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Archive for Saturday, December 21, 2002

Basketball gig just the ticket for retired sports fanatics

December 21, 2002

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Ernie and Mary Ann Swanson want your first step into Allen Fieldhouse to be as memorable as the moment Kansas University seals a victory and the crowd chants "Rock Chalk Jayhawk."

The Swansons take tickets at the northwest gate of the fieldhouse, and they see the excitement on fans' faces as they approach the door, hand over their tickets and step into the bustling pre-game hallways surrounding the arena.

"It's your first breath of Allen Fieldhouse air," Ernie said.

The Swansons, both 70, have been married 48 years, and they've been taking tickets together since 1995, when they moved to Eudora from Minnesota. He's a retired minister and nursing home administrator; she's a retired legal secretary.

"Our goal is to make people feel welcomed to the fieldhouse," Mary Ann said. "They're at the fieldhouse to have a good time -- why not start at the door?"

The Swansons -- like the approximately 75 other ticket-takers -- arrive at the fieldhouse 2 hours and 15 minutes before the start of a game.

With 1 1/2 hours remaining before tip-off, the doors open. The Swansons said fans usually were waiting in line at first, but the crowds die down until about 45 minutes before the game.

Then, the Swansons are constantly tearing off ticket stubs until tip-off.

"Sometimes all we see is hands because people are coming in so fast," Mary Ann said.

Still, she's come to know some fans in the past seven years.

"We think we have the best door of all," she said. "We're by the parking garage, so we get a lot of the season-ticket holders. We have the same clientele every game. We don't know the people by name, but we know their faces and they know ours. It's been like a family."

Once the game begins, ticket-takers get periodic breaks. With six minutes remaining in the game, they go to the arena to keep fans off the court after the final buzzer.

Jennifer Pozzuolo, DeSoto, oversees ticket-takers -- who are paid $6.15 an hour -- and volunteer ushers for Manpower, the temporary agency that provides about 150 workers per game at the fieldhouse. She said ticket-takers at the student entrance had the most difficult job because they must check student IDs.

She said once workers started at the fieldhouse, they usually stayed for a long period of time.

"It's just such a great atmosphere," she said. "Especially retired people love being out around the people."

The Swansons weren't KU fans before they came to Kansas. They preferred to follow the Minnesota Vikings and Ohio State University athletics.

But now, it sometimes drives them crazy to be in the hallways listening to the crowd roar without knowing why. There aren't TV monitors outside the arena.

"We sometimes have to run in and catch the score, to see what's going on," Ernie said.

He said he and his wife had no plans to stop working at KU games. They also work football, women's basketball, baseball and track events.

"We'll do it until you see our obits," he said.

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