SRU sport management class offers hands-on experience


Sports complex from the air

As part of a class project, Slippery Rock University students in the Sport Facility and Event Management class provided risk assessments for facilities that include Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim, which is the largest indoor sports complex in North America (photo courtesy of Spooky Nook Sports).

Dec. 17, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Administration, coaching, communications, community relations, IT. The list goes on and on. There are almost as many areas of focus in a professional sports team's operations as there are teams themselves.

And while Jenna Plutyk has already interned with the New York Yankees and will be doing a second internship next semester with the Charlotte Hornets, her internship focus has always been in the areas of marketing and sales. The Slippery Rock University senior sport management major from Saxonburg has yet to find herself involved with "game day" operations. However, after taking part in SRU's Sport Facility and Event Management class, Plutyk feels as though she's already got major league experience.

Jenna Plutyk


What sets the class apart from others is how SRU students interact with alumni, businesses and organizations to offer tangible outcomes, like a facility risk assessment or hosting a golf outing.

"The hands-on experience was very beneficial," said Plutyk. "I never looked at is as homework. I needed to make these calls or send these emails and I knew I was going to be able to see the end result.."

Students in the class either hosted a charity golf outing or an awards ceremony that recognized SRU sport management students and alumni. Plutyk's family owns the Saxon Golf Course in Sarver, so being the chair of the charity golf outing seemed like an obvious role, but she said even with her family history, hosting the event was a challenge in making sure that securing corporate sponsorships and arranging foursomes went off without a hitch.

"You have to think on your feet and plan for anything," Plutyk said. "This was helpful for me because I had to develop my communication skills and, because we're walking into a business and asking them to donate, it helped alleviate a lot of fears."

The annual golf outings and awards banquets each typically attract 125-150 people and generate $6,000 in net income, while also securing sponsorships from organizations including the Butler County Tourism Bureau, UPMC Sports Medicine and Highmark. All proceeds from the events benefit charities such as VeloSano, a cancer-research initiative through the Cleveland Clinic, and at least two scholarships each year for SRU sport management students.

"A lot of our students end up working in the event management side of sport, so often they'll use this experience on their resumes to get that internship which leads to a full-time job," said Brian Crow, professor of sport management and the class's instructor. "This experience hosting a golf outing or an awards banquet puts them on a different level compared to interns or graduates from other schools."

Jason Kmick, who graduated from SRU with a degree in exercise science in 2001 and a master's degree in sport management in 2005, took the Facility and Event Management course and benefited from the experience when he was charged early in his career with organizing a 5-kilometer race while on staff at the New Castle YMCA. He's now the executive director of the Buhl Community Recreation Center in Sharon.

"Event management can be so difficult; it's a lot of moving parts, organization, sticking to deadlines and communication," Kmick said. "You also have solicitation of sponsorships. It's a lot of things coming together at once. In every role that I've had in my career, those classes have played some part."

Another distinguishing aspect of the class is how students are paired off in groups of two to conduct a facility risk assessment for a business or organization, identifying everything from slip hazards to safely securing money and equipment. For example, Plutyk analyzed the Butler County Family YMCA, where she worked as a cheerleading and gymnastics coach, and presented findings that could be used by the YMCA's risk team to identify issues that are important to the facility's operation, not only for insurance purposes but for the safety of their members.

SRU students have worked with various recreation centers and professional sports teams, including the Washington Wild Things' Consol Energy Park in Washington, the Dick's Sporting Goods Sportsplex at Graham Park in Cranberry Township and Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim, which is the largest indoor sports complex in North America.

Kmick was on both sides of the risk analysis partnership, working with a recreation center in Butler when he was an SRU student and having SRU students conduct an analysis at the New Castle YMCA when he worked there.

"In this industry, we take risk management very seriously," Kmick said. "To have the students support an organization, especially a nonprofit that usually has limited resources, is very beneficial and we hope beneficial for the students."

In some cases, organizations will implement the SRU students' reports as part of their risk assessment submitted to insurance providers, but in all cases they use the findings as recommendations or a "second set of eyes."

"Anytime you can get students in your classes to get real-life experiences, it's going to be very helpful when the students graduate," Kmick said. "That's the beauty of that class: you're actually applying what you are learning to an actual event or report that has results and it's tangible, as opposed to talking about a theoretical example. That's where the Sports Management Department at SRU does a great job; you do actual work in the real world."

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