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FOLLOW THE PLAYMAKERS' STORIES ON WILSON SOCIAL

Kaitlyn Long

Kaitlyn Long

"Crazy. Overwhelming. Exciting."

Lockstitch Operator, 4 years

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Kaitlyn Long grew up just a ten-minute drive from Wilson’s football factory in Ada, Ohio, but right off the bat, she has a bit of a confession to make. “I never actually watched a game of football until I worked here” she jokingly admits. Well, for Kaitlyn, a lot has changed since she walked through the factory doors for her first day almost 4 years ago.

In the quiet, community-driven area around Ada, everybody knows somebody who works at Wilson’s football factory. So naturally, while Kaitlyn found herself in a job she wasn’t passionate about and heard about the opportunity, she jumped at it. After just a year of learning and honing her craft as a lock-stitch operator, Kaitlyn got the nod for the trip everyone in the factory wants – the Super Bowl. “Crazy. Overwhelming. Exciting” she says, describing her feelings when she was asked to attend the biggest game on the planet. “When they first asked me to go, I cried.”

Kaitlyn’s craft is dedicated purely to stitching NFL footballs, so it was only natural that she’d be the one in charge of stitching the balls that end up on the ultimate stage. When asked about her favorite moment of the game, there’s no hesitation, “The first kickoff. At that moment, everyone’s attention is on that ball.”

“It makes you really proud.”

Donna Conley

Donna Conley

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"It's a good feeling to know that what we we make
is good enough to be on the world stage."

Lacer, 32 years

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On her first day of work in 1986, Donna Conley learned the craft of lacing footballs from the same teacher who taught her the most important lessons in life, her mother. “If you’re going to do a job, do it right, and take pride in what you do” she says, recounting the values her mother instilled in her from day one. With such a strong foundation, it’s no wonder Donna has become a stalwart of the craft, lacing footballs in Wilson’s factory for over 32 years.

The factory is so ingrained in Donna’s life, it’s become much more than a place of work. “There’s a lot of history here in this building”, she says, alluding to the fact that her mother, aunts, sister, brothers, cousins, and now her nephew Jimmy have all worked in the football factory. She even met her husband, a turner, in the football factory – although it did take them a year on the job together before he asked her out. “(The factory) has been a steady part of my life.”

With so much experience, the constant, unchanging process of crafting footballs could easily begin to feel routine, but Super Bowl time always energizes the building. “There’s more excitement” she says, “you come in early in the morning and you know it’s go time.” For her, few things can match the swell of pride when seeing the football on-field on Super Bowl Sunday, saying “It’s a good feeling to know that what me make is good enough to be on the world stage.”

“You know that everybody that has touched that ball has put their best effort into it. It’s special to see it on the field.”

"Being around this place for basically 42 years now, it's always been a family thing to me."

Turner, 10 years

Jimmy Conley

Jimmy Conley

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The official records will show that Jimmy Conley has been working as a turner at Wilson’s football factory for 10 years. What that won’t tell you though, is that Jimmy’s journey into the craft started much earlier, when he was just 10 years old. Jimmy’s father, a turner at the factory for 20 years, noticed his son’s intrigue, and sat him down at the kitchen table with a broom stick to teach him how to turn a football.

“To my surprise, it was a lot tougher than I thought” Jimmy recalls with a chuckle. The surprising physicality to that integral part of the football-making process didn’t scare him away though, and Jimmy would eventually find his own way to the factory – doing that same job his father taught him as a boy. “Being around this place for basically 42 years now, it’s always been a family thing to me,” he says of his experience with the factory, at which his Aunt and Uncle both currently work. “I’ve known most of these people for most of my life.”

It’s that family connection and passion that got Jimmy interested in football in the first place, citing his father as his inspiration. “He just wanted us to fall in love with it like he did.” Now Jimmy has the chance to pass that love of the game onto his own kids, who he coaches in youth football. As a turner in the factory, he has the unique position of making the balls for the Super Bowl, as well that balls the go out to youth teams like the one he coaches. “The way my kids’ faces light up when I tell them I made that football,” he says, “it really puts things into perspective.”

Whether it’s on-field on the biggest stage or just one of his practices, Jimmy demands perfection in every ball he turns. On Super Bowl Sunday, it all comes full circle. “I know the pride and effort and dedication that we put into making these footballs,” he says, “this is a big stage for us.”

This year, Jimmy will be attending the Super Bowl for the first time, and his easily identifiable tattoos will help him stand-out among the craftsmen and women making footballs on-site – many of which are tributes to his family that influenced him so greatly. “That’s just a reminder everyday of why I get up and do what I do.”

Pam Boutwell

Pam Boutwell

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"I'm just thankful I can wake up every day and
go to a job that I love and I'm good at."

Lacer, 24 years

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A drive past Pam Boutwell’s house to see her classic ’35 Dodge in her front yard with a meticulously planted flower garden surrounding it will give you a good understanding of just how skilled she is with hands-on work. Now in her 24th year as a lacer in Wilson’s football factory, Pam still gets a thrill with her work, especially come Super Bowl time.

“It gets your adrenaline going” she says about showing up to the factory to lace Super Bowl balls. Every step that can be taken to make the Super Bowl footballs before the final whistles of the Conference Championships is done the week prior. On Sunday night and Monday morning, the hectic pace picks up to get every ball finished and inspected in time.

Now a veteran of the Super Bowl scramble, Pam has attended 8 of the games in person, showcasing her craft to fans at the NFL’s fan experience. “People always come up to me and ask ‘okay, what is your real job?’” she says cheerfully, “they can’t believe we do it all by hand.” No matter how many times she’s asked to go to the game, she’s always thankful, constantly reiterating “it’s such a privilege.”

But once the game starts, she can’t turn off the craftswoman mentality whenever she sees the ball. “I hope it spins right, and flies well, and holds up. When they get a close-up of the ball, I always check the laces.” It’s that inner perfectionist that keeps her upbeat and excited for every day, and while the Super Bowl trips are great, it’s a much simpler sentiment that keep her motivated.

“I’m just thankful I can wake up every day and go to a job that I love and I’m good at.”