The man behind 50 years of D.C. sports changes

The man behind 50 years of D.C. sports changes

طوبیٰ Tooba 55 years ago 0 0

One of the most vital figures in D.C. sports typically arrives at Capital One Arena in the dead of night, leaves the building before the majority of the city’s residents have started their day and is asleep during the games and concerts he works dutifully to ensure take place.

Kim Webster, the senior director of Capital One Arena operations for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, oversees the changeovers at the downtown venue, which hosts more than 200 events every year. Working behind the scenes and against the clock, Webster and his crew transform the floor from a basketball court to a hockey rink one night, and from a hockey rink to an elaborate concert stage or Monster Truck Jam course the next, over and over and over again. Without their efforts, the arena’s ever-changing show couldn’t go on.

“For me, there’s no Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” Webster said in a recent phone interview. “It’s more like Wizards, Caps, Wizards, Caps, Georgetown. I go by what we’re doing, and I couldn’t tell you what day it is now.”

Webster can tell you how long he has been in the arena management business. This season marks 50 years for the 71-year-old, dating from his first job as a member of the crew that opened Capital Centre in 1973.

Capital Centre opened 50 years ago with Telscreen, cold hot dogs and a win

Webster was a 21-year-old living with his mother in Seat Pleasant when Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin broke ground on his new arena in nearby Landover in August 1972. On the advice of his stepfather, a WTOP cameraman, Webster applied for and landed a part-time job cleaning the arena as it was built.

“I can remember sleeping up in the seats for a couple hours and coming back down and working again,” Webster said of the round-the-clock shifts required in the final weeks leading up to Capital Centre’s first game. “It was pretty hectic.”

The gig paid $4.50 an hour, but it provided access to all the concerts, Bullets games and, beginning in 1974, Capitals games at the arena Webster could stomach. About five years later, he became a full-time member of Capital Centre’s changeover crew, working under the direction of longtime arena supervisor John Edwin “Chief” Gentry, whose dachshund once was the Bullets’ mascot.

Gentry retired in 1988. Webster became the changeover boss after Pollin moved the Capitals and Wizards to their current downtown arena, which was originally named MCI Center, in December 1997.

“[Webster is] the conductor of the Capital One Arena orchestra,” said Jordan Silberman, the president of venues for Monumental Sports & Entertainment. “We wouldn’t be able to pull off all the events we do without him in his role, and we are indebted to his 50 years of service.”

Most changeovers begin after midnight and take about seven hours to complete. The average time of a changeover will be trimmed considerably from the start of the basketball and hockey seasons to the end, Silberman said, as the roughly 20 seasonal and part-time workers who assist Webster’s more experienced full-time crew of 18 get more comfortable with the process throughout the seasons.

The thousands of changeovers Webster has been a part of over the past 50 years tend to run together, but there are some exceptions, including the time Capital Centre was hosting a rodeo and a few cattle escaped their corral.

“When we got down there, the security guard was standing on top of his desk,” Webster said with a laugh.

About five times per season, Capital One Arena hosts two events in different sports on the same day, which requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to complete the changeover on a more compressed timeline. Such was the case earlier this month, when the Georgetown men’s basketball team hosted Syracuse for an 11:30 a.m. tip-off and the Capitals welcomed the New York Rangers for a game that night.

Shortly after the buzzer sounded on the Hoyas’ 80-68 loss, Webster and his crew got to work removing the chairs and bleachers on the floor level. Then they attacked the 120-foot-by-60-foot court, which is composed of 238 panels, applying cardboard to protect the surface of each piece before loading them onto pallets and taking them to a storage room beneath the lower bowl of the arena on forklifts.

Most of the arena’s hockey dasherboards remain in place for basketball games, except for the corner sections, which are removed and stored for egress and ingress. Webster’s crew reinstalled the corners as two separate groups began building the penalty box and players’ benches. Then they installed the glass on top of the dasherboards before adjusting and tightening each panel as necessary and loading the subfloor that sits atop the ice onto pallets for storage.

Webster pitched in on various tasks, but he was mostly there to make sure the detailed plan he developed for his crew went smoothly and everything got done on time.

“Being 71, I try not to do too much physical labor, but it’s quite a job trying to keep 35 guys and personalities on point and dedicated to what we’re trying to do,” he said.

“He’s still getting his hands dirty,” Silberman said. “He’s on his hands and knees troubleshooting issues. There aren’t many people like Kim. He is a different breed.”

The quick changeover was completed without a hitch, but there was little time to celebrate. Soon after the Capitals shut out the Rangers, Webster’s crew began preparing the arena to host a concert the next night.

From 2017: Four teams, three playing surfaces, two playoffs and one busy crew

During the overlapping basketball and hockey seasons, Webster, with the aid of blackout curtains, adjusts his sleep schedule to accommodate his odd hours. He wakes up around 10 p.m., has breakfast and makes the half-hour drive from his home in Crofton to the arena.

Webster has managed to find joy in a job many fans who attend events at Capital One Arena may not realize exists, and he takes pride in the fact that his crew has met every deadline through the years.

“I love what I do,” he said. “You’re doing something that’s making thousands of people happy, and it’s a great feeling of accomplishment.”

“He is an exemplar — working hard, behind the scenes late at night and early in the morning,” Monumental Sports & Entertainment founder Ted Leonsis said in a statement. “He is a true hero among our Monumental family and I congratulate him on this milestone. His relentless work ethic is inspiring and because of what he does, we can leave an indelible mark on fans night after night.”

Given his sleep schedule, Webster rarely watches Capitals or Wizards games, but he wears a Stanley Cup ring after getting swept up in the excitement of the Capitals’ title run in 2018.

“Everybody on the crew felt it,” he said. “It was electric.”

Webster would like to retire in the near future, so expect someone else to be in charge of the changeovers if the Capitals and Wizards move to a new arena in Northern Virginia in 2028.

“Fifty years doing this is great. I love the job, but I’d also like to spend time with my family,” Webster said. “I miss holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, parties. I’m dedicated to what I do, but I would like to spend a little time with my wife, go camping, kayaking — stuff I like to do.”

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