BEYOND FOOTBALL/with gallery: More than 300 volunteers clean up the Big House following Michigan football games
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I've often wondered — how long does it take to clean up the Big House after a game? Cindy Pressprich, who organizes the crew from Father Gabriel Richard High School, claimed it takes them two hours. I was skeptical, so I decided to check it out the morning after the U-M vs. MSU game to see just what it was like.
Cindy and her co-coordinator, Jerry Bonar, had been there for a half-hour when I arrived at 8 a.m. A couple dozen people already were working, and a steady stream of others were coming in. The eventual count for the day was 346, about half being students, plus parents, siblings, even grandparents and friends.
They sign in, grab rakes, brooms, blowers and trash bags, walk to the top of the stadium, and begin moving the trash down 100 rows. There is the usual pizza and popcorn and peanuts and nachos and containers and bottles. This week, in addition, everything is covered in yellow — the remains, often shredded, of thousands of pom poms given out before the game.
In such a big place, 346 people looks like nobody, and I calculated that each person would be picking up after 300 fans. Two hours didn’t seem realistic. On the other hand, Gabriel Richard has been doing the job for most of the past 35 years.
I talked to several people as they worked. Abby Mackinnon, a junior from Plymouth, comes with her mother, and they stop at McDonald’s for breakfast on the way in. Abby was in section 40 putting water bottles into a white plastic bag for recycling. "The work isn’t my favorite thing to do," she said. "But it’s well-organized and the time goes fast. And it’s much better than going around my neighborhood asking for money through fundraisers to help with tuition. Nobody enjoys that."
She was referring to the money that the school makes for cleaning, which goes into the general operating budget and so effectively lowers the tuition for everyone.
Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com
Then I met Jeanne Roelant and her two daughters and two nieces, ranging in age from seven to 12, and her mother, Mary. The kids already have logged 15 years between them in cleanup. Mary has learned to let them do the bending and picking up while she holds the bag. Jeanne, who has had two children graduate from Gabriel Richard, said doing the work fosters a sense of service and cooperation, and said she hopes it makes her children think about leaving trash in a public place.
While the cleaning is going on in the bowl, Boy Scout Troop 111 is cleaning outside the bowl and around Crisler Arena, and athletic department facility worker Scott Clayton’s crew is cleaning the field itself and collecting trash from the 110 containers in the parking lot and nearby streets.
Clayton told me that it’s easy working with Gabriel Richard. "They come in, get their tools, and off they go. They know what to do and have a plan. They need minimal help, no monitoring, and they do an excellent job. A couple years ago, vendors started selling peanuts in the shell, so that makes their job a bit tougher."
Bill Pressprich, Cindy’s husband, has been at the stadium for 14 years. "I have eight to go," he said. Five of their children have graduated from FGRHS and two more will.Bill is able to run a one-man operation with the help of an iron D-ring that he puts inside a trash bag to hold it open, then scoops the garbage in with a dust pan. "Cold and wet days are the worst because the trash freezes to the stands," he said. "But it’s great that more people are coming all the time, and seem to like it."
The sun, already shining brightly inside the north and west end of the stadium, is beginning to hit the south end where Joe Chavey is working with some other students. He is one of only a few to wear shorts, and his decision seems wiser now with the rising temperature.
A short distance away is Joe’s father, Rusty, a family medicine physician at U-M Hospital. This is his first year working at the stadium since their first three children were home schooled through high school. "Doing this develops a sense of community and citizenship," he said." There’s something about seeing people from all walks of life picking up trash. There is no rank. We show up and follow orders — rake, sweep, use the blower, whatever they need."
Nearly two hours have passed and Fr. Richard Lobert, chaplain at FGRHS, is getting help setting up for Mass high up in the north end. He said that "Mass at the stadium is a convenience for folks who get up early to help and who would otherwise have to go home, change, then go to their own parish." 80 percent of them are able to stay this Sunday.
During the service, the grounds crew is down on the field throwing bags of trash onto a cart that holds two dumpsters. Twelve full dumpsters are taken from the bowl itself, and seven more full of recycled bottles and cardboard will be collected in and around the stadium.
Fr. Lobert said "the ‘congregation’ has learned to overlook the distractions of the work still going on, and at the same time appreciates the ambience of having Mass in a place where exciting athletic things happen. On cold or rainy days, the university has graciously allowed us to use the concourse at Crisler Arena."
Besides cleaning the stadium, the connection between the high school and the university has another aspect: Father Gabriel Richard, the Catholic priest after whom the school was named, was a co-founder of the University of Michigan, served as its vice president from 1821 to 1827, and was on the board of trustees until he died in 1832.
Afterwards, there is a short social time with juice and donuts — 34 dozen donuts this week to be exact, from Washtenaw Dairy.
After everyone has left — and after cleaning up their own food, of course — the mess in the stadium is gone and I was wrong. It did only take two hours. It is ready for the lacrosse game at 1 p.m., for the events during the week, and of course, for the U-M vs. Northwestern at 8 p.m. Saturday.