Students enjoy inside look at major sports events
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
For Nicole Schuermann, it began when she would go to Arizona Diamondbacks games with her family and one day proclaimed, “I could be the commissioner of baseball.”
For Ryan Batawala, it had its roots in playing basketball and rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers as he grew up in Garden Grove, California.
For Skylar Aprati, it came from a determination to get involved in sports in some way, even when injuries prevented her from playing.
Three Grand Canyon University students, three avenues into the sports business world – and two extremely rewarding trips to major sports events on the East Coast.
Schuermann and Batawala were chosen to work at Enshrinement Weekend for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Sept. 10-11, a trip made possible by GCU’s partnerships with the Hall of Fame and Position Sports. Aprati spent 14 exhausting but exhilarating days working at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in late August and early September in New York.
All three came back with stories to tell and memories they’ll treasure – including some that might live on, affixed to the wall of a future office.
Schuermann, a senior majoring in sports management, previously had volunteered at Valley events, such as Hoophall West and the Colangelo Classic.
But she wanted to do more. So when members of the Sports Business Club were invited this summer by a Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) instructor, Position Sports founder Kevin Foley, to apply for the Basketball Hall of Fame trip, she jumped on it.
Applicants had to submit a PowerPoint slide explaining their qualifications, and she and Batawala were chosen from a group of 15.
It was a dream weekend. They flew east on that Thursday, assisted at the media session and gala on Friday and then were backstage Saturday for the actual ceremony. It was so much more than the flight and the venue and being around famous people. It was the aura of it all put together.
“To be able to see an event of that magnitude before I even graduate and see if this is even something I’m interested in was amazing,” Schuermann said.
“When I signed up for sports business, I thought I would get some hands-on activities because that’s what the counselors told us – GCU is all about hands-on. But then actually being able to go on a trip like this and see that – that was crazy.”
The craziness was right there on her headset when she served as a runner, handing the microphone to media members as they asked questions of the inductees. She liked the way Dr. Mark Clifford, CCOB Assistant Dean and Director of Sports Business, described it: It’s like watching a duck glide through the water – it is seemingly serene above the surface but paddling furiously beneath it.
The big moment for Batawala was the gala. He got to be backstage and was the first person to congratulate the inductees and direct them to a photo session as they came off the stage.
“We were really in the thick of it with the actual talent,” he said. “So it was an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at what it really means to work with professional athletes in their day-to-day life, especially in a moment that’s so special to them.”
One of the inductees was Paul Pierce, a star with the Boston Celtics in their battles with Batawala’s beloved Lakers.
“I grew up playing basketball,” Batawala said. “To be in the presence of some of the greatest athletes of my generation, the people I watched growing up, it definitely was something that was mind-boggling for me.”
The GCU students worked closely with the Position Sports team – Alex Carlson, Creative Coordinator; Ashley Orozco, Event Coordinator; and Melissa Meacham-Grossman, Senior Vice President of Business Strategy and Development. And that led to the best moment of all.
As Schuermann and Batawala strolled with Carlson through the Hall of Fame venue on the day of the enshrinements, they ran into Jerry Colangelo, namesake of GCU’s business college. Carlson introduced them, and it made for a memorable conversation and even more memorable photo with Colangelo.
“He was super inviting. He was great to talk to,” said Batawala, a junior majoring in sports management. “He’s somebody we’ve idolized in our club for helping build what Arizona sports are today. Being able to talk to him and pick his brain is an amazing opportunity, and that picture will someday be hanging up in my office. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
“It was a moment where you’re in awe and aren’t even sure what to say or think. You’re just kind of like, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’ Being able to interact with him and show him that GCU has some promising young sports business professionals was something that was super cool for me.”
Aprati also is in the Sports Business Club but is majoring in communications and minoring in sports management. She decided this summer that she needed experience at a professional event and targeted the U.S. Open, partly because she had watched major tennis tournaments with her father, Brian Aprati, for so many years while growing up in Bolingbrook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
She got a phone interview with U.S. Open officials, then a follow-up Zoom interview, and she was in. Her reward: working at one of the entrances, greeting guests, giving them directions and suggesting good food options, for 10 hours a day, 14 days straight.
And yet …
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said. “It was so fun.”
It was her first time attending a professional tennis event, and she even got to peek inside and watch some of the action. She had played tennis avidly as a youngster before a broken ankle ended any dreams of continuing (“Tennis didn’t like me as much as I liked it”), then graduated to volleyball in high school before a torn rotator cuff forced her to think about coaching rather than playing.
Fortuitously, she was offered a student coaching position with her club team. “It sparked my love for the sport,” she said. The result is that she has gotten involved in volleyball at a higher level and in June was in charge of retail for the Junior National Volleyball Championships at Chicago’s Navy Pier.
Her career goal: She’d like to do communications in sports. “I’m not really opposed to any sport,” she said. “Any sport is good enough for me.” Maybe even baseball – she hopes to get some experience at spring training next year.
Schuermann, meanwhile, is focused on event planning and possibly community outreach in the sports world – if she doesn’t become commissioner of baseball, that is.
It started as a joke, she said, but the more she thought about it, the more excited she got about working in sports in some capacity. And what would she do if she were commissioner? The answer shouldn’t be a surprise.
“Make sure they were giving back to the community,” she said. “Make sure we have a bunch of community outreach because we need to reach out to the little kids.”
That’s what it’s all about for the sports business students, too – reaching out. Schuermann’s advice for any student who’s hesitant about volunteering for any event, big or small.
“I would say definitely apply, even if you think you’re never going to get it,” she said. “Just by you sending it in, you’ve made it one step further than lots of people. You never know. An experience like this could be the difference between deciding what you want to do in sports.”
It also could be the first of many great memories.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].