Duke Spotlight: The Invisible Engine Behind Athletics Events
The Athletic Facilities, Game Operations, Championships and Events unit keeps games, practices and facilities running
Who they are: From fixing toilets in Wallace Wade Stadium and polishing the handrails in Cameron Indoor Stadium, to managing logistics of a soccer match in Koskinen Stadium, the Athletic Facilities, Game Operations, Championships and Events (AFGO) unit is the invisible engine that powers everything related to Duke Athletics events.
The unit is made up of two groups whose job revolves around managing every detail of keeping facilities and gameday operations on track for 27 sports programs. Like a crew of referees at a high-stake sports game, the staff considers it a compliment if players, coaches and fans never stop to notice their work in the background.
The staff members arrive four to five hours before a game and stay long after it’s over, taking care of details, including ensuring seats are clean and ready for fans, that concession stands are properly staffed and ensuring weather conditions are safe for play.
“We’re a service and problem-solving department, that’s really what we do,” said Becca Wilusz, assistant athletic director of Game Operations and Championships. “One of our goals every year is to allow teams, officials and whoever to just worry about what’s happening on the field, whether that’s a practice, on game day, heading into a championship or an outside event in our facility.”
What they are known for: Duke Athletic Facilities, Game Operations, Championships and Events has garnered a reputation in the industry for its care in managing sports events and venues, no matter how big or small the game.
Throughout the week, the unit works to ensure the venues are ready to go for practice and games, painting lines and treating grass and providing maintenance to stands. They ensure visitor facilities and hospitality areas are ready for competition.
On gamedays, their goal is for anyone who comes to campus for a game — especially the student-athletes — has a positive experience. That means providing the same standard of service for each event whether a week day match or championship.
“We’re known for going the extra mile to provide that genuine experience and customer-first focus to make sure that this game day is the most important thing for you, whether that’s a fencing student-athlete or you’re a men's basketball player,” said Jeremy Anderson, Director of Athletics Facilities and Projects. “All of that gets treated the same on our end because that’s their competition day and it might not be College Game Day or on ESPN with 7,000 cameras, but it’s still important to that kid.”
How they make a difference: Since the pandemic began, the staff members have dedicated themselves to helping Duke Athletics overcome the barriers of COVID-19.
As Duke handled the disruption to athletics, the unit jumped into action too, managing daily testing for players and coaches (more than 150,000 tests were supplied and administered to staff, coaches and student-athletes); and disinfecting locker rooms, weight rooms and practice facilities daily with electrostatistic sprayers to keep everyone safe.
When players tested positive for the COVID-19 virus on the way to games, staff members picked them up and brought them back to campus. They even picked up, washed and brought back laundry when players were in quarantine. All their work to meet a pandemic took place on top of their regular jobs, which garnered the unit recognition as a 2021-22 Presidential Award winner.
"The AFGO department's work ethic, desire to serve, and ability to troubleshoot issues are testaments to the character of the department," Vice President and Director of Athletics Nina King said in the nomination for the Presidential Award. "AFGO team members can solve a diverse set of issues, and bring enthusiasm and industriousness to every event, embodying Duke's values and making them excellent ambassadors for the university."
On top of handling new tasks during the pandemic, the group oversaw roughly 200 varsity athletic gamedays and 50 campus and outdoor events in 2021.
What they can do for you: Athletic Facilities, Game Operations, Championships and Events will help you have a fun experience while cheering on the Blue Devils. Faculty and staff are encouraged to attend a game, where they might be inspired to pick up a new sport.
“Because you never know if going to that fencing meet with your family is going to spark some kind of really cool interest that is going to be something that someone in your family does for the rest of their life,” Wilusz said.
Significant achievement: In the middle of the 2015-16 basketball season, the unit worked to figure out how to facilitate enhanced security at athletic events.
In the wake of an attack in Paris, France, in November 2015, Duke made the decision to introduce metal detectors at games in February 2016. It was a big change and undertaking that required changing the rules for fans to enter Cameron Indoor Stadium, but one the unit is proud of. Today, the safety measures are seamlessly part of keeping everyone safe at games.
“We had to roll it out as fast as possible,” Wilusz said. “We rolled it out, got everything running and trained staff in less than three months.”
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