Just minutes after the (usually happy) fans begin to file out of Allen Fieldhouse after a Kansas basketball game, another team begins warming up.
Usually before the last fans have left the building, a group that typically numbers about 30 people gets to work on a task that will usually take at least five to six hours, and that’s if they’re lucky and skilled.
After all, someone needs to pick up all that shredded newspaper students toss in the air and the rest of the leftover trash. And that task falls to KU student organizations and nonprofit groups of all kinds who sign up for the chore in return for some cash for their group.
“It’s too much for our day-to-day staff to handle,” said Casey Cook, director of events and facilities for Kansas Athletics Inc.
Cook said many of the groups are student organizations looking for extra cash, but they get churches and other nonprofits from throughout the region.
Returning groups have a draft each year to determine which groups get which games, and how many games each group wants to do.
Men’s games pay $2,200, and women’s games start at $700 but can increase based on attendance. Women’s games against Missouri and Kansas State, for example, typically pay more, Cook said. Groups can earn an extra amount for recycling the plastic bottles they find, he said.
Vanessa Ernst, a junior from St. Joseph, Kan., helps pick up trash for her student athletic training group.
“It’s more of a mental than a physical thing,” she said. “Everybody has gloves on. We literally are picking up little pieces of popcorn.”
A final check to see whether the groups have cleaned up the fieldhouse adequately can take 45 minutes, Ernst said.
Katy Sakuvich, a senior from Olathe, is a pro at this. Her ultimate Frisbee women’s team pairs with the men’s team, and she estimates she’s pulled fieldhouse cleanup duty at least 25 times or so over the years.
At the draft, she recommends going for winter break games, where fewer students typically attend. She recalled one game a few years ago against Missouri where she went home at 6:30 a.m. because she had an 8 a.m. class, and the group was still working.
KU provides leaf blowers, and teams get to work right away. Sakuvich said it’s best to work from the top down, making a sweep to pick up the bigger items, and then coming back around with the leaf blowers.
“There’s enormous amounts of newspaper,” she said.
In fact, when she goes to games, she doesn’t throw any newspaper, because she knows how much of a pain it is to pick up.
“You really learn to hate that tradition,” she said.
Cook said the athletic department does a similar program at Memorial Stadium after football games, but those cleanups are typically done starting on Sunday morning. Allen Fieldhouse, however, is an office area, too, and it’s used seven days a week. Football cleanups are often easier because there’s only one concourse to deal with, instead of Allen Fieldhouse’s three.
Sakuvich said she’s managed to find all sorts of things mixed in with that trash. Credit cards, cell phones, car keys, glasses (with a pretty thick prescription), shoes and even a pair of pants, once.
“I don’t know how you leave your shoes or pants at Allen Fieldhouse,” she said.