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Showtime in the USA

The Lubbock Avalanche - Journal (09/29/2002)

By WILLIAM KERNS

Kent Meredith is not a fanatic follower of basketball or concerts, which probably gave him a step up toward becoming general manager of the United Spirit Arena when Texas Tech opened its state-of-the-art facility in 1999.

Otherwise, he would be disappointed at all he has to miss.

Meredith must focus on all areas of the facility, not just the court during basketball and volleyball games, and he usually handles contracts and payouts behind locked office doors while legendary performers entertain sellout crowds.

What many fail to recognize is that the United Spirit Arena is open 365 days every year, Meredith said, with the high visibility games and concerts complemented by practices, business meetings, banquets, commencements, holiday parties, rooms rented to student and community groups on a daily basis and 55-60 days of summer camps.

Full-time employees at the USA total six a pair of supervisors dealing specifically with the basketball court, and Meredith and his trio of assistants: Cindy Harper, assistant director/manager of marketing and guest relations; Dan Burns, associate director; and Jim Bush, technical director.

Meredith also noted that, because the building belongs to Texas Tech, he delegates a lot of responsibility to a large number of Tech students working “part-time, but in growing positions of authority.”

Assuring smooth day-to-day operation of the facility is only one reason. Another reason he encourages students is because he may be grooming a new generation of facility administrators.

Meredith stumbled upon his vocation-of-choice accidentally. But for a door opening here and there, he may have wound up owning a garden center or teaching high school drama. Those were careers he considered while a San Antonio high school student.

Meredith began working at age 15 at Grimms Nursery, physically demanding landscaping work outdoors in San Antonio’s high temperatures and high humidity. It was a satisfying job; he kept it for four years. His only extracurricular interest in high school was "theater and drama."

If it weren’t for his older brother Vick, Meredith said he probably still be at the nursery.

“I went to Southwest Texas State because that’s where my brother went,” he said. “But he was the one who pushed me to go to college.”

Meredith was a theater major for a year before looking for other options. He tried out for and made the cheerleading squad his second semester. That paid off when the cheerleaders’ sponsor turned out to be the director of the newly opened 8,000-seat Strahan Coliseum.

Already on financial aid, Meredith began working at the coliseum and, from there, added Bobcat Stadium to his resume. He loved the diversity of duties.

“This was the greatest job I’d ever had,” he said. “It was an exciting environment where I helped with basketball games, with appearances by celebrities like Phil Donahue, with concerts by George Strait, who is a Southwest Texas State alumnus. I wasn’t sure which classes would help maybe psychology, maybe political science so I took them all. The closest degree that played into all this turned out to be in recreational administration.”

No jobs were available when he graduated and returned to San Antonio, so he went to work for his brother, who “gave me an opportunity to earn a lot of money working with copiers and fax machines.”

He earned a master’s degree and then spent a year counseling students. “But I still missed facility management,” he said.

The Alamo Dome opened in 1993. He called, left resumes and applied for everything.

“Sometimes you have to make sacrifices,” Meredith said. So he volunteered to work part time at the Alamo Dome for free, while keeping another paying job.

Meredith’s skills were noted, and he eventually was hired at the Alamo Dome. In three years, he became assistant to the director.

Meredith said the United Spirit Arena appealed to him because it was a brand new facility with 15,000 seats. It would be an opportunity to start off as the arena’s first manager and hire my own staff, put my own system together. I would be working with the coaches and, to be honest, I was more nervous about meeting Coach (Marsha) Sharp.

“The athletic department told me this arena was built for basketball, but the (Tech) administration told me we’d also have to do concerts and other events ... to take care of funding and operational costs. So there would be a nice balance.”

Meredith and his staff work hard to bring in the concerts that Texas Tech and the Lubbock community want to see, but he said, “I’m in an office with the promoter and his accountant when the main act comes on.”

During basketball games, he usually can be found in a control booth, “where I can communicate with police, first aid and keep an eye on the crowd. ”

“Even back with the (San Antonio) Spurs, I was a fan ... but you cannot be a basketball nut when you need to be aware of what is happening in the crowd. You must be all eyes, all ears. Your priority is to make sure this is a safe environment for everyone here.”

He often applauds his staff, notes the community’s support of non-sports events and even thanks his boss (Michael Shonrock, vice president of student affairs) for supporting his booking decisions.

“I would look through the Amusement Business Aud-Arena Guide and think about how great it would be to work in some of the larger facilities listed,” Meredith said of he college days. “I viewed this book much as I viewed the Sears catalog when I was younger. ... Now, I love where I’m at. I love working at this arena, and I can’t think of a nicer or friendlier place to live.”