Spotlight On: Wes Merrill, UNC Wilmington Facilities & Events

Wes Merrill
Assistant Director for Facilities and Event Management
UNC Wilmington Athletics
Hometown: Hendersonville, North Carolina
Education: University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Official bio
Twitter: @wesmerril2527

What do the first two hours of your day look like?

First two hours of my day are usually never the same but the majority of those first two hours in the morning are checking my to do list that I update every day before I leave, checking and responding back to emails, reading the D1 ticker and other newsletters that involve information about our profession, and taking action on items that were brought to myself or our departments attention (things that require us to fix or take a look at for someone else to fix, etc).

Name one go-to resource (or two or three) that helps you with your duties.

We have a share drive that all of our staff can access where all of our documents are (post-season notes, checklists, master schedules, facility information and much more). That is the go-to for everything!

If you could go back to your first day on the job and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Ask why whenever you can ask why. Be that guy that is always asking why, I am never afraid to ask why but I wished I asked more questions to physical plant workers (HVAC, electricians etc.), Daktronic workers, AV/Sound staff, construction staff working on projects and other facility staff. There is so much that we can learn from them that is not just added knowledge but essential knowledge to what we do. I am not saying to ask these questions to necessarily know everything or know how to fix everything, but at least learn how to perform minor troubleshooting because if you know enough then a phone call to those staff and explaining things correctly to them might save you from having to bring them onsite to fix things.

Name one new thing you want to accomplish within the next year?

Within the next year my goal is to have all of my duties and operational information for my events and facilities organized in writing so if something was to ever happen or I was to leave there would be comprehensive documents for my boss or successor that would have all the operational information needed.

As you look at the athletic operations field, what is one area that is growing/changing the most?

A better question would be what is NOT changing (ha ha!). Every aspect of our profession within facilities, operations and event management is changing which makes it so interesting. If I had to pick one single thing I would say security. Unfortunately our profession is subject to events that have large crowds in a concentrated area which makes them targets for attacks. Security plans are constantly changing as you see some places switch to clear bag policies, changing prohibited items, stadiums/arenas have have metal detectors or perform wanding, events are increasing security staff (City PD, University PD, Sheriffs, State Bureau & part-time security event staff). Normal every day items are being altered to be used as a weapons or contain weapons, new items are being developed to be undetected by metal detectors and other items and ideas are constantly being created to bring harm to others. It is very important to our profession to work with local law enforcement, develop plans and ensure staffing levels are appropriate to ensure the safety and well being of our guests and staff at our events.

Best career or work advice you ever received.

Never be satisfied. Always see how you can improve or improve something. Sounds cliched, buts its true. My boss at the time (Justin Van Nice, Assistant AD Operations at Wake Forest University) was always about taking the next step. Just because the way we operated an event was done well or this is how it always has been done does not mean it is perfect. It will probably never be perfect but we can try to get it there. Breakdown every aspect of our operation and see where we can improve. Once you really breakdown your operation and see where you may be not as strong in areas as you are in others and then play different scenarios in your head and see how that would play out really helps you dig deeper and improve to cover all areas. In today’s world in our profession we gotta expect the unexpected and be prepared to adapt.

First event, person, or job that sparked your interest in this field of work.

My Junior year of college, I applied for a part time position within the athletic department to join the first student facilities and event staff for UNCW Athletics. I was an education major at the time anticipating to be a PE & Health teacher, but wanted to find a job to help pay some bills. I got hired and fell in love with the job. Not just because I loved my school and loved sports but because my boss at the time Marcus Attles (Associate AD Facilities and Operations at Northwestern University) brought so much energy, passion, enthusiasm and hard work that it sold me and made me buy into what we were trying to accomplish as a student there and made me want to make this my career. Marcus gave me the opportunity to see the sports I love in a whole different way and then brought his passion for his staff and his job — that is what really sold me. I owe it to him for giving me the start to this career.

What is the most creative or innovative thing you’ve had to do to address a specific incident or situation?

Our line of work we witness a lot of crazy, unusual and unexpected things. It seems like we experience some of the most unusual things and the phrase “just when you thought you have seen it all” is used a lot. One of my favorite crazy experiences during my first softball series back at UNCW. An assistant coach got ejected and we had to escort him back to his bus, since we do not have a visiting locker room for softball games. As I was escorting him to the bus, he took a hard turn away from me towards the main entrance of the stadium (not towards the bus). I immediately start yelling to the coach to get him back to the right direction and he continued to ignore me. My boss was there assisting me since it was my first event at UNCW. He runs after the coach to try and convince him to go to the bus. Instead the coach continues to walk away and walks about 1.5 miles to a Taco Bell across the highway near campus. My boss followed him the entire way since the coach is required to leave the area and be out of sight and sound and my boss was worried he would come back and cause a scene. Eventually my boss came back but we found it so funny that he went ALL the way to Taco Bell and my boss followed.

Another crazy event that I want to relate is the hurricane that just occurred along the coast of North and South Carolina. Monday and Tuesday the week of the hurricane (it made landfall early Friday morning), my colleagues (facilities/event department and grounds staff) and I were outside securing all of our items, taking down windscreens, moving trash cans and other items, tarping areas and so much more to make sure our outdoor facilities were ready for the storm. Those were long days of work and the emotional battle is tough as well as you have no idea what the storm is about to do to your campus, city, surrounding area and other areas. Once we finished all of our storm preparation we evacuated or took shelter in our homes and played the waiting game. It is tough seeing pictures of your area in need of help and not being able to get back but we are so thankful for all the first responders and others who stayed to help out or came once the storm left to help out. I’ve seen countless pictures of flooding, trees down, cars and homes submerged and much more. It will be a long recovery but we will get through it. I cannot get back to Wilmington currently due to the flooding on roads. Once we arrive back in Wilmington and can access the campus we can assess the damage to our facilities and then we will go from there. This has been the craziest circumstance to ever arise in my operations career but we as a school, city, state and country will come together to help out with the recovery and re-building efforts.

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