It’s been over a week, after arriving back to the strenuous work, assignments, projects, and life responsibilities of Valpo, leaving behind the timeless excitement surrounding Super Bowl XLVII and the city of New Orleans.
Considering the opportunity presented to the Kinesiology Department several months ago, students recognized the worth of such a trip and as kickoff quickly approached, an occurrence surrounding this event, was an unforeseen luxury to Valparaiso University. Specifically, as the New Orleans Super Bowl organizing committee curiously chose VU and a few other schools to take part in volunteering, the students couldn’t refuse, even if volunteering duties and responsibilities were nearly unknown. Once we began to gain much needed financial support from the university and marketing opportunities, this quickly became something bigger than just a student trip to New Orleans. Instead, it was an opportunity to not only gain valuable experience working in sports, but also to professionally represent Valparaiso University at one of the most recognized sporting events in the world.
While the students may not have had the opportunity to volunteer/work at the Superdome and directly with the game itself, they comfortably became knowledgeable about the enormous New Orleans Convention Center including the amenities and activities provided via the NFL Experience. For some, mentioning of the Super Bowl reminds them of the game itself, with dramatic wins and story lines like: Joe Namath and the New York Jets upsetting the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III or New England Patriots’ Adam Vinatieri hitting a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI or John Elway winning his first Super Bowl ring at Super Bowl XXXII in 1998; all dramatic Super Bowl storylines aside, for most fans, the experience surrounding the game is the most memorable, especially for the host city.
As the New Orleans Convention Center was flooded with a myriad of fans, with the majority donning their hometown heros’ jerseys and apparel, the New Orleans Saints, as well as fans from San Francisco and Baltimore, this was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion to please, entertain, and enjoy the excitement of participating kids and families. Children and parents alike may not remember the details of the game itself, but rather, they will remember the laughter and merriment of successfully kicking the football through the uprights, getting autographs of their favorite players, happily throwing the football into the nets, or even forcibly knocking over one of the volunteers in a seemingly harmless tackling game. Adam Sefcheck, a Sports Administration graduate student had to say this about the trip, “working the NFL Experience really was how it sounds, an experience. Just being able to work with the host committee and also being able to put a smile on kids’ faces brought us incredible satisfaction.” Kia Giddings, another Sports Administration graduate student on the trip said, ”for many of the kids I either saw or interacted with, this was their first NFL experience and the best part of the whole trip was honestly seeing their smiles, hearing their laughter and how happy they would get when they completed a task. I would recommend any student to take the opportunity to partake in this experience, there is so much to gain than one would think.”
Aside from delightfully serving the public, networking opportunities with sports professionals were sadly limited to “small talk” during and between shifts with NFL Experience supervisors. On the contrary, it was a great opportunity to meet and connect with other students and volunteers during the work shifts. Another accompanying student to New Orleans, Alex Hess, a Sports Administration graduate student states, “I thought the New Orleans trip was a great experience for any undergraduate or graduate student pursuing a career in sports. While there may not have been much networking opportunities, I thought being able to interact with other students was well worth it, like meeting people from James Madison University and Berry University.”
While this trip helped to pave the way for VU students to partake in future Super Bowls and similar high profile sporting events, a valuable suggestion would be to take advantage of all opportunistic avenues. While it was an incredibly amazing opportunity volunteering the NFL Experience, supplementary shifts would have further improved our chances to network and further market Valparaiso University and ourselves. As Sports Administration graduate student Samantha Haller states, “I think for future trips, the students should try to work as many different shifts as possible to experience all aspects of the event. It would have been interesting to see who we could have met if we had been assigned to suite attendant or something more involved with possible industry executives.”
Overall, what could have turned into an insignificant, random email, gradually blossomed into quite the resume builder for the eight VU students. Any employer that’ll see Super Bowl XLVII, NFL Experience, or New Orleans Super Bowl Ambassador will arguably be impressed, no matter the job. Even though there may have been a few discouragements during the trip, this simply was a learning, yet an incredibly valuable opportunity, not only for the students involved, but also for future VU students. In other words, if a similar opportunity presents itself, respond with full tenacity in your friendliness, work ethic, and determination because in the end, this experience may set you apart from other applicants and could be the deciding factor in landing your dream job.