Sanitizing sports equipment puts Wisconsin-based company on cutting edge

  • Company co-founder Rick Nelson demonstrates how Pro3Solutions uses electrostatic sprayers to disinfect and protect football equipment against bacteria and viruses on site. The five-year-old company last season performed the service at Cary-Grove, Neuqua Valley, IC Catholic Prep and Hinsdale Central, among others.

    Company co-founder Rick Nelson demonstrates how Pro3Solutions uses electrostatic sprayers to disinfect and protect football equipment against bacteria and viruses on site. The five-year-old company last season performed the service at Cary-Grove, Neuqua Valley, IC Catholic Prep and Hinsdale Central, among others. COURTESY OF RICK NELSON

 
 
Updated 5/30/2020 12:31 PM

Cary-Grove football coach Brad Seaburg was in his school office last summer when a salesman named Rick Nelson dropped by.

Nelson, 42, is the co-founder of Pro3Solutions, based in Madison, Wis. The five-year-old company specializes in disinfecting sports equipment on site, particularly football, hockey, wrestling and lacrosse gear.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Nelson gave the state champion coach his best pitch. For $30 per player, Pro3Solutions would come to the school four times during the football season to disinfect each player's equipment using an innovative method that eradicates all bacteria and viruses on surfaces and deep within fibers.

Initially, the coach said he was not interested. But as Nelson continued to describe his company's disinfecting process, Seaburg said he began to consider what was best for his players.

He thought of the whooping cough outbreak the school endured a few years back. He remembered that the football program has periodically dealt with impetigo, a highly contagious skin infection that appears as red sores on the face that can burst and develop yellowish crusts. He thought of the players' health in general.

The process

After Seaburg consulted with athletic director Jim Altendorf, Cary-Grove signed on. Pro3Solutions came to Cary four times last fall with a customized box truck. The equipment was fumigated inside the truck using ozone gas, which kills bacteria and viruses quickly and efficiently.

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Fifty sets of pads and helmets were sanitized simultaneously. Processing the entire program took just over two hours. The cost was split between the school's athletic department budget and the Cary-Grove football fundraising budget, the coach said.

The Trojans did not remain 100% healthy in 2019, according to Seaburg, but he said the team's overall health level was better than average. The impetigo issue? Mostly eliminated.

"I would highly recommend their service if anybody called or asked," Seaburg said. "They are not going to solve every possible problem, but we were pretty healthy last year. And the smell in the locker room was way better. Their service is outstanding. They are super friendly. They handle everything. You don't even know they are there."

Nelson and his business partner, Craig Oehrlein, 50, have expanded their client list from five schools to 250 in just five years. They cover all of Wisconsin and greater Minneapolis/St. Paul.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Former football players themselves at Sun Prairie High School near Madison, Nelson and Oehrlein expanded into northern Illinois last year. In addition to Cary-Grove, the company last season disinfected football equipment at Neuqua Valley, Hinsdale Central, IC Catholic Prep, Rockford East and Rockford Lutheran, among others. Huntley has signed on for the coming season, football coach Matt Zimolzak confirmed.

Pro3Solutions deep cleaned Neuqua Valley's equipment midway through last season.

"I tell you it was slick. They're really good." said coach Bill Ellinghaus, whose program dealt with cases of ringworm five years ago. "When I walked back in our locker room there was no odor, no nothing. I felt really good that everything was disinfected. The kids were saying it was all fresher. And I could guarantee them everything was killed on there, all the bacteria. And we missed zero practice time. With all coaches, that's their concern."

More efficient process

Because mass-sanitizing technology is evolving rapidly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nelson said Pro3Solutions has completely revamped its service since last football season to become even more efficient. The box truck method has been replaced. Moving forward, the company will use a two-step process called "Disinfect and Protect" to sanitize equipment in the locker room and sanitize the facility itself.

First, workers wipe everything down to remove dirt and debris. Electrostatic sprayers are then used to apply chlorine dioxide to all surfaces. The chemical compound eliminates bacteria deep within fibers of shoulder pads, shoes, travel bags, etc. It is FDA and EPA approved for safe indoor use.

Step two is the protective process. Everything is sprayed with a dry antimicrobial coating, which Nelson said bonds with the surface to form microscopic, positively charged carbon spikes. These spikes attract negatively charged virus or bacteria, pierce the micro organism's outer membrane and kill it.

"That's how this whole thing works," Nelson said. "That coating keeps it protected. It lasts up to 90 days."

Nelson said he and Oehrlein did not invent the products they use. Rather, they invented the industry of disinfecting equipment on site and did so long before COVID-19 swept the globe. They hope to keep expanding in northern Illinois and, eventually, throughout Big Ten country.

"We are excited," Nelson said. "We've been doing this for a while. Now, with everything that's going on, we're just in the right place while this is happening. We're not just a flash in the pan. We've been around. We are experts in everything that we're doing. We know what works and what doesn't work. That's what's cool about this. We are poised to be helpful during this period."

Interested parties can contact the company via its website: Pro3Solutions.com.

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