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Dec 18 2013

Georgetown Sports Industry Management students orchestrate national media blitz for Gallaudet University football team

by at 11:33 am


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by Sam Atkinson, Gallaudet University Sports Information Director

WASHINGTON – A trio of Georgetown University’s Master of Professional Studies in Sports Industry Management (SIM) students organized and successfully ran a national public relations campaign for the Gallaudet University football team this past fall semester. Gallaudet, the only deaf and hard of hearing University in the world, experienced its best football season in the storied history of the Bison program dating back to 1883.

Pictured left to right: Shad Sommers, Sam Atkinson and Sarah FitzPatrick on Gallaudet's campus outside Hotchkiss Field.

Pictured left to right: Shad Sommers, Sam Atkinson and Sarah FitzPatrick on Gallaudet’s campus outside Hotchkiss Field.

The Bison started the season 9-0, won a school record 11 consecutive games dating back to last season, secured its first-ever Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) championship since the conference formed in 2009 and punched their first-ever ticket to the NCAA Division III tournament. GU’s football team became the first male team to ever go to the NCAA tournament in the 149-year history of the school. Along the way the team garnered unprecedented national media exposure, usually reserved for the upper echelon of Division I, and had over 50 stories written, broadcasted or talked about through every media means possible in one month’s time.

Behind the scenes Gallaudet’s Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Sam Atkinson, a May 2013 graduate of SIM, and two current SIM students Sarah FitzPatrick and Shad Sommers, working as interns, controlled and facilitated the media frenzy set upon the Gallaudet campus.

Georgetown SIM intern Sarah FitzPatrick (left) escorted Washington Redskins starter Reed Doughty, Gallaudet's honorary captain on Nov. 9, around the field before the final regular season home game at Hotchkiss Field.

Georgetown SIM intern Sarah FitzPatrick (left) escorted Washington Redskins starter Reed Doughty, Gallaudet’s honorary captain on Nov. 9, around the field before the final regular season home game at Hotchkiss Field.

“The unexpected media attention greatly impacted my internship. It is not an experience that can be guaranteed at a Division III school,” said FitzPatrick, who graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Denver. “The media presence that came along with the football team’s success gave me an incredible opportunity to learn how to work with the media in a sports environment and network with media professionals.”

For several weeks in November the Bison football team became the media darlings of college football. A game winning blocked field goal returned 70 yards for a touchdown, with no time remaining, on Nov. 2 on the road against Becker College became an instant highlight on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Things escalated a week later when ESPN and other national media outlets came out to cover the Bison as they headed into their final home game of the regular-season primed to win the ECFC championship.

Washington NBC 4 sports reporter Jason Pugh (left) interviews Gallaudet's quarterback Todd Bonheyo during one of the numerous press interviews Gallaudet football received this fall. Top right, Shad Sommers overseas the interview in progress to make sure what is being said is correct and things communicated clearly.

Washington NBC 4 sports reporter Jason Pugh (left) interviews Gallaudet’s quarterback Todd Bonheyo during one of the numerous press interviews Gallaudet football received this fall. Top right, Shad Sommers overseas the interview in progress to make sure what is being said is correct and things communicated clearly.

“We knew we had a good story that could go national but the excellent play of the team on the field and the blocked field goal play took things to another level,” said Atkinson, who earned his master’s degree as a part-time student, as he enters his fifth year at Gallaudet. “Our goal was to get our story out to as many news outlets as possible, not overburden the coaching staff and student-athletes and educate the reporters about the deaf and hard of hearing community in the process.”

From the Classroom to the Real World
The immediate crush of local and national media forced Atkinson and his interns to prioritize their day-to-day responsibilities as the media relations office for Gallaudet’s 13 varsity sports. The trio still had to attend the home events for the women’s soccer and volleyball teams while writing stories about the men’s and women’s cross country teams and prepare for the winter slate of sports including men’s and women’s basketball and swimming. The Bison Sports Information Office also had to organize the flow of the various media interviews, work with the head coaches’ practice and personal schedule, the class schedules for the various student-athletes and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter schedules.

The Gallaudet Sports Information Office working the final home regular-season game for the Bison on Nov. 9 while an ESPN cameraman films next to them. At their final game two national television outlets and three local news stations were present as GU won its 11th straight game, dating back to last season, and clinched the ECFC championship. Pictured in the foreground is Shad Sommers, Sam Atkinson and Sarah FitzPatrick (white hat).

Living the Division III life in the press box at Hotchkiss Field. On a rainy Oct. 12 day the Gallaudet Sports Information Office had to improvise with the wet weather and keeps things dry in the open air set-up. Pictured left to right: Gallaudet SID student-workers Jordan Webb, Jeremy Warshaw, Sam Atkinson, Sarah FitzPatrick and Shad Sommers.

“There were several instances in which my internship responsibilities correlated with my classwork,” said FitzPatrick. “With all the attention the football team received, it was necessary to be active on the university’s athletic social media platforms. Plus, I was given the opportunity to prepare media kits for local and national media guests, work that was relevant to what I was learning in school.”

Sommers concurs with FitzPatrick about taking lessons learned in the SIM classrooms and applying them to everyday life at Gallaudet.

“The media frenzy definitely shook things up during the season. I knew the team was having a special season but when you have ESPN come to campus for a feature story that they want to showcase on SportsCenter it definitely takes it to another level,” said Sommers, who recently graduated from Columbia University where he started on the football team. “For about a month straight we would have calls and e-mails come in from national and local outlets weekly wanting to chronicle GU’s story and journey this season. Personally, I helped escort some of the local reporters around campus, watched over interviews being conducted and created media information packets for all of the incoming reporters.”

This was not the first time Gallaudet athletics had burst onto the national media stage as its women’s basketball team garnered lots of attention during the 2010-11 season when the Bison started the year 20-0 and were ranked for the first time in a decade.

“I could not have been able to balance everything without the excellent work done by Sarah and Shad. The pair went above and beyond the call of duty as an intern and we are grateful for their service to Bison athletics,” said Atkinson.

Living the Division III life in the press box at Hotchkiss Field. On a rainy Oct. 12 day the Gallaudet Sports Information Office had to improvise with the wet weather and keeps things dry in the open air set-up. Pictured left to right: Gallaudet SID student-workers Jordan Webb, Jeremy Warshaw, Sam Atkinson, Sarah FitzPatrick and Shad Sommers.

The Gallaudet Sports Information Office working the final home regular-season game for the Bison on Nov. 9 while an ESPN cameraman films next to them. At their final game two national television outlets and three local news stations were present as GU won its 11th straight game, dating back to last season, and clinched the ECFC championship. Pictured in the foreground is Shad Sommers, Sam Atkinson and Sarah FitzPatrick (white hat).

Communicating with your hands

During their internship FitzPatrick and Sommers learned ASL in addition to being trained the day-to-day life of working in a Sports Information Office. The new challenge of learning a new language and working in a different environment was accepted with open arms from the two SIM interns. This is the fourth year Gallaudet’s Sports Information Office has used SIM interns, as 10 interns have completed internships with Atkinson since the Fall 2010.

“Communicating in ASL was challenging, but also rewarding. It is important for people who would like to intern at Gallaudet to be willing to attempt to communicate in ASL and put what they learn into practice,” said FitzPatrick.

Now their hands will have some added “bling” as the duo will receive ECFC championship rings this spring from head coach Chuck Goldstein as a token of appreciation for their hard work promoting Gallaudet athletics and supporting the media frenzy that encompassed the football program.

“I would definitely recommend this internship to others. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of a community I had no real previous experience with,” said Sommers. “I believe that stepping out of your comfort zone is an important part of developing yourself as a person and there is no doubt in my mind that this internship did that for me.”

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ESPN Feature Story Video – The Gallaudet Way

About Georgetown MPS SIM Program

Georgetown’s graduate degree program in Sports Industry Management embraces real-world learning. Learn about the latest practices in sports management from industry leaders. Work in a hands-on internship with one of the program’s strategic organizational partners (including major league teams and leading sports-industry businesses and nonprofit entities). Complete a Capstone Project that lets you demonstrate real experience addressing key challenges and opportunities in the industry. Learn more by visiting:

http://scs.georgetown.edu/departments/14/master-of-professional-studies-in-sports-industry-management.

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