Battle on the Midway

Battle on the Midway preparations continue on Thursday as ship is transformed into basketball court

Nate Shron | Staff Photographer

The court is seen covered with a top with the island in the background aboard the USS Midway Museum on Thursday, before the Battle on the Midway game between the Syracuse Orange and the San Diego State Aztecs scheduled for Sunday in San Diego, Calif.

ABOARD USS MIDWAY, SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Five men dangled some 40 feet in the air with their harnesses connected to metal scaffolding that would eventually support a video screen. A sixth man in the basket of a hydraulic lift hung beside them, overseeing some of the final preparations for the Battle on the Midway between Syracuse and San Diego State.

The crew of roughly 100 people was busy working on a sunny Thursday morning in San Diego Harbor, as men and women in hard hats, sleeveless T-shirts, work boots and tool belts scampered about the flight deck of the USS Midway to the tune of beeping equipment and the drone of running motors.

“I don’t think 60 years ago someone envisioned that this would actually work,” said Ken Freeman, technical director of the Battle on the Midway, with a chuckle.

Freeman gave The Daily Orange a private tour of the construction site atop the flight deck on Thursday morning, which was still wet and spotted with puddles following rain on Wednesday night. The decision to move the game from Friday to Sunday bought Freeman and his crew additional time to prepare, allowing them to slow the pace on the final few installations of a process that began when materials were first brought onto the boat on Oct. 29.

The installation of the video screens — one at each end of the court — and the installation of the sound system are the two main projects to be completed before Sunday’s tipoff. The bleachers, which Freeman said are the most time-consuming aspect of the process, are in place, the court has been laid out and leveled, and the additional staircase for patrons has been erected.

In all, Freeman said there are roughly 20 different organizations involved in the preparation stages, with a separate company responsible for the court, the bleachers and the scaffolding.

“We craned everything up to the deck,” Freeman said. “There’s an elevator in here, which is sort of used to haul the planes up to the deck from the hangar. And most everything we had was brought up that way.”

So up the materials came, lifted by an elevator on the side of the aircraft carrier — it’s almost the size of a basketball court itself — and onto the flight deck, which is anything but level.

A foam liner was placed on the concrete deck of the ship, and the wooden court on top of it, to ensure the playing surface is flat. The court is raised anywhere from four to six inches off the flight deck, which spans an incredible 4.02 acres.

“I worked for ESPN on the X Games for a little while,” Freeman said. “And we were sort of regularly taking fairly hostile environments and turning them into competition venues. So out of that skill comes the ability to sort of take a look at something like this right now and break it down into projects that people can actually do.”

For now the court is covered, as it is expected to rain in San Diego on Friday. Syracuse and San Diego State will practice on the ship on Saturday, and then the court will be covered until the game on Sunday.

The USS Midway Museum, which is open seven days a week, remained in full operation on Thursday and will continue to do so through Saturday. It will be closed for the game on Sunday, which also happens to be Veterans Day.

Freeman said he and his crew have “walked into a history lesson” during the preparation period aboard the aircraft carrier. They viewed their work as a delicate process, realizing that their installation required added respect given the USS Midway’s splendor. Instead of “walking in with hammers and Crescent wrenches and starting to pound on things,” the installation crew embraced the hospitality.

So as the hubbub of machinery and metalwork hummed along on Thursday morning, dozens of the USS Midway’s docents — tour guides, some of whom had served onboard the USS Midway years earlier — had their picture taken in the green bleacher seats with the control tower as a backdrop.

And at this point Freeman stopped and smiled from across the flight deck. The game’s greater purpose had revealed itself if only for a few short minutes.

“We’ve had to make sure everyone here can continue doing what they’re supposed to, which is showcasing all of this history while the installation is going on,” Freeman said. “Part of this has obviously become a big thank you to all the veterans who have given their all or darn-near most of it to make this occur.”

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