Popular Shema97 face mask becomes signature for Ohio State basketball, football coaches
When Kevin McGuff recently picked up takeout food at The Rail restaurant near Dublin, someone asked him if he worked at Ohio State.
They did not identify the Buckeyes women’s basketball coach because he was wearing school apparel. Rather, it was his facemask.
McGuff had on the gray and black mask he sported throughout this past season to protect against the coronavirus. The mask has been prominently visible during games whenever TV cameras panned the team’s bench.
“They’ve only seen coaches have this stuff on,” McGuff said.
The look has been prevalent on the sidelines in Columbus for much of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ohio State football coach Ryan Day and men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann also donned the facial covering during their seasons, following many peers across the country.
The Shema97 masks took hold among college coaches last fall when they were introduced throughout the Southeastern Conference by Dana Marquez, the associate athletics director for equipment operations at Auburn.
Marquez had worked with Shema, a South Korean company, to redesign one of its most popular masks that it says can filter 97.1% of airborne particles.
Alterations included adding more sizing options and fastening a neck lanyard so they could be removed and carried with greater ease.
But the masks also were in demand for their use of nano-fabric material, making them a lightweight option. They weigh only 6 grams, according to Marquez, about the weight of a quarter.
"You could wear it all day long and really not feel claustrophobic or hot or annoyed by a mass sitting on your face,” Marquez said.
Gus Malzahn, the Tigers’ football coach last year, wore the mask, as did his counterpart Nick Saban at rival Alabama. Their use spread from there, reaching a majority of schools in the conference and stretching to the Midwest.
Holtmann first ordered a half a dozen or so of the Shema97 masks in October after noticing them on the Crimson Tide’s coaches.
“It looked like a comfortable mask where it was somewhat breathable and our players could potentially hear me,” he said.
McGuff found a similar benefit after his wife, Letitia, ordered a handful of them for him soon after the season began in November.
“It’s the most breathable one I have,” McGuff said.
Coaches, who undergo daily testing for COVID-19, balance communication with players, at times needing to yell toward an opposite end of the court or field.
Kevin Ries, the Buckeyes’ football equipment manager, first noticed special teams coach Parker Fleming wearing a Shema97 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in October. Fleming had bought one on his own, before the program began supplying them for others on staff.
No particular mask was mandated by the athletic department. Some wore medical masks, cloth masks or others approved by team physician Jim Borchers. Day and his assistants went through a couple of styles before settling on Shema97s.
Ries thought disposable ones had issues with the mixture between the cold and warm breath. Some continued to wear cloth varieties.
“Our main goal was to find something that the guys would be comfortable in,” Ries said, “because we felt if they're comfortable, they're going to be a lot more compliant. Everyone's going to have to wear it. You just find what the best thing out there that's obviously protected.”