Hockey is a big deal at Miami University. Students line the hallways of Goggin Ice Center hours, even days, before a big game vying for one of the 3,100 seats inside.
Someone must keep all those students orderly during games, and that responsibility is falling more and more upon yellow-jacketed workers from Tenable Protective Services, a Cincinnati company that provides security at Cincinnati Bengals games and other downtown events.
Junior Kurt Kadon has attended hockey games over the past three years and became acquainted with the usher in his usual section of the arena. Kadon worries Miami is trying to completely replace Miami ushers with Tenable staff.
“If this happens, then we will lose yet another positive from Miami athletics,” Kadon said. “I already have to put up with a mostly apathetic student population. I don’t want to have to put up with unhelpful and conscripted staffers.”
Assistant Athletic Director Keanah Smith said this is not the case. Smith is in charge of game operations at Miami and said only about 36 of last year’s 75-member sports event ushering staff returned this year, creating a desperate need for additional ushers.
“We have no intention of forcing anyone out of anything. Heck, we need more people. No one was asked to quit,” Smith said. “There are 45 to 47 ushers needed for a hockey game. We needed help filling in our spaces. At this point, with the hiring freeze we cannot hire any more university employees and so we have to go with an outside group.”
Smith cited policy changes as the reason for so many ushers not returning this year. According to Kelly Phillips, director of labor relations, this year’s ushers were asked to be available to work at least 80 percent of home games, whereas the requirement in previous years has simply been a majority of games.
“We really want to provide reliability and consistency for fans of the games,” Phillips said. “(Previous ushers) have chosen to leave because of personal reasons. Many (of our ushers) have full-time jobs elsewhere or at Miami.”
Phillips said Miami has used Tenable Protective Services in past years to fill in the gaps when ushers have not been able to attend games and that they are not brand new on campus.
Nick Whitecotton, general manager of Tenable Protective Services, said his employees are only there to provide security and fill in when ushers are unable to come to games.
“We really only do anything if we’re asked to do anything,” Whitecotton said. “We do not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, that’s not our goal at all. We’re there to help out and make sure its how they (athletic director and staff) want it to be.”
Although Kadon said he does not know whether this outside group of security workers could have a negative effect upon school spirit, he said it definitely does not help.
Smith said the ushering staff must use discretion at games when enforcing sportsmanship rules banning personal attacks and racist or sexist language.
“We know the chants, and although we don’t approve them all, the rule I go by is if you’re saying something that’s discouraging or something personal, I think that takes it to another level,” Smith said. “When our student athletes go to another place we don’t want them treated like that. We don’t want to turn into a place where referees don’t want to work because our students are harassing people.”
Kadon said students have also been surprised by bag searches the yellow-jacket staff performs looking for recently banned items.
“Last year, we made a list of items prohibited to be brought in: drugs, alcohol, weapons, umbrellas, anything that obstruct views of other people,” Smith said. “We also banned Nalgene bottles since we don’t know what’s in it. The state of the country is at a point where we can’t let everyone bring in anything.”
Kadon also worries the recent ban on laptop computers in the arena will discourage loyal fans who arrive hours before games and do homework while waiting in line.
Smith said students have been using laptops during games to quickly write unacceptable messages, put them against the glass and then erase them before ushers notice.
“Doing homework is fine,” Smith said, “but put (laptop computers) in a locker downstairs during the game.”
Smith said her goal for games is to create a safe, welcoming and exciting environment for fans. She does not think the security workers have had any negative impact on school spirit at games.
“I don’t see any diminishing spirit as far as the students go,” Smith said. “They’re still waiting in line. I haven’t seen even diminished attendance levels.”
Smith reminds all students that they may contact game operations staff at all games should a problem arise.