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State of the Hogs:There is a smorgasbord to pick from Saturday in Fayetteville when it comes to Arkansas Razorback athletics. There's the Tyson Foods Invitational track meet. There's a baseball game with Louisiana Tech. Both start at 1 p.m. Then, there's the basketball game versus SEC West leader Mississippi State at 7 p.m.
Have to admit, I've been trying to figure out what to attend in hopes of still somehow scheduling a Valentine's Day event with my wife. Don't know exactly what to do. While feeling sorry for myself on how to get my work done and how to honor my bride of the last 25 years, I just forgot about some men and women that will be at all of those events Saturday.
That would be the folk who volunteer as ushers at UA events, sometimes in the frigid outside temps of winter. So I checked up on how Saturday shapes up for Curt Yates, the UA's head usher, and John Phillips, his assistant.
"Long day," said Phillips, "but we love it. We'll get started around 9:30 on Saturday morning and won't finish until well after the basketball game Saturday night."
It could be more hectic. There are no Lady'back events on Saturday, or Yates would split his squad even more to accommodate all that happens. There won't be many Saturdays that compare to this one, with baseball and track sharing the same parking lots on Saturday and starting at the same time.
"There will be some difficulties there because the new sky box holders for baseball actually will park in front of the track building this year," Phillips said. "That's going to be interesting."
Yates and Phillips will split duties on Saturday with one supervising the usher crew at Baum Stadium for baseball and the other heading the crew at the Tyson Indoor Track Center. Said Yates, "We may not decide that until Saturday morning. We'll just see how we feel, who goes where between John and I."
Either way, it will be like both are at both places since they are in constant radio communication throughout the day. And the day starts two hours before each event when the gates open for fans. If you find one, then you can usually check the score of any Razorback event happening that day via walkie-talkie. They might have just come from a different venue, running yellow usher vests from event to event.
"It's a crazy day, but we all look forward to it," Yates said. "We know that some events are scheduled by the SEC, some by the school. And sometimes TV changes the starting times so that it all happens at the same time. The main thing you have to be is a Razorback fan. If you weren't a fan, you wouldn't do this."
For football, Yates needs about 370 ushers. Around 150 are needed to usher a basketball game. Around 65 will be needed for Saturday with some working all day and again that night for hoops.
"Some will take off work to do this, that's how much they love it," Yates said. "I couldn't ask for a better bunch. There is a core group of about 75 that we know we can count on for about every event. About 30 percent are retired and always available."
That's the case for both Yates and Phillips. Yates has been an usher since the late ‘70s, and took over as head usher in 1996 when Bill Parette died. Parette's No. 1 yellow usher vest is retired. Phillips has been an usher since around 1990 when Parette, his cousin, forced him into duty at a UA football event.
"That was back during my days with the Tulsa Razorback Club," Phillips said. "I came early to put a banner on the fence at the south end zone. Bill was there and he said they needed some ushers that day. I got into it then and have been doing it ever since."
Phillips retired to near Elkins, but he didn't let a drive keep him away from his yellow vest during the ‘90s when he lived in Tulsa and then St. Louis.
"I planned my off days, and vacation around ushering," Phillips said. "I didn't miss many football or basketball games."
Phillips, at 6-4 and around 270 pounds, might be the biggest usher, but also one of the most soft spoken and easy going. Still, he's the one Parette and then Yates put in the hot spots. One of them was in the lower level in the northwest corner of Bud Walton Arena near the visitor's bench.
"It's been interesting there at times," Phillips said. "You are told not to initiate conversations with fans or coaches of the other team, but there usually are some that will talk to you. I can remember Hugh Durham always coming out early and talking to about anyone around. He was an enjoyable guy."
The student section, dubbed the Trough, can also be interesting. Despite some confrontations that became heated, mostly the ushers have an easy time there.
"You've got some students that push the envelope," Phillips said. "They go over the edge sometimes with what they do and yell, but most of the time you just talk to them about what is allowed and not allowed and they are no problem."
What about the athletic director?
"Coach (Frank) Broyles?" Yates said. "Oh, he's like the big ole bear in the woods. He goes where he wants and when he wants to. You let him do what he wants to do and things will be fine."
Phillips recalls the time that Broyles, always with wife Barbara, entered the loading dock for a game at Bud Walton Arena.
"When you saw Coach Broyles coming, usually Barbara would be about 3-5 steps behind, because he goes so fast that she can't keep up," Phillips said. "He passed (the ushers) at the loading dock and then here came Barbara. She was laughing. She whispered, ‘we had to come in the back door. He can't find our tickets.' She loved it and just got a kick out of telling us that Coach Broyles had lost his tickets."
Of course, fans don't have it so easy when they lose tickets. But ushers try to figure out how to help everyone.
"Our job is to try to make it fun and enjoyable for fans," Yates said. "We want fans to have a good time. Our job may be to help them find their seats, or maybe to answer questions. We may be to help with a medical problem. On the rare occasion, it will be to mediate a dispute.
"You need the right personality for this and we've got good people doing these jobs. There's the thought among some people that we are like police, but that's not it at all. It's fun for the most part and I'd say most of the ushers have developed great relationships with the fans who sit in their section."
Phillips said, "I may not know all of their names, but I know their faces and where they sit. If I see someone at the mall, I'll recognize him or her and know his or her seat at football, basketball or baseball. You look forward to seeing them and finding out what's going on in their lives. And you know when they haven't been there for a few games and want to check up on them."
Interestingly, Phillips owns tickets in Reynolds Razorback Stadium and Bud Walton Arena, but doesn't sit in them.
"I've never sat in my seats in Bud Walton," he said, noting he gives them to family and friends. "Sitting in the stands to watch is a rare event. Curt and I drive to Little Rock to watch the Razorbacks play there, and since we don't have to usher there, we sit in the stands. That's nice."
Nice is the right word for both guys. And if you have a problem Saturday at any of these events, remember that these guys are there to help.