INDIANAPOLIS — Nap Town.
That’s what this midwestern city of just under 800,000 was called for a long time.
Nothing to do here. Come visit, take a nap.
Well, it’s been anything but sleepy this week. Citizens here rolled out a Colts-blue welcome carpet for the thousands of visitors coming for Super Bowl XLVI between the New England Patriots and New York Giants on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
At the forefront of this extraordinary civic effort is a native Mainer.
Allison Melangton, known as Allison Cummings when she was a gymnast at Edward Little High School in Auburn, is president and CEO of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee.
She leads a staff of about 40 and a volunteer force of nearly 8,400, and has the not-so-little task of making this a memorable event, for the people who live here and for anyone who visits.
By all accounts, she has succeeded.
“I’m really having a blast,” she said, sitting in the media lounge at the J.W. Marriott during a break in her hectic schedule. “It feels great, what we’ve done. I’ve known for a long time that this is an amazing community. … Now, everyone is seeing it.”
This week is the culmination of four years of planning. For Melangton, who’s now 50, it’s really the culmination of a journey that began long ago.
When she was a senior at Edward Little, she used her study halls to help Athletic Director John White organize the school’s athletic events.
“That’s when the bug bit me,” she said. “That’s what got me into sports management.”
She left Maine after graduating in 1979 to attend Colorado State University, competing as a gymnast and graduating with a degree in sports management.
That led her to a temporary job with the U.S. Olympic Committee, working on the National Sports Festival. Then, in 1983, Indianapolis began wooing sports organizations like the NCAA to locate there.
The NCAA came. So did U.S. Gymnastics, and it drew Melangton to Indianapolis.
Gymnastics is her first love. When the Super Bowl is over, when she has all the bills paid and the host committee shuts down around June 1, she’ll take some time off and then head to London, where she will work the 2012 Summer Olympics as an associate producer of gymnastics coverage for NBC. It will be her seventh Olympics (she’s won four Emmy Awards for her work).
Before that, she has one big job to finish.
“I’ve done a lot of events, but this is the biggest one,” said Melangton, who left U.S. Gymnastics after 11 years to run the Indiana Sports Corp., which formed the host committee. “The Super Bowl has a lot of what I call event barnacles. There’s lots of ancillary events that go with it. It’s not just a football game.”
That’s where the 8,400 volunteers come in. That’s also where the scope of her effort broadened beyond Indiana’s state lines.
You see, 13,000 people signed up to volunteer. Not wanting anyone to feel left out, Melangton came up with an idea: have the people who weren’t selected knit blue-and-white scarves for the volunteers.
The Indiana Sports Corp. set out kits in libraries across the state, with instructions for making scarves. It had 4,000 kits, but needed 8,000. So Melangton put out the word to her family back in Maine: We need scarves.
Her family spread the word, and thousands and thousands of scarves were knit, hundreds of them in Maine. Scarves came in from 46 states and four other countries, the last from Belgium.
“We even got one from Vanna White,” said Melangton.
Of course, while the scarves were being knit last summer, the NFL was idle because of a labor dispute. The players were locked out of training camps and the season was in jeopardy, but Melangton had to forge ahead.
“We had to do a lot of contingency planning,” she said. “We didn’t know what weekend (the Super Bowl) was going to be. We didn’t know when the season was going to start.”
Hotels still had to be booked. Venues had to be reserved. Events had to be planned. For two weekends — this weekend and, in case the season got pushed back by the labor dispute, next weekend.
The host committee was willing to commit to two weekends, Melangton said, because of what the Super Bowl meant to the city.
“It is absolutely more than a game to us,” she said. “It’s not about the four hours. It’s all about the other stuff.”
Economic impact aside, the Super Bowl has enabled Indianapolis to reinvest in itself. The city built an $11 million community center in the middle of a high school campus — the ribbon was cut Thursday by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — and cleaned up an impoverished neighborhood of 40,000 people.
The other project the host committee got behind is Super Cure, a breast cancer project that raised $1 million for the city’s breast tissue bank. More than 700 women signed up to donate breast tissue last weekend, and Melangton believes the cure for breast cancer will be found here because of the work.
“This is bringing respect to our city for what we’ve done, for what we can do,” said Don Taylor, a volunteer and an Indianapolis native. “It means so much to everyone in the community.”
Traci Pettigrew, a volunteer who lives near Melangton, said Melangton’s calm demeanor has kept everyone at ease.
“You’d never know she was in charge of all this,” Pettigrew said. “She’s like an average person.”
And she has never forgotten her roots. When their neighborhood had a block party, Pettigrew said, Melangton had Maine lobsters shipped in.
“I’m still a Maineiac, no matter what,” Melangton said. “I’ll never be a Hoosier. I love living here, but my heart’s in Maine all the time.”
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:
Correction: This story was revised at 3:47 p.m., Feb. 3, 2012, to correct the name of the Super Bowl volunteer who lives near Allison Melangton. Her name is Traci Pettigrew.