Don’t be fooled. Even as Ohio State greases up the guillotine for Nevada-Las Vegas on Saturday, a more level competition will play out farther from the synthetic playing surface.
Athletics redcoats vs. stadium ushers. In the Horseshoe. Game on.
Admit it, you never knew this rivalry existed. Those who have attended OSU games consider redcoats and ushers the same thing: a pain in the butt.
I kid. I kid. But it is true that most people who have attended Ohio State games blindly pass through the stadium portals or sashay into their suites without understanding the difference between redcoats and ushers.
The men and women who scan tickets, hobnob with well-heeled donors and make sure the press box elevator holds for the coaches after games are not in the same classification as those who direct fans to their seats and watch for inebriated nincompoops.
The former group comprises the redcoats; the latter the ushers. Do they like each other? Of course.
When it comes to the Ohio State game day experience, it’s one big, happy family. But families feud, and although the gentle elbowing between redcoats and ushers equals good-natured ribbing, each group defends its turf like the Buckeyes playing a Mid-American Conference school.
Having passed by these worker bees for decades, I was curious how and why they do what they do — some having done it since the 1950s — and so I attended a redcoat/usher casting call a few weeks before the season.
Immediately upon exiting the elevator onto the suite level, where interviews were being conducted, I noticed a sign that read “Redcoat” at the top and “Usher” at the bottom. The redcoat arrow pointed toward a stadium exit, while the usher arrow pointed into the concrete confines. Redcoats get out? What usher skullduggery was at work here?
Assured no foul play had transpired, I proceeded to the interview area to ask why some candidates chose to be redcoats and some ushers.
First, some background. Evan Derr, associate director of event management at Ohio State, explained that about 100 new workers would be chosen to fill out the 650 ushers and 450 redcoats who each get paid $8.15 an hour. Each prospective hire chooses to become either a redcoat or usher.
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Not long ago, ushers were redcoats, meaning everyone was lumped into the same game-day soup. Then when Jim Tressel was coach, the group split into two. The majority of redcoats work the first quarter scanning tickets, then take a seat in the stadium to watch the game. They also must purchase their red blazer, which is not always easy to find.
“It gets laundered after every game,” said Bob Swinehart, 66, who has worked as a redcoat for six seasons and mans a post in the press box, where he monitors the booth that houses Ohio State’s offensive coaches.
Former Ohio State defensive back Len Mills (1975-78) was interviewing for a redcoat position when I arrived.
“I still come to football and basketball games, so when I saw this (job opening) I thought, ‘Wow, I come here anyway, so why not come and help out and share your experiences with other folks?’ ” said Mills, 60, who described his visit as “a typical job interview,” including questions about how he might react in situations where diplomacy is required.
“Like if there somebody says, ‘There is someone sitting in my seat.’ How would I handle that situation?” Mills said.
Ushers, meanwhile, operate more among the masses and pride themselves on being willing to get their white shirts dirty, so to speak.
If some redcoats tease that ushers are Neanderthals, then some ushers razz redcoats for being one-trick, ticket-taking robots.
“We (ushers) were sitting around wondering what kinds of questions potential redcoats get asked,” said Jim Hockenberry, 65, who works the south stands student section as a portal chief. “The first question: ‘Do you know how to (use a ticket scanner)?’ The second: ‘Do you have a red coat?’ ”
Hockenberry’s tongue-in-cheek joke won laughs among the other ushers waiting to interview candidates, including 72-year-old Larry Black, who as a section supervisor oversees the entire south stands.
“The wildest thing we deal with are the drunks,” Black said. “We’ve calmed some behavior that could have turned physical.”
Another usher, who requested anonymity, said he once confronted a man in the women’s restroom after a woman filed a complaint. The guy did not want to wait in line for the men’s room and became combative when the usher told him to leave.
Why put up with the headaches? Ushers and redcoats agree there is nothing like the energy that electrifies the stadium on game day.
“I just enjoy being with people and being part of the atmosphere,” Swinehart said.
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