Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Dina The Arena Hostess 10-29-08 update
Now that Dina has started the Islanders' School assembly program, I wanted to catch up with her and see how they are going. The original article from 10-20 follows her update.
I knew that she was very excited about this project, but I think she’s more surprised after the first week of this wonderful community program. Dina’s only problem with it is the start time. By her own admission, she’s not a morning person. But I think the excitement and rewards she is getting from the children will change that for her soon enough. Here's what she has to say about what she has experienced just this week.
“As I drove over an hour out east in morning traffic to my first school I pondered what I had gotten myself into! But that all disappeared as soon as the assembly started. The kids were so happy to have us there. They all come into the assembly with their Islander shirts and jerseys. And it's not just them, the principles and teachers are wearing their Islander best as well!
At this point I realize the daunting task of keeping over 600 kids’ attention over the course of the entire assembly. Thank goodness I have the pleasure of working with (when he is not traveling doing his scouting) Eric Cairns (whose sheer size and) the fact that he played in the NHL keeps the kids captivated. Of course there is Sparky! The kids love him! I think that he might just sign more autographs at the end of the assembly than Eric and I combined.
The assembly is all about teamwork and demonstrating how an NHL team such as the Islanders has to work together to achieve success. We draw parallels between the team and their school. Their teachers function as their coaches and their principles are their GM's. We have a video of the current Islanders that was shot at training camp which discusses teamwork and we also have various demonstrations.
However, my favorite part of the assembly is at the end when we have them chant "Let's Go Islanders!" If you give any child the chance to scream at the top of their lungs in the middle of the school day, they are going to take it. And boy they can scream. So, if you picture a school gym packed from front to back with almost 600 kids chanting "Let's Go Islanders!" in unison (that is also including the very few students that decide to wear their Ranger jerseys to the assembly. They chant for the Islanders just as loud!)
And then, right after that, I have the joy of telling them that as they leave the assembly they get an Islander goody bag that includes a lot of cool Islander things INCLUDING a voucher for a free ticket to an upcoming game. At this point the kids go NUTS!! They are screaming and yelling and hugging each other!! It’s adorable.
The best way I can describe it is the audience at an Oprah show when she gives away a car! At this point, I smile from ear to ear. How great is my job?”
Just when it can’t seem to get any better, they announce that the Islanders donated an entire set of hockey equipment to their school including nets and sticks. It became apparent to Dina that this type of community outreach program has a large impact because there are many children who would otherwise never have any exposure to Hockey.
“I went to another school district this week, and as the children filed in, I didn't see as many Islander jerseys as I did in the previous schools. As the assembly went on and we got to the question and answer period I realized they didn't have as big a grasp on hockey as the previous schools. I realized why when it was time to tell them about their goody bags and school equipment. I think it was the teachers and administrators who clapped the loudest. They came over and couldn't stop thanking us.
This school isn’t in one of the more affluent districts on Long Island and it just wasn’t possible to budget equipment like this. Most of the students there weren't able to attend professional sporting events due to the cost. So, those ticket vouchers were a dream for them. So, once again, I realized just how much I love my job. Not only did we introduce the Islanders to 650 students, but we also introduced them to the whole sport of hockey!! It was beautiful and I am blessed to be part of it.”
With these school programs, the Islanders are exposing more and more children to one of the greatest sports on the planet. This is a grass roots initiative that teaches children far more than how to shoot a puck. They are truly invaluable experiences.
10-20-08: Original article
Let's just call her the original Isle Candy, as she has been our Arena Hostess since 2002. As there has been much controversy on using beautiful women at sporting events to "enhance the fan experience," I thought this was a good time to do this feature on Dina.
Like many people, when I first saw her on the JumboTron with a microphone and that bright smile, I thought "She's probably a ditz." I learned quickly that's not the case. People are going to assume what they're going to assume no matter what. So let me just start out with my own personal story about Dina before I get into the details of our conversation.
When my daughter and I were waiting to go out onto the ice for Fan Appreciation Day a few years ago, Dina struck up a conversation with us. She was making sure she knew the names of each person who won, and which jersey they would be presented with. Since we had extra time because of a shoot out, we continued to talk. I was really taken with her knowledge of the game and her friendly personality. Okay, so like most other women, I look at a beautiful blond with a microphone and think the worst.
Fast forward to a year later. While my family and I were sitting in the stands during a game, Dina and two Ice Girls walked down the aisle and she sat down on the steps next to Dan. We had been selected for the Lucky Puck Shuffle. Dina looked at my daughter (who had now grown about three inches) and said "I know you! You won Chris Campoli's jersey! "
I was in shock. But it got better. "I know your name. Don't tell me. Don't tell me. It's different, wait. It's Kira! You're Kira." This woman, who has to meet thousands of fans, remembered my daughter's name and the incidence in which we met. As soon as the camera light was on, she was ON and I was more than impressed. She's a consummate professional who even worked through excruciating pain when her appendix burst prior to a game. She didn't leave the arena till it was over. P.S. She spent the next three weeks in the hospital. (See? It's not just the hockey players who are tough.)
"I'm perky and happy and everyone thinks I'm a ditz, and that couldn't be farther from the truth," she told me over lunch. We met up on a Friday afternoon in October and we laughed for almost three hours.
"My computer has SARS," she said. I couldn't stop laughing. "No. I'm not kidding. I can't get anything to work, so I'm sorry I didn't answer your emails sooner."
Dina was never an Ice Girl. She actually doesn't even know how to skate. Dina was a professional dancer and started working for the Islanders organization ins 2001 as a Dragons' Fire Dancer until Tim Beach saw something in her that he knew would translate better to the audience than just a pretty girl with gold pom-poms.
Growing up with an older brother, Dina always wanted to play sports. But her old world family would have none of that. Girls didn't play sports, they took Dance. (She did sneak in just a little soccer though.) Her father and grandfather would take her brother to Islanders games and he would come home with all sorts of fun things and she'd be jealous.
Dina is a serious sports fan and a very bright, articulate woman. She was admittedly nervous when she first covered for the previous arena hostess while she was on a reality show, but she's a quick study and was soon comfortable in her role entertaining the fans in the stands during TV time outs and promoting new items.
"There was an old Islanders cowbell, the worst merchandise ever. It was so loud! I remember my brother getting it and I stole it from him because I was never allowed to go to the games. My brother watched them, and then I watched them. I was the annoying little sister who always wanted to play. Now I'm the cool little sister. I even have a picture of me trying on his goalie gear and the pads were almost taller than me. "
She was so curious about playing sports with the boys that she got her brother in trouble when she wandered behind the net in a street hockey game and was struck in the head with a stray puck. The small scar on her eyebrow is nothing compared to the tongue lashing her brother received from their mother for letting it happen.
"I couldn't help it. I just loved sports. I love the competition. That my team is better than your team mentality." She's also an avid Jets fan and occasionally shares her season tickets with her brother.
Her professional dance training paid off when she coached the dance squad of her Nassau County high school. We could never beat some of the other competitive dance teams that had their own gym from 3 - 6 pm every day! During that time, she'd have to share practice time and space with the other sports teams. My girls would have to practice at 10 o'clock at night and then have school in the morning. Two years later, she went back to the high school to coach the team and managed to lead them to the Nationals where they came in second in the country. Not too shabby considering she was also working for the Islanders at the time.
Her favorite Islanders game memory is Al Arbour Night. More for the fans than for herself. It was such a wonderful experience that she holds it very close to her heart. The Cup Championship Night is also right up there with the feelings that the parade brought out -- watching Potvin hoist that cup once again on the Coliseum ice.
"I marched in that parade with John Tonelli. It was an awesome night. All of them being there. I had chills the whole night. I loved that. "
That was not the FIRST time Dina had met John Tonelli. Notice the photo of a very adorable toddler on John Tonelli's lap. Her biggest lament about the photo? You can't see his Stanley Cup ring. Oh yes! Dina is an Islanders fan through and through.
Her Hostess start was trial by Fire(dancer). "I can't even say anything about my first couple of games. I thought I was horrible." But she not only got through those first shaky games; she grew into the role and has become one of the most recognized beauties in the Coliseum.
"I have a script, but I can't be reading the script on camera." She memorizes most of it and only has notes with her that she hardly needs to refer to. Of course, the best attribute anyone in this position can have is the ability to roll with the punches. Anything that can go wrong sometimes will, and you can't let it rattle you. "Seven years later, I guess I was okay!"
This year, the Islanders have expanded Dina's responsibilities to outside the Coliseum. She will be doing the Islanders' school assemblies every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday beginning October 20th and running through March. The response for the program was more than they expected. "There'll be times I'll be doing double duty. But game days will still always be fun."
"This year I'm very much all Islanders and very excited!" Her eyes lit up when she said that. She knows how important these school trips will be for the students who would never otherwise have such access to an NHL player and the benefits they bring to their school.
"My boss said we always send a player or former player; I want them to have a positive female role model that goes. So I'm in every one now. I can do this."
Dina's worst prospective experience at her job didn't actually happen. She was saved by, of all things, a mascot. It was her fourth day announcing and it was Mascot Day. She needed to be in the middle of the ice announcing the Mascot Tug of War. She remembers her boss saying "Dina, don't fall," right before she went out onto the ice in her heels. Those words resonated in her head the entire time she was out there. She finished up and was so happy that she DIDN'T fall that she began to speed up trying to get OFF the ice. Her boss's warning started to become a prophecy as she began to lose her footing. But a sharp-eyed mascot "scooped me up and carried me off right before I wiped out. He saved me. I don't think I would have come back." Oh yes she would have. She loves her job.
Dina also worked the Dragons games and may continue to do so. She was also a Jets Flag Girl when they were first introduced 2 seasons ago and a Stadium Hostess with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, and even did a turn with the Nets professional basketball team. See? Told you she's a true sports fan.
"You know I was in Greece during the Summer Olympics, and I told my father and brother before we went I wanted to attend the Olympics when we were there. My father said 'We don't need to buy tickets in America on the Internet and pay tourist prices. We are Greek -- we will buy them there.' " While her father showed her the history and beauty of their native country, Dina continued to ask "When are we going to the Olympics?"
"P.S. We got to the closing ceremonies." She argued with her father about the ticket prices, knowing she could have had them long before. "I don't care how much YOU pay to get me in, I'm going! My brother yelled at me. I would have went to anything." Exactly. Since the Olympics are a once in a lifetime opportunity, it really doesn't matter what event you get to see. It's the experience of being there. "So our house in Greece is very close to Athens, so I got to see the fire works. I was so bitter!"
Dina and I have a plan. The goal is Vancouver 2010. We're both going. We'll represent the Islanders well, and hopefully get to see hockey instead of four man bobsled.
During her off hours, Dina actually attends more Islander games. She has no problem buying her own tickets and going with friends to MSG or The Rock to watch the games. I asked if she goes with a security contingent and she laughed at me. "No. I go with one or two friends and sit in the stands like everyone else." Plus, when not working, she gets to enjoy the games from start to finish.
Always looking to better herself, she'll be taking courses at Brooklyn College this year -- in her SPARE time. Although, I think she may not have too much of that this season. But she doesn't mind at all. As she said more than once, she really does LOVE her job.
Now, for my male friends. Yes, she's single. Yes, she looks just as terrific in sneakers and jeans as she does in her arena clothes. She LOVES Quesadillas. No, she does not have a custom license plate. And yes, I have her phone number. And YOU'RE not getting it!!!
*Special Thanks to my editor, Tom Chiesa for assisting with this article.