Lining the dark gray cinder block walls of the Cage are hundreds of pieces of memorabilia. Family holiday cards, old, motivational posters, even completed puzzles glued together. On a piece of paper on the right side of the wall, is the definition to a very appropriate term.
“Controlled chaos is a phrase often used casually to describe something that looks out of control, but which functions according to unseen rules of organization,” it reads. “Also see ‘Cage.’”
What the Cage staff considers to be controlled chaos is rather a well-oiled machine: three students and Jason Tirrell (fondly called JT by everyone), Williston’s equipment manager who runs the Cage, help to control the chaos that ensues around the gym.
The Cage has been a part of Williston history ever since the gym was built in 1990. The Reed Campus Center, which used to be the old gym, also had its own version of the Cage. The space, which is home to Williston sports equipment, including uniforms, is a staple of campus life, as iconic as the Lion or the sound of the bell after a winning game.
JT has been running the Cage since 2012. A 1990 graduate of the school, he cherishes his work.
“I tell people all the time that I have the best job on campus,” he said. “I get to dress like a gym teacher and hang out with awesome high school kids all day.”
Working at the Cage is offered every trimester as an after-school program opportunity. Normally, JT takes on two or three students to help him set up uniforms, organize equipment, and prepare for game day. Junior Penn Cancro is one of the current Cage workers.
According to Penn, his favorite part about working at the Cage is the friends he has made.
“I’ve gotten to interact with a lot more people by working here,” he said. “Working with Zoe [Okaisabor] and Julia [Cavanaugh] has also been pretty cool.”
Penn takes his responsibilities very seriously. He told The Willistonian, with only a slight smirk, that his goal was to “master towel folding.”
“If I could get the towels done in under five minutes, that would be a huge accomplishment,” he said.
Zoe Okaisabor and Julia Cavanaugh, both seniors, work with Penn as well. Zoe chose to work at the Cage because she “wanted to be involved more in the athletic department.”
“JT is one of the best people at Williston,” she said. “He makes me very happy, plus both my sisters [Dev ’15 and Atah ‘18] worked at the Cage and they both loved it.”
This is Julia’s second trimester working at the Cage, but, like Zoe, she’s been a part of the community for longer, since her brothers, Ryan ’13 and Evan ’15, worked with JT as well.
“I wanted to work at the Cage because both of my brothers worked at the Cage throughout their years at Williston and JT is very close to my family, so I had to follow in their footsteps and continue the legacy,” she said.
According to Zoe and Penn, Julia is the leader of the Cage this trimester. It’s true—most of the time I was in the space she was working on big projects and huddled over spreadsheets.
“The Cage isn’t just getting and handing out uniforms,” she explained, “there’s so much more organization, planning, schedules, and everything that goes behind the scenes to make our athletes ready for game day.”
Julia told The Willistonian that her favorite part of working at the Cage is “getting to talk and interact with so many people on a daily basis.” Especially on game days, the Cage often has a swirling line of students waiting to get equipment they need for their games.
“The hardest part about working here is our game days,” Julia said. “They get very hectic, everyone shows up at once and it can be overwhelming.” To that end, Julia’s goal is “to make JT’s life easier and do whatever he needs for the day to run smoothly.”
Right above JT’s desk sits Julia’s family’s holiday cards from years past. It’s clear that he is close with her and her brothers, something Julia is going to miss next year when she’s at college
“I am going to miss just being a part of the Cage family, seeing JT every day, and getting to help my fellow classmates with anything and everything!” she said.
On my second day conducting interviews, I ran into Maddie Dirats ’14, who was visiting JT and her old stomping grounds. Maddie, who now coaches the Ski program at Williston, “absolutely loved” working at the Cage in high school.
“My sister worked here so I started hanging out here when I was in middle school,” she said. “I just really love it and had so much fun back here. We came just to unwind after the day and it was a really safe space to talk.”
The Cage was one of the highlights of Maddie’s six years at Williston.
“I think the Cage is one of those places that everyone thinks that they know what it’s like to work at, but it’s such a unique experience that you can’t even describe,” she said. “[It was] truly one of my favorite aspects of going to this school.”
Allison Marsland, the Assistant Varsity Softball coach, stopped by the Cage on Thursday, March 28 to drop off the team’s roster.
“Every time I come to the Cage I am blown away by the level of service I receive,” Marsland noted. “It is efficient and friendly. I love the Cage!”
Next came Sarah Kimmel, a junior and next year’s Co-Captain of the Girls Swimming and Diving team.
“JT brings me so much joy every day during swim season and I am so thankful for him,” she remarked.
Joey Ford, the captain of the Boys Varsity Lacrosse team [and a staff writer at The Willistonian] passed through the hallway and shouted a quick compliment to me about the Cage.
“JT is, not going to lie, my favorite person on campus,” he said. “Every time I walk past he always says hi. Whatever I need, JT always helps me out. I’ve never seen him without a smile.”
Next year’s Girls Ski team captain Lily Shields ’21 told me about her experiences at the Cage: “They’re always so nice and smiley,” she said. “They always have everything that you need and there’s nothing that they can’t help you with.”
Everyone loves the Cage, and the Cage staffers seem to love everyone right back. In my four days observing (and actually doing some Cage work), I realized not only the importance of the work they do, but also the difference they make in students’ lives on campus.
After a long day of organizing uniforms and talking on the phone, JT leaned back in his chair and sighed.
“There’s just nothing like working here,” he said. “I just love it, no matter the ups and downs.”
This story originally ran in The Willistonian.