‘Stick’ still keeps Coliseum ice slick

pramati@macon.comNovember 25, 2012 

Most people don’t like to drive on the ice.

But for the people who ice skate at the Macon Coliseum, their enjoyment has been contingent on Darrell “Stick” Tatum keeping the ice smooth on his Zamboni for the past 16 years.

Stick earned his moniker from the time when he was a young kid because of his long and lean appearance. It seems that it’s all people know him by.

“Everybody knows me as ‘Stick,’ ” he said. “I don’t think people even know my first name is Darrell.”

They may not know his name, but the 150-plus at the coliseum appreciate what Tatum does.

“I kept slipping,” said Damian Kenast, 10, of Marietta. “It’s good training for skating, and (keeping the ice smooth) helps me learn to do it.”

The coliseum needed someone to operate the Zamboni back when the Macon Whoopee hockey team began its first season in 1996. Tatum, 50, said he had a little experience from the time he served in the Army at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., which was enough to get him the job.

He has held the job ever since. Even though Macon hasn’t fielded a hockey team in years, there are still the public skating sessions and ice shows held ever winter.

“You don’t see the same Zamboni drivers stay in the same place for this many years,” he said. “Most of them move on.”

Tatum likens the experience -- for which he needs a license -- to operating a riding lawnmower, driving it in specific patterns to get the best cut.

While it looks simple enough, Tatum said operating the Zamboni requires a lot of skill. Even though the machine comes with brakes, Tatum almost never uses them on the ice, lest the machine start skidding. Even though the Zamboni can go up to 25 mph, Tatum keeps it in the 10 to 12 mph range, using a combination of RPMs and the gas pedal for stopping and going.

In addition, the blade at the end of the Zamboni must be kept at the right level in order to maintain the ice. Too high, and not enough ice gets shaved; too low, and too much ice is scraped off, leading to patches. Tatum said a few times over the years during hockey games, the ice got shaved too much, causing game delays. Usually, he tries to keep the ice about 1.25 inches thick.

Tatum uses the same pattern as he did during his Whoopee days -- driving the machine along the boards into ever-decreasing ovals until it’s a straight line back to the gates to scrape off the final line of ice.

Tatum then drives the Zamboni out behind the arena to dump the excess ice it collects.

Even though there hasn’t been pro hockey in Macon since 2005, Tatum said he still misses it.

“I miss hockey very much,” he said. “Everybody used to look forward to the intermissions. They used to play this song, ‘I like to drive the Zamboni’ when I went out there.”

Many of the first-time skaters Sunday watched attentively as Tatum cleared the ice between skating sessions.

Thad and JoAnne Driscoll, of Perry, took their 8-year-old son Ben ice skating for the first time. Thad Driscoll said he doesn’t even remember how he heard there was skating at the coliseum, but was glad he came out.

“I saw it somewhere, and I thought, ‘We’ve got to teach our son (how to ice skate),’ ” he said, noting his family’s Midwestern roots. “We have to keep some of our traditional Midwest coldness.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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