Volunteers gear up before big game
About 4,000 will staff a mini-theme park. Others will greet and direct Super Bowl visitors.
|[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Volunteer Christine Towers of Riverview holds up her Super Bowl XXXV uniform shirt after orientation at the Ice Palace on Saturday.
By BABITA PERSAUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2001
TAMPA -- Five thousand Super Bowl volunteers descended on the Ice Palace Saturday morning for a gigantic pep rally, and how did it all start?
With a traffic jam.
"And this is only ... 5,000 people," said volunteer Sue Strand of Tampa. "A small fraction of what is to come" to Tampa for Super Bowl and Gasparilla festivities in about two weeks.
Saturday, the local Super Bowl task force assembled its volunteer army at the Ice Palace for orientation.
They received information booklets, uniforms (beige cap, blue wind-resistant jacket and golf shirt, all with the Super Bowl logo), and a pep rally with Sickles High School cheerleaders performing to Jennifer Lopez's Let's Get Loud.
The lower level of the Ice Palace was packed. There were moms with babies, guys in Mike Alstott jerseys.
"I just wanted to be a part of all the excitement," said Darla Bell, a football lover from north Tampa.
"I love the NFL!" exclaimed Kyle Pereira, a construction project manager.
Recruiting started in February, when the Super Bowl Task Force wrote former Final Four volunteers, businesses and civic organizations such as the Tampa Women's Club.
By Sept. 1, the task force had an overflow of applications, some from California, South Dakota, Texas and New York. Total number recruited: 5,200.
Volunteers will be given assignments and work a day or two. Although it gets them close to the action, it won't get them inside the stadium for the big game.
Instead, about 4,000 will staff booths at the NFL Experience, a mini-theme park outside Raymond James Stadium that opens Saturday. Others will be greeters at Tampa and St. Petersburg/Clearwater international airports and at area hotels, holding up signs and directing tourists.
"We want our smile to be the first and the last thing visitors see," said Jennifer St. John, the task force volunteer coordinator.
Volunteers had to attend a seminar in October, where they were shown an NFL Experience video with highlights of last year's Super Bowl in Atlanta. They also were groomed in giving directions. Organizers can only hope getting around Tampa will be easier than getting around the Ice Palace on Saturday. Traffic was a mess.
"We were told to display our yellow sheets on our dashboard, and that would make it easier for officers to direct us into the garages close to the Ice Palace," Strand, the volunteer from north Tampa, said. Instead, cruisers blocked lanes. Drivers were told by officers to stay in a lane, then told by other officers they were in the wrong lane.
Inside, at the end of the orientation, volunteers were called to get their uniforms, the masses flowing orderly at first toward the folding tables. Then the four different lanes -- small, large, extra-large and extra-extra-large -- became congested.
Volunteers went back to exchange sizes. Volunteers stopped at the ends of the lanes to try on uniforms.
Fred Stasurak, 34, went through his blue nylon bag of goodies. "All collectibles," he said.
"We got to move these lines," an organizer said into a microphone. "You can try your clothes on when you get home today. . . . Please exit."
Maria Griffin, a Florida A&M graduate student who drove from Tallahassee for orientation, ignored him, standing in the middle of the buzz with her friends and putting on her new Super Bowl jacket. "We will be the talk of Tallahassee," she said.
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