Athletics volunteer ushers let go for security reasons

Than Tibbetts

For 13 years, David Dowell helped out at Gophers football and men’s basketball games.

From showing fans to their seats to keeping an eye out for unruly behavior, Dowell is one of many volunteers who have helped usher lost and misguided sports fans to their intended destinations.

But after he received a letter from the athletics department last month, Dowell and his fellow ushers – including some who have worked the games for more than 20 years – are officially out of their “jobs.”

“We were kind of surprised it happened, but still not really,” Dowell said.

Athletics officials said times have changed, and increased concerns about security at games and having a consistent staff prompted their decision to discontinue volunteer service at Gophers athletics events.

Scott Ellison, associate athletics director, said volunteers became less of a benefit in recent years.

“They’ve done a great job for us for a number of years,” he said.

Dowell said he was concerned whether the athletics department would have enough staff members to serve during Gophers games.

“They couldn’t fill all the areas in the lower level of Williams Arena,” he said.

Ellison said the athletics department has approximately 200 people on staff ready to work Gophers games. The volunteers won’t necessarily be replaced, and more existing staff members will be asked to work games as needed, he said.

University police Lt. Charles Miner said officers work with event staff members before, during and after the games to provide security at the athletics events.

Miner said having a disturbance at a Gophers game is pretty rare.

“The type of game we usually have problems with would be a football game, for example,” he said. “It has to do with the alcohol use because alcohol is sold at the Metrodome but is not sold at other sports facilities at the ‘U.’ “

Miner said that as long as the volunteers were replaced with other staff members, he wouldn’t have a greater concern for security at the athletics events.

“Certainly since 9-11 we’ve taken a step back and increased security at athletics events just because there’s large numbers of people at the events,” Miner said.

Dowell said athletics officials offered volunteers a chance to apply for event staff positions. They were also offered discounts on Gophers tickets in appreciation for their service.

Dowell said that because of the time commitment and because he lives in Lindstrom, Minn., which is 35 miles north of campus, he would be unable to work that position.

“Until they can fill every place up, I don’t think they should have to get rid of the volunteers,” he said. “I mean, it’s a service they’re not paying for.”