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Message to high school students: Sports careers not just for athletes

ASU athletic administrators 'trying to create a spark' in Trevor Browne students through Innovation Lab

Man wearing an ASU shirt speaking to a young student.
October 24, 2023

Andre Hernandez is a sophomore offensive lineman for the Phoenix Trevor Browne High School football team.

He loves the sport. But he’s also a realist. The chance of him playing in college, much less the NFL, are infinitesimal.

That’s why he was excited to be at Arizona State University on Friday, hearing from Sun Devil Athletics staffers about the careers young people can have in sports, even if those opportunities are not on the field.

“This is a great chance for me to learn about the school and maybe what I could do in sports medicine,” Hernandez said.

The event, which included students visiting the Pat Tillman statue on the north end of Mountain America Stadium, was put on by the Varsity Research Lab in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics in partnership with ASU’s Global Sport Institute.

High school student taking a picture of her friend next to ASU's Pat Tillman statue

Trevor Browne High School sophomore Shydrea Clark, 16, poses for a photo with the Pat Tillman statue outside of Mountain America Stadium on the Tempe campus on Friday, Oct. 20. Clark was participating in the Global Sport Institute Innovation Lab, which teaches local high school students about college and career options through the lens of sports. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

The Global Sport Institute launched the GSI Innovation Lab at Trevor Browne in August with the goal of providing additional support to the school’s new Academy Instruction Model, which includes a focus on four areas: emerging technology; global business and media; fine arts and industry; and health and human services.

The purpose of the workshop at ASU was to show the 24 sophomore students from Trevor Browne that they don’t have to be an athlete to pursue a career in sports.

Scott Brooks, director of the Global Sport Institute, said he’s trying to provide the same experience for the students that he had as a young man growing up in the Bay Area.

He said he had no idea a Black man could be a sociologist and involved in sports until he met Harry Edwards, whose career focused on the experiences of African American athletes and who served as a staff consultant to the San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors.

“Sports to me was fun, but I didn’t really think of how to make it a career until I heard him speak,” Brooks said.

Brooks said he hoped the workshop helped students understand they can have a career in athletics as orthopedists (sports medicine) or mathematicians (doing statistics) or, as in the case of a young woman at Trevor Browne named Jen, fashion.

Brooks said that when he learned about Jen’s interest, he told her about the multiple home and road uniforms, logos and designs worn by teams like the NBA’s Phoenix Suns or WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and “her eyes lit up.”

“All of a sudden, I think she realized, 'I don’t have to be an athlete to work in sports. I could see how I might do some other things,'" Brooks said. "That’s really all we’re trying to do. We try to create a spark that gives them hope and aspiration.

“I think of this as their own hoop dream. It’s not about being the athlete. It’s about every other career besides the athlete in sports.”

“What we are doing is exposing them,” said Stacey Flores, a graduate research assistant in the Sanford School. “Many of these kids are the first in their family to go to college. They don’t know what they don’t know. They might want to go into programming. And we’ll say, you can program a scoreboard. You can program this and that. We’re giving them ideas about what else they can do.”

Students listening to panel

Trevor Browne High School sophomore Andre Hernandez particpates in the Global Sport Institute Innovation Lab on Friday, Oct. 20, in the San Tan Ford Club in Mountain America Stadium on the Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

After taking photos at the Tillman statue, the students settled into their seats inside the San Tan Ford Club at the stadium and heard from four panelists working in the ASU athletic department: Nate Edwards, assistant athletic director, digital media; Paige Shacklett, senior manager, corporate communications; Courtney Skipper, assistant athletic director, Office of Student-Athlete Development; and Deanna Garner-Smith, senior associated athletic director, Title IX and Inclusive Excellence.

Skipper emphasized to the students the importance of getting a college degree. He said he has several friends who have inquired about jobs inside ASU athletics but don’t qualify because they didn’t graduate from college.

“It’s one of the most important things you can ever have,” he said. “I have the pleasure of telling our guys on the football team and basketball team that, ‘Hey, if you want to be the head coach of our basketball team here at ASU, you’ll need a college degree. You want to be a football coach, you have to have a college degree. You want to work in our athletic department, you need a college degree.’”

Skipper noted that he has 15 full-time employees in his office and no two people have the same degree.

“Biology, business, education, communication, you name it,” he said. “Many of us didn’t know all the roles that even exist within an athletic department.”

Shacklett told the students how important it is to get real-life experience, whether through internships or as a graduate assistant. She was writing for the State Press and envisioning a job in sports journalism when she heard about an internship in ASU’s Media Relations office. She applied for the internship, was chosen and her career path changed.

“I wouldn’t say I use my sports journalism degree as much as I’m using real-world experience that I gathered through physically being here in the athletic department, doing my internship and working with the teams,” she said.

Group of high school students sitting at round table listening to five panelists

Trevor Browne High School students listen to (from left) Nate Edwards, assistant athletic director for digital media; Deana Garner-Smith, senior associate athletic director; Stacey Flores, doctoral research assistant; Courtney Skipper, assistant athletic director for student-athlete development; and Paige Shacklett, ice hockey media relations senior manager talk about working with athletes during the Global Sport Institute Innovation Lab event held on Friday, Oct. 20, in the San Tan Ford Club in Mountain America Stadium on the Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mckhenzie Hines, who plays basketball, softball and volleyball at Trevor Browne, asked the panelists what they would say to people who want to do what they’re doing.

Garner-Smith told the students to get to know their high school guidance counselor because “they’re going to help you in trying to figure out how to get from high school to college.”

Edwards said it’s important to be a problem-solver.

“That’s the number one thing that I say to everybody,” Edwards said. “The first question I ask on an interview is, ‘I don’t care where you went to school or what you studied. How do you problem solve?' Because that’s the kind of skills that I need."

Hernandez said the workshop helped him understand there could be a future for him as an athletic trainer.

“I’ve seen what our athletic trainer does because I do play football, and getting to interact with the players and helping them out… I would like to do that,” he said. “I can definitely see myself doing that.”

Hines said her takeaway from the workshop was understanding all the different paths students can take to work in athletics.

“There’s not just one way to be in sports,” she said. “There’s many ways.”

Top photo: Trevor Browne High School sophomore Chris Gerardo, 15, interviews Global Institute Institute Director Scott Brooks during an ice-breaking activity at the Global Sport Institute Innovation Lab on Friday, Oct. 20, in the San Tan Ford Club in Mountain America Stadium on the Tempe campus. The lab aims to provide the students with college and career tips through the lens of sports. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News