Jan. 25, 2009
26th Blog: A crew of happy workers helps put on the show
By Brendan O'Hallarn
Two hours before tipoff, they start arriving and changing into their light blue shirts. Most come from other jobs across Hampton Roads -- teachers or shipbuilders or civil servants. Others are retired, and this night's work doubles as a night's fun.
The crew that works at the Ted Constant Convocation Center for events ranging from basketball games to concerts is a dedicated lot.
Mike McRory, an ODU grad who was hired part-time as the Ted's Event Staff Coordinator a month before the building opened, says a dozen of the current workers have been with him since Day 1.
"My wife asks me why I'm still doing this, and I tell her 'It's still fun'," says McRory, whose full-time job is with Chesapeake Public Schools. "All of us do it because we love it."
For Thursday night's game against Georgia State, won 56-40 by ODU, I followed McRory around for about an hour before tipoff.
At 5:30 p.m., he gathers with staff in the back corridor of the arena, to go over the game plan, and give workers their stations for the game. "We don't tell them in advance, and we want them comfortable doing any different job during an event. I'd like to think all 50 of our staff can do almost all the jobs," McRory says.
There's always something a little different. On this night, Dunkin' Donuts is handing out free cups to the first 1,500 ticketholders. "Just leave them by the entrances, and keep an eye on them," McRory tells his staff. "We don't have the manpower to hand them out, but we don't want someone coming over and taking a sleeve of cups, either."
Then McRory talks with the staff about the thing that many have been thinking about – the looming winter storm, and how it might affect the weekend's big event with Fox News personalities Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck.
"Right now, we're assuming this is a sold-out event, and it's going ahead," McRory says. "So plan early. I don't want to hear from someone an hour before that they can't make it."
(As it turns out, a decision was made to close the entire university on Saturday, causing the O'Reilly-Beck event to be rescheduled to May.)
Those are decisions that affect Global Spectrum, the company that runs events in the Ted. ODU Athletics is one of their many clients.
"Our role here is everything that's outside of the actual game," says Senior Event Manager David Farrar. "We make sure they have everything they need to have a successful event. Everything from the floor, the nets, the ushers, to the video production part of it. They bring the balls out and play ball."
In writing "Living Like a Monarch" this season, I've gotten to know many of the ushers on a "friendly hello" basis. While it doesn't hurt to make a few bucks, most of the workers, like Maceo Harrison, do the job because of the people that they meet.
"You make friends, season ticket holders, people who come back time and again. It's just a friendly atmosphere," says Harrison, who's worked part-time at the Ted for five years, in addition to his full time job with Navy food and beverage.
McRory says that's the spirit he's looking for in employees who work events at the Ted, embodied in the "How You Doin'" program, started five years ago.
"We want to make people's night better," he says. "Maybe someone is coming from work, and they had a bad day, and they just want to come to an event here. We want to greet them with a smile, be there to help them, and make sure they enjoy the event without us being the event."
McRory's done event management part-time since he was a student at ODU two decades ago. He says one of the best parts of the job is the true family atmosphere that develops among the staff. McRory related a story about a worker who had the roof of her house blown off during last November's nor'easter. Discreetly, an appeal went out to Global Spectrum staff. "We raised $400 in a night, and the people who donated didn't even know who it was for," McRory says.
Farrar came to ODU from Virginia Commonwealth's Siegel Center. He says the Ted is probably the best building in the conference. But that doesn't mean things don't happen from time to time.
"There's always a press row table that doesn't have power, and then you run around and check every breaker, and find out it's someone that's kicked a cable out," he says. "Or if there's television and it's a noon game, the 4 a.m. TV load-in is not fun."
But as a sports fan and a music fan, seeing Division 1 basketball and top-flight concerts "is a real perk."
I realize I haven't written anything about the game except the score, but it was on TV last night, and there were great write-ups in the Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press.
The Monarchs played their usual suffocating defense, but were a little less sharp than usual on offense. Coach Blaine Taylor said afterwards it's tough to fire on all cylinders for all 40 minutes of 18 conference games, but that he wasn't going to get too worked up over a 16-point win by his team.
Motivation won't be a problem on Saturday, as the Monarchs are in Boston, playing Northeastern.
A senior-laden team picked to finish second in the conference in the preseason, Northeastern is 8-2, only a game behind ODU and George Mason.
They're also big, tough and physical. I asked forward Frank Hassell about that and he smiled. "They've got some pretty good post players. They're going to be a tough challenge, and we're going to rise to the occasion hopefully," Hassell said.
I asked him if he'd rather bang bodies under the basket, or chase smaller players around the court. "Oh bang. I ain't good at chasing. I don't like chasing," he said.
Brendan O'Hallarn is an employee of the ODU University Relations staff.
Brendan's Blog 46