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Conversion team handles Magness’ transition from hockey rink to basketball court

A full conversion from ice to court takes 20 people and six to eight hours. Photo: Michael Richmond

It’s a fall Friday night and fans are flowing into Magness Arena to watch their beloved Pioneers hockey team battle another opponent. Twenty-four hours later, Pioneers fans again file into the arena, but instead of ice, a waxed basketball court shines bright. Most event-goers take the drastic change for granted, but for the Magness conversion team, the process of setting up for a basketball game or concert is a long and cumbersome task.

“The most common misconception about converting the arena is the amount of work that goes into it,” says Magness Conversion Manager Ray Gottfried. “Most people think we just push a button and everything changes.”

In addition to sporting events and concerts, Magness hosts graduations, conventions, galas and even robotics competitions. A full conversion from ice to court takes 20 people and six to eight hours. The process usually begins late at night, and step one is covering the 17,000-sqare-foot ice surface with 535 panels of Ice Pro—a Kevlar and fiberglass composite. The penalty boxes and glass are removed, and the 75-piece, 64,000-pound maple basketball floor is snapped together like a puzzle. Then, the team must move bleacher sections onto the floor.

The four full-time conversion employees (with the help of temporary and part-time staffers) also manage setup and takedown for the Ritchie Center’s more than 300 annual events, including those in Hamilton Gymnasium, Joy Burns Arena and the natatorium. They also set up DU’s gymnastics equipment and even maintain Whispers, a talking sculpture that sits outside the Ritchie Center.

Despite the demands of the job, the conversion team seems to enjoy it. “We get to see all the events for free, although sometimes after a conversion I’m too tired to stay and watch,” says Jerry Leister, assistant manager of the Magness conversion team.

“Concerts are the most difficult to set up because of all chairs, sounds, lights and little details,” Gottfried notes. “But, it’s all worth it when that curtain rises and the crowd goes wild. That’s the reward for all the hard work.”

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