TEMPE - If the Red Bull in Mark Gorski’s hand wasn’t signaling that he’d been hard at work, the passing comments from Sun Devil fans in the concourse of Desert Financial Arena sure did.
“You gotta be gassed, man,” one passerby said.
Gorski, the Athletic Facilities Maintenance Manager now in his 13th year at ASU, was amid one of the most hectic weekends in the ASU athletics calendar-year. From Thursday-through-Sunday, ASU hosted 10 NCAA-sanctioned ASU matches, an NHL game and various Sun Devil practices and shoot-arounds. A schedule that packed demands manpower only few schools possess, ASU being one of them. That doesn’t change the fact that most full-time workers are in for a 70-80-hour work week.
“I try not to do the math,” Gorski said with a chuckle.
For Gorski, it’s probably better not to know. With a wife and an infant at home, the schedule and demands of the job can be a tough pill to swallow.
Sidelined since 2019 — you can guess why — Beauty and the Beast is a joint-event between the ASU wrestling and gymnastics programs when the two teams compete simultaneously on Ned Wulk Court at Desert Financial Arena. Zeke Jones’s wrestlers took on Cal Poly, while Jay Santos’s gymnasts competed against Stanford. Two events at the same time means double the work for the facilities staff.
“Our goal is always be one step ahead,” Gorski said. “We get the events schedule months in advance. Most of the time, you don’t have a complete idea of what that looks like, and so (the) week of, or a couple days before, things change just because practices are variable and tend to change, especially on a week like this where we have multiple events going on.”
About 12 hours earlier, Sun Devil men’s hoops manufactured one of the most exciting performances at home in recent memory, albeit in a 74-62 loss. According to the university, a record 5,213 students attended to watch ASU take on UCLA for the first-place spot in the Pac-12.
“You know, we were preparing for a rush,” Matthew Chismar said. “So that would’ve pushed us back another hour. Luckily they didn’t rush the court.”*
Chismar, a junior at ASU, is the son of Mike Chismar, the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Operations and Facilities. The senior Chismar has been an integral player in Sun Devil Athletics on the facilities side for the last 43 years. If one of the Chismars were to get nicked while moving the scorer’s table, he would bleed maroon and gold.
Gorski, Matthew Chismar and a group of 8-10 other student employees and full-time staff are tasked with flipping the court at DFA into whatever setting the coinciding sport for that weekend needs. For The Beauty and the Beast, that meant two major court-transitions in 24 hours.
“You think about all the sports we have and all the events this week,” Gorski said, “It takes a lot for all that to line up.”
*Chismar would likely cringe at his own statement. He would later go on to note that he is “probably the most passionate person for Sun Devil Athletics that you’ve probably ever seen.”
How it Works
Operations started well before the 8:30 p.m. tipoff on Thursday. After class, Chismar arrived to DFA at 2 p.m. Before players arrived for the 4 p.m. shoot-around, the court needed to be mopped. The goal is to clear any dust, and to have the perfect amount of tackiness for sneakers to grip. The energy was high. Chismar prepared to stay through the night.
The easiest part was done. Setting up for basketball is muscle memory for Chismar and Gorski. The real challenge came after the UCLA game Thursday night, and time is never on their side.
“Our first step was to tear everything down from the court,” Gorski said. “We had to take down all the court-side seats, the hoops, everything. Then we push the bleachers in, tear down the scorer’s table and much more. But we can’t do much of that until everybody is done doing their jobs. We start going as quickly as we can. We know it’s going to be a long night, but the first step is clearing out the court because it’s an entirely different blueprint (for wrestling and gymnastics).”
By 1 a.m., the wrestling mats have been pulled out, and a few employees start hauling gymnastics equipment over from their facility. Things naturally start to slow down. Like other nocturnal employees, greasy food and camaraderie keeps the eyes from falling heavy. Starbucks is common. Chismar prefers an Acai bowl, though. On Saturday, they ordered Venezia’s pizza. Perhaps more energizing than all is the access to the sound system. The football practice playlist gets the juices flowing.
“I was still powering through,” Chismar said. “(Gorski) said that we should cut out at 2 a.m. and reconvene tomorrow morning, or whatever. And I was just like, ‘Hey, let’s just get it done.’ So I stayed until about 3 a.m. last night.
“At 2 o’clock we had about half the floor done, the padding on the floor was halfway done, and me and two other guys stayed back and we finished the floor, the vault, all the padding for the vault and all the padding for the beam. I got home at about 3:30 this morning, went to sleep at about 4 a.m. I woke up at 7:15 this morning, picked up my uncle at the airport, took him back to my house and I was back here at 10 am. Right now, it’s about 8:30 pm, and we’ve still got about five more hours.”
A long pause ensued.
“You know, it’s a lot,” he said. “But we get through it. Power through.“
The facilities staff can catch their breath during the events. Chismar nailed out some discussion questions for his Non-Verbal Communications class at the scorer’s table during warmups of Friday’s Beauty and the Beast. Gorski re-upped on Red Bull. They both had Saturday’s ensuing chaos on the mind.
“Tomorrow, not only do we have USC at 8 p.m., we have Tennis at noon,” Chismar said. “So, we can’t be in two places at once...It’s all about divide and conquer. That’s the name of the game, especially when we have 10-plus students here working for us, especially for this type of event where we have two events going on, divide and conquer.”
The hardest work was mostly finished, and Beauty and the Beast went off without a hitch.
“(Thursday) night was a little tougher than (Friday),” Gorski said. “The setup takes a few hours longer than the takedown.
“My philosophy with all of that is that I don’t like to rest until the job is done. There’s always more that you can do. At the end of the day, you can always perfect your craft. You know what I mean? We can always go back and adjust it here or there to make things look better, make a better experience for the fans, student athletes. I just try to get things done as quickly as possible. We’re trying to flip to basketball tonight after this. That way, when we come in in the morning, we just have to add finishing touches and details and make sure everything works.”
There was no way they would be getting eight hours of sleep that night — they rarely do — but it would undoubtedly be blissful.
There was a moment in Thursday’ night’s ASU basketball game against UCLA that was barely noticeable on the TV broadcast. Early in the first half, Sun Devil guard Austin Nunez chased after a loose ball and dove into the courtside seats, colliding with the guests fortunate enough to get such a personal experience. Beer was spilled
Knowing this was on live television, Chismar hurriedly corralled a stack of towels and handled the mess. A win for him would be to draw as little attention to the scene as possible. He succeeded.
As he walked off the court, Chismar heard a faint voice behind him.
Hey man, you’re doing a great job.
“(This job) is a lot. And a lot of people don’t see that,” Chismar said. “A ‘thank you’ goes a long way in this business.”