely a lot of planning ahead. 

DP: That sounds like a lot of work. What’s your relationship with your teams? 

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CP: When I was based in Caldwell Fieldhouse — so pre-COVID-19 — my relationship with the teams wasn’t very close. I dealt mostly with the coaches. Occasionally, a student-athlete would come by if they needed something. Now that I’ve moved out to football, my office is just off the football locker room. I’m with those guys every day and sometimes more than I’d like to be. [Laughs]

DP: What are some of your favorite memories with the teams? 

CP: There’s been a lot of them. I think the biggest thing is when you see the true joy on the athlete’s faces when they win, whether it’s a game or a conference championship, because you know it’s a memory that they’ll have forever. Five years from now at Reunions, they’ll all come back and be like, “Hey, remember this, remember that?” And you’re like, “Oh, yeah!” Those are the ways that you realize you made a difference, because when you’re slogging through the day-to-day, you don’t recognize that. The reward is three, four, five, 10 years down the line when they come back, and they still talk about those kinds of things. That makes you feel appreciated when you might not be in the moment. 

DP: For sure. For basketball, March Madness is on the horizon. How are you feeling about their prospects, and how are you preparing for the season?

CP: March Madness is always one of those weird things, because you want the team to do well, advance, and go as far as they can, but you also know that the Ivy League presents a lot of challenges that a lot of other places don’t. The back-to-back for basketball — having a Friday night and a Saturday night game — is something that the other conferences don’t experience unless they’re actually in the conference tournament. The other thing that’s so tough is that the Ivy League usually only gets one team in the tournament. If you don’t win the tournament, then you don’t go to the national tournament. It puts a lot of pressure on the kids. And you, being a student here, you know what it’s like to go through the rigors of a Princeton academic schedule. Then, throw into that 20 hours of practice, games, lifts — those are all things that the people who don’t know, they just don’t know. 

It’s all about preparation and getting all the things that they need and having them ready, whether it’s a favorite pair of shoes or making sure that their stuff is washed so that they have it; athletes are superstitious, right? [Laughs] It’s a lot of planning and getting things ready, so that they have everything they need and can worry about making a three-point shot instead of whether or not they have the right undershirt on.

DP: Yeah, it sounds like the athletes have a lot of dedication.

CP: They definitely do. Unless you’ve been here and gone through the academic rigors, you don’t really understand what it’s like, right? Our students are up in the E-Quad, taking electrical engineering and still trying to do a senior thesis. Last year, there were kids at March Madness and they were worried about their senior thesis that was due in three weeks. 

DP: In addition to your work at Princeton, you’ve also held leadership roles in the Athletic Equipment Managers Association. Could you speak about your work there? 

CP: Like I said, 21 years ago, when I first found out about the Association, it was something that I didn’t know existed. When I got hired here, I was a certified equipment manager and found out about the regional Association district, did work at the district level, and worked my way up and was on the Board of Directors for the organization for 14 or 15 years. The last four, I was the president of the Association, and everybody was on my case to run for reelection. At the time, looking ahead, I realized that the way convention fell and the way that Princeton’s academic calendar fell this year, graduation would have been a week later. I figured that I probably needed to be here for my daughter’s graduation — that was more important than being involved in the Association, so I took a step back and decided that I was going to be here.

DP: That’s wonderful. Outside of the work with the Association, you have also been involved in service-oriented projects, from donations to children’s hospitals to shaving your head for the Saint Baldrick’s Foundation. Can you describe these projects, and where your inspiration comes from?

CP: Saint Baldrick’s is a funny one for me, because I’d never heard of it. A friend of mine from back home in Florida was like, “Hey, I’m shaving my head for this charity, and you should do it too,” and I was like, “Yeah, right.” [Laughs] And it became a game. It was fun, right? So, this weekend, I’ll dye my hair. I’ve dyed my hair for probably the last 15 years, because when people see you with a different hair color — especially older people — they’re like, “Well, geez, why is your hair colored” “I’m going to shave it off” “What are you shaving it off for?” So, it becomes an easy tie-in to be able to talk about the program. So, I do one haircut a year, and this year, it’s on March 9. This is my 17th year of shaving my head, and I raised right at $200,000 in that time. 

Children’s cancer is something for me that is just hard because anything that prevents you from being able to be you and do whatever it is that you’re called or led to do — you should be able to experience that. When you’re going to chemo or radiation and walking around with no hair at six, seven, eight, 10 years old, it’s going to be hard. Our younger daughter — I don’t know if it’s the second or third year that I did it — the first thing that she went to after being born was the head shave. Later that year, she got sick. It wasn’t cancer — she’s fine now and everything, but she was in the hospital for two weeks, and I remember seeing those kids and realizing that some of those parents would walk out without a child. And it was like “OK, I can go around with a bald head if it raises money and it’s for a good thing.” So that's why I’ve continued to do it.

DP: That’s a really great mission. Do you have any hair colors that you’re thinking of this year? 

CP: Green is usually a staple right around the event because it’s right around Saint Patrick’s Day, and green is the color of money, obviously. But a couple of people have been on my case about doing it orange because it goes better with what we wear every day, so I’m going to do it orange this year to start out.

Two men pose for a photo. The man on the left has the left side of his hair dyed green and the right side dyed yellow.
Perry (left) poses with a fellow participant in St. Baldrick’s fundraiser for cancer research.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Perry.

DP: That sounds so fun. Why is it important for you to incorporate service into Princeton? Whether that’s in athletics, or more generally. 

CP: I mean, it is the motto of the University, right? You can’t be here for 20 years and not pick up on it. I think when you get to a certain age, you realize that the things in your life are there for a reason. How hard is it to smile? How hard is it to do one act or three acts of kindness a day? It’s easy to hold the door open for somebody. You know, maybe it makes that person’s day. All it takes is five or six people a day making a difference in somebody else’s life and maybe some of the garbage that goes on in society doesn’t happen, so I’m hopeful that it carries over. 

DP:  What do you think is special about Princeton Athletics? 

CP: I would say that one of the positive things about having been around here the last 20 years and working in athletics is the success of the department. It’s crazy how much our coaches and our student-athletes are driven to be successful.

We have seven other teams in the league, and we traditionally do better than all of them. It’s not because of admissions letting in the best athletes. It’s because the kids come in, and they’re motivated and driven to be good. The coaches [work with] the kids in bringing out the most of their potential.

Whether you win all the time or lose all the time, the job is the same. It’s just more fun when you win, right? [Laughs]. Then everybody’s in a better mood. I think that the staff that we have down in the Athletic Department is really good. It’s a lot more fun, I think, not only for our kids in our department but also the campus in general when things are successful. When you’re watching March Madness and you know our basketball team is winning the first-round game that they’re not supposed to win — the sense of community on campus is so much better. It doesn’t matter if it’s basketball, field hockey, or lacrosse — we’re successful in a lot of them. I think being surrounded by good staff and good colleagues really makes a difference in the day-to-day. There’s a lot of people. It really takes a whole community to make it work.

Coco Gong is a staff Features writer for the ‘Prince.’

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