It’s our job to make you feel welcome’
By NICOLE McALEE | Friday, October 4, 2013
By NICOLE McALEE
Clad in bright yellow jackets and hats and tasked with organizing a crowd of more than 80 thousand people, the ushers of Notre Dame Stadium are a staple for students and visitors for home football weekends.
Though ushers are perhaps most recognizable for working at football games, Jim Smith, crowd control program manager for the Notre Dame Athletics Facilities staff, said they stay busy throughout the year.
“We staff about 140 events a month for about 80 thousand man-hours a year,” Smith said.
Smith, who is in his third season as director of ushers and his 21st year in the ushering program, said he oversees an estimated 700 ushers per home football game and has over 900 ushers on the roster. Among them are residents of 22 states, one Canadian, Notre Dame alumni, faculty, staff and an ex-Notre Dame football player.
Mack Smgielski has been ushering at Notre Dame for 32 years. He said his history with Notre Dame Stadium, however, goes back a bit farther.
“When I was about 10 years old, in 1958, I helped my older sister sell souvenirs outside the stadium,” Smgielski. “Then, in the mid-70s, I helped give traffic reports on game days from the Indiana State Police helicopter. In 1980, I entered the usher program working traffic and parking around the stadium.”
When the addition to the stadium was completed in 1997, Smigielski said he became a stadium usher.
Ken Leamon, another longtime usher, said his first experience as an usher was in 1982 when he worked at a night game against Michigan in Notre Dame Stadium.
Leamon said he most enjoys seeing people encounter Notre Dame for the first time.
“I’m here because I love it,” Leamon said. “You get people who have never been here before, and they just can’t get over how beautiful the campus is. They immediately fall in love with the place.”
Although Leamon retired in 2007, he continues to drive a golf cart on football weekends and to give stadium tours to visitors.
Smith said the new open seating policy in the student section has been more successful than he expected.
“It’s different,” Smith said. “It’s new enough that we haven’t worked out all the bugs yet, but it went a lot better in the first game than I anticipated it would have gone.”
Smigielski said he is pleased with the new seating arrangements.
“With the new open seating policy, the students seem to be much happier and cordial to each other and the section ushers because they are with their friends, which relieves stress on the students and the ushers,” Smigielski said. “I think the new open seating policy is terrific.”
Ushers are important because they leave a lasting impression of the University on visitors, Smith said.
“The reason the ushers are here are not to be the fun police,” Smith said. “We try to be ambassadors for the University. Most of the people who come here on game day aren’t going to see Father Jenkins. … They’re going to interact with an usher. So the impression that usher leaves is going to be the impression of the University, so we try to make that as positive an experience as possible.
“It’s our job to make you feel welcome. It’s the team’s job to make you feel unwelcome.”
Contact Nicole McAlee at firstname.lastname@example.org