A Trip to Remember

Running on two hours of sleep, I finished packing my bags and headed outside to wait for my ride. It was 4:52 a.m. on February 15th — the day I had been looking forward to for weeks.

At 5:20 a.m., a bus full of professionally dressed Iowa students would leave for a four and a half hour drive to Minneapolis, Minnesota. For the next two days, we would tour professional and amateur facilities and meet with executives from multiple sports organizations.

The drive to Minneapolis was a little long, but I spent the majority of it watching downloaded Netflix films (I highly recommend watching the documentary “13th”) on my Kindle, so time flew by pretty fast.

At 10:40 a.m., we arrived safely outside of US Bank Stadium. Twenty minutes later, we started our all-access tour (courtesy of two Iowa alums working for the Minnesota Vikings).

THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS were incredibly close to becoming the Los Angeles Vikings. After years of back-and-forth discussions regarding the funding of the construction of a new stadium, an agreement was reached. In 2016, US Bank Stadium opened for its first professional football game.

As part of the agreement, the Vikings promised to invest more than two million dollars in artwork and photography to place around the stadium, including a beautiful re-creation of Prince using his lyrics and photos and paintings of former players and coaches.

The cool thing about US Bank Stadium (as well as other sports facilities around the country) is that it isn’t just for football games. In fact, when we were there for the tour, the stadium was being used for a home remodeling event. The field was completely covered. (No iconic photo on the field where Stefon Diggs caught the Minneapolis Miracle, but that’s OK. This trip was for far more than just taking awesome photos.)

It has retractable seats, which allows it to be used for baseball, hockey, concerts, showings (like the home remodeling one), and so on. Just because it’s the offseason for the Vikings doesn’t mean the stadium will go unused.

US Bank Stadium has a lot of unique features. It’s home to the five largest pivoting glass doors in the entire world, while the roof is made of ethylene tetraflouroethylene, which allows natural light to flow in, provides an outdoor feel for fans, and makes flyovers before games possible.

And while the Dallas Cowboys have a massive video board hanging from the center of AT&T Stadium and the Atlanta Falcons have a “halo-shaped” video board in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings went a different route.

The video boards at US Bank Stadium are located at both end zones, and they are at eye-level. Due to that, the Vikings lose out on around 5,000 revenue seats, but fans no longer have to strain their necks to look at the screens.

My favorite part of the tour was seeing the Vikings’ locker room. Since I’ve seen it in so many post-game speech videos, it was awesome to finally see it in person too.

After the tour, we went to a Q&A panel with six Vikings’ executives. They seemed incredibly happy to have us there, and it was interesting to hear how they each got to this point in their careers. They provided a lot of really helpful tips for a variety of topics.

When discussing resumes, one executive reminded us to try to keep our resume length to one page and to not exaggerate. Another said to make our resumes stand out by getting creative. They also mentioned some of the qualities they look for in an employee, such as passion and initiative.

However, there was one line I’ll probably never forget: “Never rely on just one face of the franchise.”

THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES AND LYNX partnered with Mayo Clinic to open Mayo Clinic Square in downtown Minneapolis in 2014. The Timberwolves and Lynx have offices and practice courts inside the facility, and we got to see a little bit of both on our trip. This facility is seen as one of the best in the country, and I can definitely see why. While checking out the Timberwolves and Lynx practice courts, the GM of the Timberwolves, Scott Layden, stopped to talk to us for a few minutes, which was an unexpected (but very welcome) surprise.

We also had a Q&A panel with Timberwolves executives. I learned more about an Inside Sales program the Timberwolves have, and it’s something I might be interested in later on. If you know me, then you know I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I want to do in the sports industry. Public relations? Marketing? Journalism? Sales? The list goes on. Good thing I have a couple years to figure it out.

After the Q&A, we went to the Timberwolves-Lakers game at Target Center. That night, they were honoring Flip Saunders, who passed away in 2015. He was a former head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It was my second professional sports game (I went to a Chicago White Sox game during a job shadow a few years ago), but my first professional basketball game. It was a fairly close game, but the Timberwolves pulled away for the win in the end.

After the game was over, we went down on the court to take a photo as a group. It was a really awesome experience and I look forward to possibly attending more games in the future.

THE NATIONAL SPORTS CENTER sits on 600 acres of land, which holds over 50 outdoor athletic fields, two indoor athletic fields, a golf course, eight sheets of ice under one roof, a 8,500 seat stadium, and a velodrome. It is considered the largest amateur sports complex in the world.

One sheet of ice inside Schwan Super Rink.

It is used for a variety of sports, including soccer, volleyball, skating, hockey, lacrosse, golf, football, and more. Not to mention, the National Sports Center is also the training facility for Minnesota United FC, a professional soccer team in the MLS. Another really cool fact is that “31 of the 48 USA men’s and women’s Olympic hockey players at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games have skated at the Schwan Super Rink at the National Sports Center.”

When we first arrived, one executive made a joke about how now we were seeing the more realistic side of the sports industry. A big part of getting a job in this industry is luck — a job opening at the right place and time. And that’s especially true when it comes to professional sports organizations like the Vikings and Timberwolves.

The National Sports Center has a really cool internship program that really relies heavily on its interns. You’re able to jump around and do a little bit of everything, but things will go wrong if you decide not to show up for work one day.

THE NATIONAL SALES CENTER office is located on the grounds of the National Sports Center. It is a training program that helps trainees learn about ticket sales through hands-on experience.

Trainees are able to stay in dorms at the National Sports Center during the program and get a monthly stipend while working. They do a variety of activities to help maintain focus and health, including yoga and a soccer goal competition.

I look forward to possibly applying for the program in the future.


 

Thank you for reading! Be sure to keep an eye out for my next post! And if you’d like to see more of my everyday life as an Iowa student, feel free to follow me on social media. Go Hawks!

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The Truth About Campus Tours

When I visited the University of Iowa in April of 2015 as a junior in high school, I was a little overwhelmed. There was a lot of information being thrown at me, and I was still trying to decide between two schools. However, at the end of the day, I knew the University of Iowa was a place I could call home.

Now that I’m almost done with my first semester here at Iowa, I thought it would be a good time to look back on my own campus tour and talk about what a campus tour can tell you about a school, and what it doesn’t.

A Campus Tour Can Tell You About:

1. The beauty of campus

When I visited campus, I had the option of taking a walking tour or a bus tour; I chose the latter, of course. This was a couple years ago, but I think the bus tour was about 15 to 20 minutes long. The bus drove through the main part of campus all the way to Kinnick Stadium and Carver-Hawkeye Arena. I remember thinking the campus was huge, but that it looked incredible at the same time. I saw students walking to and from classes, talking and laughing with one another, and enjoying themselves. It looked and felt like a place I could call home.

2. The opportunities you’ll have

There was an Exploring Majors Fair that included “representatives from more than 75 academic programs and student service departments.” It was at this fair that I learned about the Sport and Recreation Management major, which is currently one of my two majors. I talked to the representative about the different classes within the major, the field experience that must be completed, and the career paths others have taken. Afterwards I visited the Adler Journalism Building, spoke to a few professors, and toured The Daily Iowan. It was there that I decided my second major: Journalism and Mass Communication.

I also learned about a handful of student organizations and ways to get involved.

3. What residence and dining halls look like

I had the opportunity to explore Currier Hall and see what one of the dorm rooms looked like, and then we ate at Burge Dining Hall.

I remember thinking the residence hall looked old and the dorm room felt like a prison cell, but that’s exactly what I expected. I knew the room would be small and cramped. However, the two girls who lived in that dorm room did a great job of decorating it so it felt homey.

There were a lot of foods to choose from at Burge Dining Hall, and it made me excited for college. (Now, though, I’m starting to get tired of dining hall food.)

4. What college life is like (through the eyes of others, that is)

Towards the beginning of my visit, there was a Q&A session with a group of current students. They answered our questions and talked about their experiences at the University of Iowa. For the most part, I felt like they were being truthful. My favorite part was when one of the current students said, “The freshman 15 is a lie. It’s actually the freshman 45.”

A Campus Tour Can’t Tell You About:

1. Making the most of your time

During my visit, I learned about countless opportunities to shape myself into the person I want to be. But it’s up to me to make the most of my time and take advantage of those opportunities. So far, I’ve become a student videographer for the football team, I’ve joined KRUI and the Sport and Recreation Management Club, I’ve joined a Hawkeye Service Team, and I applied for the Fans First Practicum (field experience for my Sport and Recreation Management major).

And there’s still so much I want to do.

2. What dorm life is really like

Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes it’s not. It’s a good way to meet people and make friends because there are 30+ other people living just down the hall. It’s important to have a good group of friends in college because you’ll be facing a lot of ups and downs, and you’ll need a support system.

Unfortunately, dorm life has its downsides. People tend to get a little rowdy at three in the morning, which makes it difficult to sleep. The communal bathrooms are disgusting at times, and you might find a cockroach or two. And sometimes you’ll find “interesting” things in the hallways that you wished you’d never have to see.

You just have to keep reminding yourself that it’s only temporary.

3. Making friends

Making friends in college is way different from making friends in high school. In high school, it was easy to make friends, especially since I went to a small school.

But I’m not an outgoing person and I don’t have a lot in common with other people, which makes making friends in college a little complicated at times. Now I have to really push myself outside of my comfort zone in order to make friends.

4. The different types of seasons

If you’re from Iowa or a midwest state, this doesn’t really apply to you because you already know what the weather is like. However, if you’re from a warm location like California or Florida, you’re in for a rude awakening.

Iowa’s weather is bipolar. One day it’s 60 degrees and sunny and the next it’s 30 degrees and snowing. When you visit on one day of the year, you only get a feel of what it’s like being on campus during that specific season.

I visited in April and it was 40 degrees and incredibly windy. Thankfully, I brought a sweatshirt. But it can also get really hot and really cold. It might even rain.

Just make sure you’re prepared.

Thank you for reading! Be sure to keep an eye out for my next post! And if you’d like to see more of my everyday life as an Iowa student, feel free to follow me on social media. Go Hawks!

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The Unsung Heroes of College Football

It takes a village to run a college football program.

Players. Coaches. Graduate Assistants. Directors. The list goes on.

But buried deep in the back pages of the weekly program, you’ll find the groups that, although essential to the success of the team, are often forgotten by college football fans around the country.

The managers, the sports medicine staff, the office staff, the equipment staff, and, last but certainly not least, the video staff.

“The video guys are the unsung heroes of our sport,” said Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. “They are our eyes in the sky all week long. And they are as much a part of this football team as the people that the TV audience will see on the sideline.”

Video staff team photo taken inside Kinnick Stadium.

Here at Iowa, we’re a small group of ten students and an intern with Bob Rahfeldt, the Video Director, and Chris Ruth, the Assistant Video Director, to teach and guide us.

Getting the job

Rewind seven months back to March 8th. It was late in the day and I was finishing up some homework for one of my classes when my phone vibrated, letting me know I had a Twitter notification. My high school’s head football coach, Matt Miers, had shared a tweet with me from an account called Hawkeye FB Video.

They were looking to fill open student videographer positions, and Coach Miers had a feeling I would be interested. I had filmed football games for my high school’s team my junior and senior years of high school.

I ended up sending him a direct message, letting him know I was very interested. His response was quick. He told me to work on my cover letter and resume, and that he would look over them before I sent them in. He also let me know that he would write a recommendation for me, as he was a manager for Iowa football at the same time Bob Rahfeldt (the current Video Director) was a student on the video staff.

“A lot of jobs are gained by who you know,” he told me. That’s something I’ve been told a lot the past several months.

Everything after that happened fast. Or, at least, it felt that way.

A couple weeks after sending in my materials, I was setting up an interview. And a week after that, I was on my way to the Hansen Football Performance Center in Iowa City.

I was more nervous than I had ever been before. All I could think about was the fact that this was the start of my future, whether I got the job or not. In a few short months, I’d be heading off to college.

My parents were really supportive, and Coach Miers had given me a lot of advice for the interview: “Talk about your passion for football, how much you enjoyed videotaping our games, being involved in football, etc. Talk about your commitment, how responsible you are. Be enthusiastic and excited.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I could do it — put a smile on my face and essentially sell myself — because I’m not a talkative person and it was my first real job interview. I usually have to warm up to a person before I put myself out there like that.

But as I entered the football facility, surrounded by trophies and the history of Iowa’s football team, I realized that there was one specific thing that always got me talking no matter how well I knew a person.

Football.

And that’s why I was there.

After that, my smile came easy. And so did talking about myself and my passion for football and working in the sports industry. When I finished the interview and left the video office, I couldn’t remember why I was so nervous in the first place.

Five days later, I accepted a volunteer position with the video staff, which required me to report for fall football camp around August 1st (I’d stay in the team hotel until moving into my dorm), work a couple practices a week during the season, and work all home games. And then I’d have the chance to move into a paid position next spring.

Filming practices

Now that the season has started, video students are scheduled to arrive around an hour before practice starts. Because of my class schedule, I am only able to attend practices on Tuesdays and some Fridays. During fall camp, however, I went to every practice.

Shooting practice from the perch on a foggy Tuesday morning.

As soon as all of the video students that are scheduled to work arrive, we gather the items we need (a camera, a back-up battery in case we lose power at our locations, a tripod, a walkie-talkie, and SD cards) and head out to the practice fields.

Every practice we receive an updated practice rundown sheet (also used by the coaches and players) that tells us the layout of practice and where we’re filming from.

We utilize four scissor lifts (three on the offensive field and one on the defensive field), a ground camera, a pole camera, and a perch located inside the indoor practice facility. The person filming from the perch films on the defensive field, and that’s usually where I am every Tuesday morning.

Scissor lifts give us the ability to change heights. The higher up we are, the better the coaches can see the patterns of a play. The lower we are, and the coaches can see the players’ point of view. Unfortunately, as we go higher, the lift becomes less stable and wind can be a problem. In 2010, Declan Sullivan, a football video student at Notre Dame, died when his scissor lift “collapsed in winds exceeding 50 mph.” He was only 20 years old.

We have strict rules here. If the winds exceed 20 mph, we come down. As much as we all love football, it’s not worth putting our lives on the line.

“Drop bag” used during practices.

Practice is split up in periods, such as ‘punt’ and ‘scouts.’ After certain periods, we remove the SD card from the camera, put a new SD card in, and place the old one in the “drop bag.” Usually there’s a Powerade bottle or water bottle in the bag that weighs it down so it drops easier. Once the SD card case is in the “drop bag,” we lower it to ground level so the runner can grab it and take it up to the video office where the film is imported by the Video Director, Bob Rahfeldt, and the intern, Clint Tucker. It’s an efficient system that allows coaches to view the film as soon as practice ends.

While I feel as though I have done a good job at practices so far, I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes since I arrived at fall camp almost two months ago. Towards the beginning of camp, I didn’t set my tripod up high enough and the bars on the scissor lift prevented the camera from pointing down all the way, and I wasn’t able to get everything in the frame. More recently, my SD card case fell out of the “drop bag” on the way down.

The zipper on the bag was broken, so I couldn’t zip it up, and the Powerade bottle rolled out of the bag and the SD card case followed it. I was in a rush to get back to the camera to film, so I must have picked the bag up the wrong way. I felt my heart drop when it happened. Thankfully, the runner found it on the stairs.

Every time I have made a mistake, I’ve learned from it and haven’t let the same mistake happen again.

Working during games

Games are a lot different than practices. For example, we have to show up four hours prior to kickoff. That means if Iowa is playing an 11 o’clock game, we have to be at the football facility at seven o’clock in the morning dressed in our game day attire. But it’s not bad when you have a game to look forward to.

View from the south end zone.

Once everyone arrives, we load up all the equipment on the golf cart and head over to Kinnick Stadium to set up. We only take three cameras because we only film at three locations during games (sideline in the press box, north end zone, and south end zone).

When everything is set up, we head back to the football facility and eat a pre-game meal, which, I believe, is usually provided by Hy-Vee.

View from the sideline press box.

After we’re all done eating, we watch the weekly hit film made for each game, which is always really good. However, one video that never fails to give me chills is the “This Is Iowa” video, made by the Assistant Video Director, Chris Ruth, who is incredibly good at his job.

Around two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff, we go to the south end of Kinnick Stadium and wait for the team buses to arrive for the Hawk Walk. Once they pull up, we grab the laptops from below one of the buses, enter Kinnick Stadium with the players and coaches, and then walk right back out to the football facility.

Sideline view at halftime of the Penn State game.

Once the computers are set up back in the video office, we’re free to do whatever for about an hour. Usually around an hour and 15 minutes before the game starts, we all meet back up on the field at Kinnick Stadium and hang out until kickoff.

We watch the players warm up, we watch videos as they’re played on the video board (including the hit film and This Is Iowa video), we watch the players swarm the field, and we listen as the band plays the Star-Spangled Banner.

University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital during the Penn State game.

My favorite part of every home game, however, is after the first quarter when we all stop what we’re doing and wave at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. It’s one thing to watch it happening, and it’s another to actually be there, seeing the children holding up signs and waving back. The best new tradition in college sports, by far.

After each quarter, we have one runner go to the south end zone and one runner go to the north end zone. Each runner’s job is to get the SD card from their assigned end zone and take it up to the press box to be imported. Since we have so many people on the video staff, we have four assigned runners at home games and we switch off each half. When we’re not running cards or filming, we get to stand on the sideline and enjoy the game.

Spirit game against Penn State.

It gets really loud inside Kinnick Stadium, especially on third down. The fans go crazy and try to disrupt the opponent’s offense. Like I said before, it takes a village. And the fans are part of this village, too.

How to get involved

I’m just a freshman. I don’t have a ton of experience getting involved in the sports industry yet, so I don’t have a lot to say on this topic.

But what I can say is that you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Even when you’re nervous or scared.

Outside Kinnick Stadium.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hesitate when applying for the student videographer job with the football team. It was new and unfamiliar, and there was already a lot of change going on in my life. Looking back now, I’m glad I pushed past the hesitation because I know I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try.

Coach Miers words have really stuck with me. At the end of the day, it’s not always what you know, but who you know.

I’ve also joined KRUI Sports and the Sport and Recreation Management Club, where I hold the Sports Information Chair position. Through these three experiences, I have the opportunity to network and break into the sports industry.

But this is only just the beginning for me. There are still so many opportunities ahead, and I plan on taking advantage of every single one of them.

Thank you for reading! Be sure to keep an eye out for my next post about moving from a small town to a big campus, and what I thought college would be like vs. how it actually is (thus far).

If you’d like to see more of my everyday life as an Iowa student, feel free to follow me on social media! Go Hawks!

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@kam_smithy