The Real Play Makers

While many people visit Syracuse University's legendary Carrier Dome to see the Orange athletes, the Dome security officers who monitor the sporting events are just as important in guaranteeing the games run smoothly.

The airtight doors lock in the cheers of the Carrier Dome as catcalls from scalpers whisper through the cold Saturday night air. Syracuse University football plays host to University of Connecticut for the Big East title-- the biggest home game of the season. Outside, the wind carries clanking beer cans along the walkways that surround the stadium. SU is one of the few college campuses left that sells beer, giving Dome security an extra occurrence to monitor. While the SU football team assembles their strategy on the field, the Dome security team makes the real safety calls behind the scenes. 

Photo: Brandon Weight
Forty-five minutes before game time, security staff member Ron Mawson checks Syracuse resident Shannon Moyniham's clutch.

“People tend to be more drunk for the later games than they would for the day games,” Jordan Ezman, 21, a junior at SU said. 

Ezman was working as an usher for the SU vs. UConn game.  Positioned in the designated student section, his eyes darted back-and-forth to make sure people weren’t sneaking in, standing on bleachers or acting too inappropriately. He said his job is fairly easy apart from the occasional “situation.” In the game against UConn, his patience and expertise were tested.

Since the start of the game, tension had been building between a drunk Syracuse student dressed in UConn clothing and the sea of orange that surrounded her. Within the first half hour, UConn scored a touchdown, escalating the situation. The drunk student’s cheers angered the crowd as they chanted “a--hole” in retaliation. Ezman kept a close eye on the situation from a safe distance, but once plastic bottles and cups were thrown he located a yellow-jacketed security guard and asked him to intervene.

“They told her she needed to leave the student section,” Ezman said. “But she refused.”

The Department of Public Safety and city police officers arrived while the student argued with the yellow-jackets. She was escorted out of the arena by force, belligerently yelling at the crowd as she exited. Ezman said the woman could have been brought on assault charges for being uncooperative. As a result, the protective eyes of Dome Security sharpen.

For Lt. Mike Glavin from the Syracuse Police Department, the presence of the city police aids in creating a safer environment. Glavin has helped oversee the Syracuse police side of Dome Security since 1984. He and his team of about 15 uniformed officers walk the Dome during events, mainly scanning for fake ID’s. He says their involvement in Dome Security aids the other authorities already put in place. They allow DPS to address situations before resolving issues with charges.

“We just want to make sure everyone’s having a good time,” Glavin said. “We’re not here looking to make arrests.”

Crowd Control

Physical fights are another common occurrence that Dome Security keeps an eye out for. In one particular instance during the UConn game, commotion erupted from the bathroom. Police escorted two men out and off to the side. One man was visibly intoxicated while the other was nursing his bloodied nose. Ezman said the police responded to a fight that broke out as a result of  a man who accidently fell while urinating, hitting the other man’s nose. Ezman later found out the person who fell also had a disability. Security did not determine if the disability took any part in the fall, but police helped resolve the situation and both men were allowed to stay. Since January 2009, DPS has recorded 58 cases of personal injury or harassment at the Dome.

Dome Logistics

Mark Barbuto is the event staff supervisor for the Dome. Since taking on the position four years ago, he said he’s realized that different dynamics in a game can determine how his security staff is positioned. With each game being unique, it can be difficult to anticipate problematic areas before the game starts.

“As long as we have a feel of the game, we can plan accordingly and make appropriate changes,” Barbuto said.

Some signs that help Barbuto determine the “feel” of the game include the game match-up, estimated ticket sales and the time of the game. For the record-breaking game against Villanova in February 2010, overnight security watched the lines outside the box office three nights before tickets went on sale.

Safety Upgrades

While some Dome logistics are dealt with year-to-year, there have been some significant changes to security this year, such as the unveiling of the new text messaging service.  The new texting program allows any fan who has concerns during the game to text “51234” to the Dome management office directly to alert them to the issue. This system was put in place to help assist security in a non-confrontational manner.

“We got a lot of feedback from people who didn’t feel comfortable talking to an usher about a fan acting inappropriately,” Barbuto said. “So we found a way that people could tell us what’s happening inconspicuously and anonymously.”

The text service receives a wide range of alerts. Some fans have even used the service to help Dome staff find people obstructing the view of the game. Barbuto says texting has also lowered radio chatter for minor situations like spills. But the most helpful aspect of the text service has been covering sections of the Dome too high to be seen from the middle and lower levels.

“I can’t tell how many times I’ve responded [to] a text message, and was able to stand inconspicuously, taking action as we saw things happen,” Barbuto said.

For instance, the text service helped Dome security locate the drunk SU student dressed in UConn apparel.

“Thanks to the text messaging service we were able to watch her before things escalated,” Barbuto said. “Really, it was for her safety.”

The Curse of the 300’s

Aside from the student section, Usher Supervisor Stan Ezman says sections that also demand extensive surveillance are located in the 300’s. These seats are usually given to non-students who purchase tickets right before the game. According to Lt. Glavin, those sections on the upper level attract fans that attempt to sneak in alcohol.

“It’s transient. People are coming and going,” Stan said. “Whereas the sections for the season ticket holders, it’s usually the same people every game.”

Security is tighter as the seats get closer to the court. Courtside, everyone is checked for their specific seat every time they enter the section. During the football games, security officials are placed every couple of yards along the edges of the grass; and although they have the best view in the stadium, ground-level Dome security usually have their backs to the games.

The Loud House

It was a cold evening in early February 2009 when crowds began to filter into the Dome for the basketball game against Georgetown. About 90 Georgetown fans gathered into the overflow student section surrounded by SU students and members of the Syracuse community.

“A majority of our tickets are available online. Georgetown fans were able to purchase tickets that border our student section,” Barbuto said. “We didn’t know this was happening prior to the game or else we wouldn’t have allowed it.”

Towards the end of the game, the overflow student section broke out in a massive brawl. A Georgetown fan yelled at the Syracuse crowd above him. More Georgetown fans joined in the confrontation as Syracuse fans began throwing bottles and garbage. Syracuse police and DPS rushed the Georgetown fans out of the section seconds after the fight began. CitrusTV recorded video of the ordeal and uploaded it onto YouTube.

“We learned some lessons from that game,” Barbuto said. “Our Box Office manager can now look in the computer system and keep an eye on what blocks of tickets are being sold.”

Although no complaints were filed as a result of the argument, Adam McMonagle said the situation reflected poorly on the campus, especially his student organization, Otto’s Army. The group released an apology letter to Georgetown following the incident.

“In the games, we can’t choose who represents us,” McMonagle said.

An active member of Otto’s Army and a Webmaster for the organization’s website, McMonagle said the rule of the student section is that every student seated in that section are a part of Otto’s Army, regardless of their affiliation.

The active members of Otto’s Army carry several roles at the Dome. Their involvement with the Dome administrative office helps establish order during overnight camping outside the Box Office. Throughout the games, Otto’s Army acts as crowd control while trying to make them as excited as possible. The Army’s energy and school spirit is the cause behind the student section’s nickname of the “Loud House.”

This semester the Dome has been working with Otto’s Army to put an end to rushing the court during basketball games. The dangerous practice carries fines and penalties by the NCAA. Otto’s Army held a pep rally earlier this semester where they promoted the new campaign.

“We usually work with the Dome when we can help promote safety from a student level,” Daniel Lyons, public relations for Otto’s Army, said.

The Security All-Star

DPS officer Cpl. Joe Shanley also helps promote safety from a student level. With 25 years of serving as a Syracuse police officer under his belt, he’s made it his mission to promote better relations between police and the people they protect.

“My goal is to be a valuable option for these students in any sort of situation,” Shanley said. “I’d like to be a person they can look to for guidance and trust.”

During every game, Shanley makes a point to introduce himself to a student. Although his 6’ 5” bulky build and his pressed police uniform exude intimidation, Shanley said he breaks down this stereotype after a few minutes of conversation. 

“I’ve had a couple people who have been disruptive, but because of who I was it helped defeat any further issues and they would just take my advice,” Shanley said.

His personality served him well during the opening basketball game against Kutztown in November 2010 when he came in contact with a drunken male fan that accidently went into the female bathroom. Shanley said the fan was hesitant to talk to him, but after several students reassured him that Shanley was good guy, he soon started cooperating.

A Crowd Pleaser

Despite the incidents that occur at the Dome, some fans said they are satisfied with how the Dome handles security. Andrew Tredinnick, 19, is a junior at SU and a sports reporter for The Daily Orange. He’s been to about every SU game at the Dome this semester. Game attendance is expected to increase with the upcoming March Madness and Big East tournament events, but Tredinnick said he feels he has nothing to worry about.

“I don’t think I have any reason to feel unsafe,” Tredinnick said. “I don’t hang out with people who are going to get me in trouble and I trust that security takes certain measures depending on the game.”

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