For 96 hours, Spanos Stadium will transform from gridiron to royal rodeo

On Wednesday night, Randy Spraggins and his team are going to perform a magic trick: They’re going to make the Alex G. Spanos Stadium gridiron disappear.

The Cal Poly stadium will trade grass for soil while the 11,000-seat venue hosts the 77th annual Poly Royal Rodeo for the first time in its history.

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The new digs mark a significant upgrade for the rodeo, which in past years was held at the Cal Poly rodeo grounds with its maximum capacity of 6,000 spectators.

But there are challenges involved in transforming a venue of Spanos’ size, and that’s why Cal Poly rodeo coach Ben Londo pushed to hire Akron, Ohio-based Spraggins, whom Londo described as “the best guy in the business.”

Spraggins’ company, Special-T-Tracks, has spread dirt at some of the nation’s most prestigious venues, including New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

The university doesn’t yet have a cost for the Spanos Stadium conversion, said Haley Marconett, director of communications and strategic initiatives for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. Expenses will be at least partially offset by sponsorships, donations and ticket sales from the event, which is the rodeo team’s largest fundraiser.

The work begins noon Wednesday, as crew members do the initial layout and entrance setup. At 6 p.m., workers will lay down 1,500 sheets of plywood brought in by truck from Los Angeles. On top of that plywood goes a filter fabric.

Then comes the dirty work: 2,000 cubic yards of soil, donated from a Spur Co. construction site in Santa Maria, will be spread out over the field. It will take eight trucks a total of 200 trips, moving on a 16-minute rotation, to transfer all the soil from its staging point at the Cal Poly rodeo grounds to Spanos. That work will take an estimated 10 hours, from 8 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday.

On Thursday, Spraggins’ company will prepare the arena for the coming events, “including making sure the dirt is the right consistency for the competition,” according to a Cal Poly statement.

AnnMarie Cornejo, spokeswoman for the College of Agriculture, said she was unsure whether the stadium would sell out this year, but she said Cal Poly has already sold more in advance seating than in years past. She was confident word-of-mouth promotion would lead to a packed venue.

“Ticket sales are great,” she said.

With about eight decades of history behind it, the rodeo holds incredible meaning — not just for its participants, but for the community at large, Cornejo said.

“It’s part of the fabric of the university,” she said. “It’s like a piece of home for them.”

Londo, the rodeo coach, said the venue was just catching up to the caliber of the student-athletes who will perform.

“We get to have a world-class awesome event center for a world-class rodeo,” he said.

Londo said the facilities at Spanos, including the lights and the scoreboard, will give the student-athletes “the whole nine yards.”

The larger venue also will provide an opportunity to perform before the kind of crowd size student rodeo athletes seldom get to see, Londo said.

On Tuesday afternoon, during the proverbial calm before the storm, Cal Poly freshman Steel Humphry was practicing his roping on a dummy. Coming from a rodeo family, Humphry said he was excited at the chance to perform in a stadium like Spanos.

“You’ve really got to take a step back and think about it,” he said.

Humphry praised the work of his coach in getting the stadium ready for rodeo, saying Londo “is doing the work of eight men, and he’s just one guy.”

Beyond this weekend, Humphry and Londo said they were excited for the future of Cal Poly’s rodeo program.

“It’s going to be crazy trying to top this year,” Humphry said.

That’s exactly what Londo said he has planned.

“I’m already thinking about how to go bigger and better next year,” he said.

Like all magic tricks, Spraggins’ stunt will come to an end. The Poly Royal Rodeo staff has just 96 hours to transform the venue from football field to rodeo arena and back again.

The rodeo finals on Saturday will be followed by a concert by Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band, which will end promptly at 10 p.m.

By 11 p.m., the teardown will begin in earnest, and Cornejo said crews will work through the night to clear the facility, remove the dirt and restore the stadium to its usual form. The work must be finished by 4 p.m. Sunday.

The quick turnaround is why Spraggins was brought in, Cornejo said.

“This is what they do, and they’re the best of the best,” she said.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

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