CALGARY, ALBERTA -- It was a dirty job but somebody had to do it. Somebody had to rush onto the field of McMahon Stadium with a plastic pitchfork and clean up behind the horses in the opening ceremony.
Twenty-four volunteers signed up immediately. They were Calgary doctors, lawyers, secretaries and schoolteachers, and the president of a small company. "They didn't mind what they did," said Jack Hooks, an oil drilling company executive and the organizer of the Olympics' "pooper-scooper" brigade. "They just wanted to be in the opening ceremony."
At a party afterward, the brigade saluted the gala's choreographer with an honor guard of crossed pitchforks. "They certainly weren't the stars of the show," said production coordinator Fiona Roeske, "but they were a very important element."
The kind of genial, prairie hospitality symbolized by Hidy and Howdy, the polar bear mascots of the Winter Games who go around giving hugs, really does exist in Calgary.
Nearly everyone here wants to play some role in the Winter Games, no matter how humble the task. They say that being judged a good host is more important to them than having Canada win an array of medals.
More than 22,000 Calgarians applied for 9,400 volunteer positions. Volunteers chauffeur national athletic teams, International Olympic Committee officials and occasionally even reporters. They have opened their homes to the parents of athletes. They are out on the slopes serving as timekeepers and lending a hand to skiers. Dressed in cowboy costumes, they can be found each morning on a downtown office plaza flipping flapjacks and frying ham for the 5,000 people who flock there for free breakfast and country music.
Even those with no official role lay on the charm. Long-distance operators come on the line with the salutation "Olympic City, may I help you?" and then often go on to strike up a conversation before putting calls through. "How do you like Calgary? Are you having a good time?"
Bob Brabender and Suzanne Papazian, up from Los Angeles, were amazed when the manager of the gift shop at the airport, overhearing them fret about their problems finding transportation to their bed-and-breakfast, said she was going off her shift and would gladly drive them there, which she did, going miles out of her way.
Community pride and boosterism are alive and strong here. Calgarians are accustomed to rolling up their sleeves and pitching in. "We're hard workers and hard players," said Michael Ross, vice president of a financial institution and one of the leaders in the volunteer effort. Like most of the other volunteer leaders, his experience comes from participation in the Calgary Stampede, the 10-day rodeo and livestock show held here every July.
Association with the Stampede volunteer effort is as coveted as membership on the symphony or ballet board in other cities. Work on the Stampede is considered essential training for future Calgary politicians. Lawyer Peter Lougheed went directly from the position of Stampede Grandstand Committee chairman, organizing the summer fair's entertainment, to the post of premier of the province.
Producer Stan Jacobson, who has directed some of the Olympics ceremonial events, said the assistance he has gotten from the tight-knit Stampede network has been invaluable. For example, when he wanted to buy welcoming banners, he said, he got quotes on prices but the volunteers "knew people who could do it for a half and a third of the price -- and do it better."
There have been mishaps. In the opening show, the big inflatable balloon carted onto the stadium field by volunteers imploded. A U.S. skier, Pam Fletcher, broke her leg before her competition when she crashed into a volunteer on the Alpine slopes.
For Louis Stack, the owner of an athletic equipment firm, his service on the volunteer crew at the luge runs has compensated for his disappointment at not being able to compete in the event. .
Stack registered as a volunteer a year ago and began classes last spring on his Olympics responsibilities.
"The biggest satisfaction that I've enjoyed is the interaction with the athletes from around the world, all the different languages," he said. "You get kind of the whole world together in this environment."
He also got a thrill when he appeared on international television helping athletes get off their sleds when they finished their luge runs.
"I've been getting calls from friends from all over the world," he said. "It's hilarious."