ROTC midshipmen picking up trash in Memorial Stadium.
Navy/Marine Corp ROTC midshipmen diligently pick up trash littering the stands of Memorial Stadium after the Homecoming game against Indiana. Photo courtesy of Cohan Bonow.

Half-eaten Runza’s, water bottles and empty shooters. That’s just some of the trash that’s left behind after Husker games.

So who cleans Memorial Stadium?

University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) units are the magic behind the scenes when it comes to the spotless stands of the stadium fans see when they arrive for a game.

During the homecoming game, which featured the Huskers versus Indiana, it was the Navy/Marine Corps ROTC’s turn to clean the stadium. The 30 men and women of UNL’s smallest ROTC branch were there to take on this daunting task of cleaning up after 90,000 fans.

Cleanup is organized by splitting up into two groups. Eight head to the concourse where they will be responsible for emptying all trash cans in the dumpsters in the indoor spaces of the stadium, as well as the trash in the rows of all upper-level seating areas. 

As one of the senior leaders and most experienced of the group, Cohan Bonow, a senior Navy option, steps up to help instruct the group on how clean up will go most efficiently with such small numbers. 

“The most experienced and senior midshipmen typically take charge,” he said. “They brief the group on the plan, and ensure it runs smoothly the whole time, typically while also picking up trash themselves.”

The rest of the group, around 20 to 25, are in the main bowl area, where each person grabs a brown burlap sack and takes a row in the stands to start picking up each piece of trash. When the bag is full, the midshipmen yells, “Runner!” That is a signal for the designated person to bring up an empty sack, taking the full sack down and emptying it into a trash truck, which is parked at the ground level of the stadium.   


dumptrucks scaled - Once the Husker game is over, where does all the trash go?
Dump trucks are filled with trash from Memorial Stadium cleanup. Photo courtesy of Cohan Bonow

The ROTC program has experimented with ways to make the process faster, but according to Bonow, it’s an issue of money.

“We don’t have the budget to purchase tools in a high enough quantity for them to be effective,” he said. “We would need at least 10 leaf blowers and more than 10 brooms, but we only have two of each supplied by the athletic department. So for now, by hand is most efficient.”

ROTC is also responsible for working security for the stadium. Those people in orange security jackets seen at each entrance gate to the stadium are cadets and midshipmen from the branches who have been trained by the UNL athletic department and UNL Police Department on proper security of the stadium.

“I must admit while doing stadium security and then a clean-up after the game is beginning to become somewhat old,” said Dane Bowers, a junior and Navy option in ROTC. “But someone needs to clean the stadium. Is it particularly enjoyable? No. But it’s part of the job and we have to do it.”  

ROTC members arrive four hours before kick off, working security through the entire game.

On average, cleaning the stadium takes about four to five hours. But there are many variables.

“It all depends on the amount of trash, the weather, and how many people we have to clean up,” Bonow said. “Our record time with 42 people and clear weather was two hours and 24 minutes. But our longest time, with lots of trash and only 28 people, took seven hours. It was a night game, we started at 11 p.m. and finished almost at 6 a.m. the following morning. Most of us work anywhere between 10-14 hours on any given game day.”

No one likes picking up soggy half-eaten Runza’s or stepping over vomit after a long day of working security, but there can be more enjoyable times too.  

“My first cleanup as a freshmen was very meticulous and somewhat frustrating at times,” Bowers said. “The upperclassmen at the time made the best of it, with a lot of jokes and tomfoolery. So while the work itself wasn’t very fun, the people around it made it bearable and even somewhat enjoyable at times.”

Unfortunately, the ROTC crews don’t have much choice in the matter as ROTC is required to do security and cleanup. ROTC receives a payment from the Athletic Department, which goes toward various events for the program. ROTC has a contract that prohibits it from disclosing the amount of money the Athletic Department pays for the cleaning services. 

The money is essential to ROTC’s spending budget, Bowers said. The majority is used to finance the Navy-Marine Corps Ball, an annual ceremony that celebrates the birthdays of the Navy and Marine Corps. The rest goes to renovating the unit headquarters, food for events, office supplies and even things like paintball, he said.

ROTC members did acknowledge that a little help from the fans would go along ways.

“We certainly wouldn’t mind some help from the fans and the announcers in the stadium,” Bonow said. “I think if they made an announcement maybe once at the end of every quarter reminding people to throwaway their trash, it would help a lot.”

Even one person picking up there trash goes a long.

UNL senior Hallie Sagness said she hadn’t thought about who cleans up the fans’ mess.

“I can’t say I’ve thought about where all the trash goes,” she said. “I guess if there was an announcement reminder to throw away your trash it would have been more at the front of my mind.”

So fans might want to think next time they are in Memorial Stadium to pick up after themselves.

It might just save the ROTC cleaners an hour. 

 “It’s difficult, and certainly not fun,” Bowers said. “But it is an experience that builds work ethic, teamwork, discipline, humility and endurance. With the right attitude it isn’t too bad.”

Undergraduate at University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Major in Journalism with a minor in Criminal Justice