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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Dec. 28, 200612:00 PM EST

Volunteers make Toyota Gator Bowl game go 'round

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

The most visible volunteers who work each year to make the Toyota Gator Bowl possible are the 220 committee members seen wearing the green blazers with the logo on the pocket, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

For every “Green Jacket” you see, there are five more volunteers who work behind the scenes, doing everything from greeting visitors to stuffing envelopes with tickets to picking up trash at the Budweiser Tailgate Party.

It would be impossible to have an event on the scale of the New Year’s Day college football classic without thousands of hours of volunteer labor, according to Jennifer Strickland, events manager for the Gator Bowl Association.

“We need 125 volunteers for the tailgate party alone,” she said. “They set the whole thing up, then sell tickets, staff the interactive games and help guide fans to the stadium. Our ecology volunteers keep the area clean during the party and then clean it up after everyone is in their seat before kickoff.”

Strickland said the volunteers cover a wide range of ages and walks of life.

“We have everyone from corporate CEOs to retired people,” she said. “Our oldest volunteers are in their 70s and our youngest is Hannah Miller, who is the five-year-old granddaughter of one of our staff members. This year will be the second time Hannah helps us set up the press box. We couldn’t do it without our volunteers.”

Volunteer John L. Vesotski was at the GBA office this week getting hundreds of credentials ready for game day. The CSX retiree said he started volunteering when the Super Bowl came to Jacksonville. Since then, he has been a regular contributor to the Gator Bowl and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s football championships and baseball tournaments.

”I really enjoy it,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of good friends and it’s nice to see the same groups of people who volunteer for each of the events.”

Pat Corda, director of the Winn-Dixie Hometown Gator Bowl Parade, agreed that without volunteers, the game and its related activities could not take place.

“There is no way humanly possible the parade could happen without our volunteers,” said Corda. “They do everything from sorting sweatshirts for the parade workers to helping with the computer work it takes to get all the participants invited each year. It takes months to put the parade together. We couldn’t put 104 units including both colleges’ marching bands, 21 high schools bands plus floats, the Shriners and the Clydesdales [horses] on the street without the help of our volunteers.”

She said volunteers are needed to lend a hand year-round.

“We’ll start working on next year’s parade almost as soon as this one is over. We’re back in the office the day after New Year’s – but we do get to come in late.”

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