Local men keep eye on Buckeyes

MARIETTA – Belpre resident John Coffman will make it to a lot more Ohio State football games this season than he has in recent years, but he’s got to work to earn his spot.

Coffman, 61, is one of the newest members of the corps of hundreds of volunteer ushers working Buckeye home games to direct fans to their seats, answer questions, keep the aisles clear and assist with any issues that may arise. They may not be able to sit in the stands, but if they don’t have any pressing duties, there’s nothing to stop them from taking in the action as Coffman did during his first game on Saturday as Ohio State dismantled the Florida A&M Rattlers 76-0.

“It’s a volunteer position, which, gosh, to get in the games for free, they give you a parking pass, you’re there,” Coffman said.

In addition to his orientation a couple weeks ago, Coffman has the benefit of carpooling to the games with two longtime ushers – Veto resident Carl Pryor and his stepbrother, Gary Secoy of Little Hocking.

It was Secoy, a former co-worker of Coffman’s, who told him about the gig.

“I used to get there once or twice a year, but it’s been harder to get tickets,” Coffman said. “I was just an avid fan and that was just (a way) to be part of the atmosphere.”

All three men agree serving the fans is their first priority as ushers. Seeing some of the game is good, but being part of that atmosphere is the main perk.

“You get to enjoy the excitement of the crowd and the game, the atmosphere, the electricity running through the stadium,” said Pryor, 62, who’s been an usher for 13 years. “Unless you’ve been there and experienced the excitement, you don’t know what you’re missing.”

In the decade Secoy, 67, has been an usher, the 2006 game in which the Buckeyes defeated the arch-rival Michigan Wolverines 42-39 to earn a berth in the BCS national title game stands out the most. He remembers fans flooding the field when the game ended.

“It was such a sight to see people my age, 60 and 70 and older, dancing,” Secoy said.

The ushers work in crews of four or five to a “portal,” the term used for the entrance to a section of seats. Each crew is headed by a supervisor, who unlike the other ushers, is paid minimum wage. Secoy and Pryor have been supervisors for sections that seat about 1,500 people since 2006.

“It seems like it’s a gravy job, but it’s really a lot of work,” Pryor said.

As supervisors, he and Secoy are required to be at the stadium four hours ahead of time for a staff meeting. Sometimes they spend the night before in Columbus if there’s a noon kickoff, but last week, they drove up the morning of, along with Coffman, starting before sunrise.

“And I was on my feet from probably about 8:30 on,” Pryor said, noting they’re required to stay until the end of the game.

But that’s not to say Pryor doesn’t enjoy the work.

On Saturday, he encountered two different fans whose fear of heights made it impossible for them to sit in his upper-deck section. He led them, and a couple other folks who were unable to make the climb to their seats, to ticket services, where they exchanged their tickets for seats lower in the stadium.

“That’s rewarding to be able to help people,” Pryor said.

Of course, there are the occasional unpleasant duties, like dealing with folks who have been drinking or are using foul language. But Secoy said if they get rid of their alcohol or put a stop to the inappropriate talk, they can stay, and most people usually comply.

“We haven’t had too many problems,” he said.

Coffman said he enjoyed his first game as an usher, but admitted to feeling a little bit of pressure.

“Being new, it was just more pressure as far as doing everything right,” he said.

Coffman said he wasn’t faced with any questions he couldn’t answer and while the day was tiring, it wasn’t as draining as he expected.

He was required to be in place two-and-a-half hours before kickoff, which wasn’t that big a change for him. When he attended Buckeye games before, Coffman said he liked to arrive about two hours early, although he’s in the minority among fans.

“The amazing thing about it is, everybody floods in about 15 minutes before game time,” he said.

With the outcome of Saturday’s game never in doubt, the mood was pretty laid back, Coffman said. He doesn’t expect that to be the case this week, when the Wisconsin Badgers come to town.

“I’m sure playing Wisconsin this week, it’s going to be hopping,” he said.

Pryor said back when he started, there was a waiting list to be an usher, but that’s not the case today. Information about applying to be an usher is available online at www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com/ot/employment.html.