On Jan. 2, a sheet of ice covered the floor at Ector County Coliseum as the Odessa Jackalopes were finishing up their weekend series against the Shreveport Mudbugs.
Immediately after the game concluded, the crew at Ector County Coliseum set to work, spending the next 24 hours transforming the arena from a hockey venue into a rodeo venue for the annual SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo that began on Jan. 8.
The transition, according to coliseum director Aaron Martin, takes a lot of work and prep time.
“We actually start preparing for the rodeo in December, so it takes us quite a long time,” Martin said. “We give the guys a little bit of time off for Christmas and then get going.”
Martin’s crew will prep the main coliseum before Christmas with the holding pens for the bulls that go into the coliseum annex.
“We play a few hockey games into the New Year,” Martin said. “We had a hockey game on Jan. 2 and then we took the entire rink down and were putting dirt in the very next day.”
As soon as the Jackalopes’ game was over, the crew removed the glass from the dasher boards while the chillers were turned off to melt the ice, a task that’s made more complicated when they try to remove the Jackalopes and corporate sponsor logos without damaging them.
“We have a crew that starts tearing things down,” Martin said. “While that’s going on, we spread ice melt over the ice on top of the logos because those logos are reused and sponsors are taken out of the ice without damaging them. When you have an inch of ice over it, it can be a tough undertaking.”
Martin said the transition lasted from about 10 p.m. Jan. 2 to 5 p.m. the following day.
After that, the rodeo board comes in and takes over.
“They do their magic with setting up the arena with dirt and sponsorship banners while we’re keeping things clean,” Martin said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, Martin said they disinfect everything after every single event.
“That adds to a new level to what we’ve never done before,” Martin said.
The entire crew at the Ector County Coliseum is about 13 people including Martin himself, but he’s proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish.
“These guys perform miracles time after time,” Martin said. “A lot of it is behind the scenes and the guys don’t want to be in the limelight, but it’s amazing what we’re able to do going from one event to the next.”
Even after the rodeo starts, there’s plenty of things to worry about. Martin said the opening weekend of the rodeo is usually the most stressful.
“I would say that first weekend is where you’re juggling all the livestock with the rodeo contestants,” Martin said. “That does put a lot of strain. We have a lot of trash. We’re trying to disinfect everything and keep it clean. The second weekend is when things are a little bit calmer. The livestock portion of the rodeo is closed.”
It’s not easy, but events manager Adam Contreras had plenty of praise for his employees for making everything work.
“First off, big shout out to our guys,” Contreras said. “It’s not easy. It’s hard to melt the ice and take everything out and take the glass out. It’s a big weekend you can say.”
After the rodeo, the coliseum will host the O’Reilly’s Arenacross event Jan. 22-23.
Then, the Jackalopes return to their home where they will face Wichita Falls beginning Jan. 29.
Getting the venue back to ice hockey is probably the trickiest, according to Martin.
“It’s certainly more challenging to go back to ice just because dirt goes everywhere and it’s hard to clean everything up,” Martin said. “We wipe down everything for a few weeks afterward. As soon as we get it cleaned out, we’re putting dirt in for the next rodeo.”