Volunteering is fun. We know this because Allison Doughty once dressed up as a large cartoon cow. And she survived to laugh about it.
“I was working in a volunteer position for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl,” recalled Doughty. “We were at a youth football game or clinic to promote the game. And someone said we needed a person to put on the Chick-fil-A cow costume. That person turned out to be me.”
And the experience turned out to be . . . perspiration-soaked. Yet strangely blissful.
“It was like a sauna inside that costume,” Doughty said. “And you couldn’t see well through the opening and you weren’t allowed to talk. But I actually enjoyed it. People were coming up and hugging me and posing for pictures. How can you not like that? I even have a photo of me presenting the trophy to the winning team while wearing the costume. Of course, you can’t tell it’s me. But it’s me.”
As fate would decree, this unique experience also was good preparation for Doughty’s current job. She is Director of Events and Hospitality Services for the College Football Playoff. That means, among her other duties, Doughty is the big cheese in charge of assembling volunteers for the championship weekend.
Recently, Doughty was in the Bay Area to start that process. Fortunately for her, she was not wearing a cow costume while doing so. But she was eager to explain why people would want to sign up and participate as a volunteer ambassador to the many different elements of next January’s festivities, from the team hotels to the concerts in downtown San Jose to the major tailgate parties at Levi’s® Stadium on game day.
“It allows people to get in touch with the event behind the scenes, kind of feel the magic, peel back the curtain,” Doughty said. “You know, not every job is exciting, but it’s unpredictable. You can be working as a volunteer driver and sit around the room waiting for an assignment and then suddenly someone needs a ride – and it might be a well-known or famous person or coach or broadcaster. And those people are interested in learning about the area, so there can be good conversations.”
Volunteering is full of thrilling adventures. We know this because Malain McCormick has had some. Before coming to work for the Bay Area Host Committee as Event Director for the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship, she organized races for the Rock N’ Roll Marathon organization around the country.
McCormick learned how helpful volunteers can be at those races. But they do need instruction. Hence, on one race morning, she was explaining to her troops near the finish line that they needed to be careful where they stood and where they guided people.
“I was telling the volunteers how important it was to stay behind the yellow lines because there would be runners coming through,” McCormick said. “And suddenly, an early-finishing wheelchair competitor came rolling so fast down the street and bumped me and knocked me over. I just jumped up and said: ‘See? That’s why you have to stay behind the line.’’’
McCormick is fortunate that in January, she can lean on another volunteer-assembling expert and guru: Carrie Benjamin, the Event Manager for the San Jose Sports Authority (SJSA). Throughout championship weekend, most of the off-field events will take place in San Jose. And the SJSA has been there, done that.
We have witnesses. Since 2012, Benjamin has assembled more than 5,000 volunteers for such major and varied attractions as Super Bowl 50, Wrestlemania 31, NCAA basketball tournament games, the Tour of California bicycle race and the National Figure Skating Championships. She thinks gathering the more than one thousand volunteers necessary for the CFP will be no problem.
“As the community learns more about CFP and the National Championship coming to the South Bay, I think we will have an easy time recruiting volunteers,” Benjamin said. “People are passionate about college football. I think they’re going to want to be a part of this.”
Volunteering is not exclusive or elite. We know this because there is a website page where people can sign up to staff airport information desks or
drive cars (or potentially wear mascot costumes) for the Bay Area Host Committee. And anyone can apply. That website page is http://bayarea2019.com/2019_Bay_Area_Prospective_Volunteers
Volunteering can keep you nimble. We know this because as championship weekend unfurls, the community ambassadors assembled by Benjamin, McCormick and Doughty may be assigned to all sorts of tasks. There will be volunteers at lobby information desks in local hotels to serve as “human arrows” and assist people with directions or guidance to corporate or sponsor parties. There will be volunteers stationed at parking lot tailgate parties on game day to make sure things are running smoothly--or to help put out fires if they’re not.
In other words, volunteers never quite know what will happen or where it will lead. Example: Billy Barnes parlayed his experience as a volunteer with the College Football Playoff into a job with an NFL team.
How did that happen? Barnes was on duty at the 2016 National Championship in Arizona when, a day before kickoff, Alabama’s players showed up at University of Phoenix Stadium for an official team photo . . . until someone noticed that all the empty seats in the four stadium sections behind the photo risers where the players would stand were covered with bright orange pompons. That’s right. The Clemson fan sections.
“Someone yelled, ‘We need those pom pons off those seats before we take the Alabama photo,” Doughty said. “Billy held up his hand and said, ‘No problem, I’ve got it.’ And he climbed up there and as fast as possible, made sure all those pompons were out of the way.”
Barnes clarified: “I didn’t singlehandedly lift hundreds of those pompons off the seats, but I definitely led the effort at the end of a very long day at the stadium.”
“People saw that,” Doughty said, “and they thought: ‘If this guy will do that, a school or team will think he’s worth keeping around.’”
Barnes’ volunteer job in 2016 led to a paid internship with the CFP in 2017, which led to an interview with the 49ers, where he’s now the team’s Game Presentation and Live Events Coordinator at Levi’s Stadium - site of the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship.
Volunteering is a learning experience. We know this because it’s safe to say that come January at Levi’s Stadium, no pompons will be placed on seats one day too early.