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Aug. 4, 2006

Part one of a two part series

Busy is an understatement when talking about game-day at Ohio State. For fans, busy means getting to the game and tailgating. For student-athletes and coaches, it means finishing preparations for the upcoming opponent.

But for Ohio State’s facility operations crew, busy takes on a whole new meaning. When your “office” includes $400 million in facilities and is often seen by a national television audience, it comes with the territory.

Assistant athletics director for athletic facilities Donny Patko, and five others, supervise the various facets of facilities operations for each of Ohio State’s 36 varsity sports.

Like the Buckeyes work together on the field, the facilities operations department works together in setting the scene.

“Our whole staff does things with each other as a team effort to have a smooth running game,” Patko said.

Student-athletes at Ohio State have a safe, well maintained and manicured field for practice and competition every day thanks to people like Brian Gimbel, the superintendent of athletic grounds and his staff. He has two full-time assistants, Brian Blount and Brent Packer, one full-time mechanic, Ernie Dulay, and 12 to 20 students working for him.

Some of these facilities include Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, home to OSU soccer, track and field and lacrosse, Bill Davis Stadium for the baseball Buckeyes, and Buckeye Field for OSU softball. And of course, there is Ohio Stadium, which seats over 100,000 fans for every home game and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

“Each of our fields have different expectations and surfaces, so we have to spend a lot of time with each field,” Gimbel said.

The grass is very important to Gimbel, therefore he and his staff have studied and majored in sports turf or horticultural management.

“We are all serious turf grass nerds,” Gimbel said.

A typical day for a home baseball game for Gimbel and his team begins at 7:30 a.m. Students start cleaning the stands while the infield is watered. The clay on the diamond watered six to eight times a day to keep the moisture level perfect. A couple hours before the game starts, the outfield is mowed, the field is lined and batting practice is set up.

During the game, Gimbel makes sure no problems arise and fix any that do, while continuing to maintain the field by dragging the diamond once during the game.

Once the game is finished his staff cleans the stadium and repairs the field by re-building the pitching mound and filling in clay around the bases. These days keep Gimbel and his staff at work until 11 p.m. or later.

Gimbel and his crew are responsible for more than the fields OSU athletes compete and practice on, but the surrounding areas, as well.

“We fix the curb appeal and parking lots to match the facility,” Gimbel said. “We also fix any problem that may occur during the game, like replacing light bulbs in the scoreboard.”

Wayne Stephens, the main electrician in the department, fixes and works with sound systems, scoreboards and video.

Stephens has two-full time assistants, Tom Galligan and Mike Nicholson, and five students working for him. He and his staff check all the electronics with the different athletics facilities on campus.

A football Saturday starts on Friday for Stephens and his staff. They go throughout the stadium and check the scoreboards, signs, about 500 televisions and any communications equipment such as headsets and microphones.

Stephens and his staff make sure to have a back-up plan in the event of a problem. Ohio State has saved money by having good preventive maintenance.

“I work with anything that has a knob or wire,” Stephens said. “In electronics you can test everything a thousand times, but when something wants to break it will break. You just have to have a back-up plan.”

“If we see something broken, then we address it and take care of it or we get prices to fix it,” Patko said. “We give our sports and coaches up to the minute service while other universities may delay the work for a couple of weeks.”

“My typical day for a football game is hectic,” said building engineer Larry Pangalangen. “My main function is to take care of mechanical and electrical problems.”

Pangalangen is in charge of overseeing contractors and vendors at football games, along with keeping things such as the fire alarms and elevators working.

Gimbel and his staff make sure the football field looks great. They make sure to fix the divots after every game.

“We keep the field looking good year round because it is a representation of Ohio State football,” Gimbel said. “My staff and I work on this field because of our commitment to the football program.”

During the 1990’s Gimbel and his staff spent nearly seven hours to repair the field after games. Now it takes them around an hour because the stabilized sand underneath the field holds everything together better.

“The Denver Broncos watched tapes of our football games so they could look at the field,” Gimbel said. “They had a nice field before, but changed it to be more like ours. It is a good feeling to know they learned something from us.”

No matter the sport, the facilities operations staff starts their days early and end their days late. There is a lot of hard work that goes into the facility OSU fans see for every home competition.

By Ashlee Smith, OSU Athletics Communications