Mount Union's Department of Music Flourishes with Incoming Grants

ALLIANCE, Ohio - The University of Mount Union’s Department of Music has recently been the recipient of two grants to help spread music and arts through both the campus and the community.

The most recent grant was awarded by ArtsinStark for $500 to pay for Alex Bevan, an award-winning musician, to perform as a guest artist with the Alliance Symphony Orchestra (ASO) this August at the Carnation Days in the Park festival.

Carnation Days in the Park begin Wednesday, August 17 and run through Saturday August 20. Bevan and the ASO, will perform on Wednesday August, 17 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Silver Park.

Dr. Elaine Anderson, professor and chair of the Department of Music, spoke about the class that was awarded the grant, saying, “Visual and performing arts majors or not, students are passionate about many things including the arts that would greatly enhance life in their communities in the future.  Steering funds toward their worthy projects and building teams to make their dreams happen are worthy skills to build.”

Students in Anderson’s senior capstone class, Arts Advocacy in Action, wrote the ArtsinStark grant application that won the department the award. The students were Michelle Banis, Ciara Marshall and T.J. Owens, and together they wrote “The concert will provide community members with a get-away from the everyday struggle that life often brings. Particularly, the event will allow for reflection on daily activities and experiences. The event will embody the idea that everyone has the right and ability to create and enjoy music together...The musical performance with a [Bevan] will offer a strong sense of belonging and connectedness, bringing community members together across age and culture. The bonding opportunity for audience members will engage social interactions for all ages, again, creating a sense of community.”

Bevan has performed through the mid-1970s with an acoustic trio consisting of two guitars and electric bass, and opened for such acts such as The Michael Stanley Band, The Doobie Brothers, and Hall and Oates. He also created radio advertisements for the Cleveland Browns. In 1987, Bevan even won an Emmy award for his post score of the Rustbelt Blues, the final segment of NBC's American Promise documentary.

The Department of Music was also awarded the Legacy Gift of $25,000 from The Presser Foundation. The purpose of the Legacy Gift is to honor the life and relationships of Theodore Presser, who was an assistant professor of music at Mount Union and is the namesake for Presser Recital Hall in the Giese Center for the Performing Arts.  

"Theodore Presser's philanthropic vision guides the decisions of the Capital Support Committee of the Board of Trustees,” said Dr. Jeffrey Cornelius, Chair of the Capital Support Committee. “From the many fine project applications we receive, we carefully select those most consistent with the funding guidelines of The Foundation, which stem directly from Mr. Presser's intentions.  We are delighted with the quality of the proposals for which we are providing funding and to join with other funding sources of these organizations in seeing these projects come to reality."

The Presser Foundation was established in 1939 under the Deeds of Trust and Will of the late Theodore Presser. It is one of the few private foundations in the United States dedicated solely to music education and music philanthropy. The Presser Foundation supports music performance and education through undergraduate and graduate scholar awards, operating and program support for music organizations, capital grants for music building projects, and assistance to retired music teachers.

For more information on Mount Union’s Department of Music please visit:

First Look – Champions in the Field: Mount Alumni Make Strides of Success in Cleveland

First Look – Champions in the Field: Mount Alumni Make Strides of Success in Cleveland

For many in northeast Ohio, Cleveland sports are everything.

It comes as no surprise, then, that so many Mount Union sport business alumni choose “The Land” when pursuing and continuing careers in the sport industry. Whether it’s working for the Cavaliers, Indians, Lake Erie Monsters, Browns, or other sports

organizations headquartered in Cleveland, many alumni are beginning and furthering their careers in northeast Ohio.

“The Cleveland Browns and the Cleveland Cavs family of teams (Cleveland Cavs, Lake Erie Monsters, Cleveland Gladiators and Canton Charge) are highly regarded in the sport industry for their employment of best business practices,” said Dr. Jim Kadlecek, associate professor of human performance and sport business at Mount Union. “This provides graduating students with entry-level opportunities at organizations that will train them well and commit to their professional development.” 

Read more about some of Mount Union’s exceptional alumni working in the sport business industry in Cleveland throughout the story.






















Austin Pavilack ’15
Account Executive, Cleveland Browns

I work closely with businesses and individuals in northeastern Ohio in regard to purchasing season seats, groups, suites and premium hospitality for Browns games at First Energy Stadium.

What do you enjoy most about working in Cleveland?
The passion of the sports fans in this city is second to none. Working with these people has been a ton of fun. I also enjoy a lot of the food spots around the city.

What is your favorite thing about Cleveland sports?
The community feel. You truly feel as if you are a part of something greater than yourself. I don’t think that is the case for a lot of cities around the country. In Cleveland, everyone roots for the sports teams no matter their performance.

How did Mount Union help you find your passion for sport business?
I took a sport sales class at Mount Union my junior year and it really opened up my eyes to the possibility of sales. From there, it inspired me to pursue a few internships before graduation. I believe that class propelled me to where I am today.

In your opinion, what is the best part of your profession?
I truly enjoy connecting with individuals and businesses around the area and helping them bring their passion and love for the Browns into First Energy Stadium every other Sunday. Meeting clients on a game day and seeing their excitement is what it’s all about!



Bridget Huzicka ’02
Director of Corporate Partnership Activation, Cleveland Browns

The activation team manages all of our current corporate relationships by delivering marketing programs to our partners to help enhance their business. Our team works hand-in-hand with each corporate partner to make sure they are receiving the best possible business return on investment with the Cleveland Browns.

What types of opportunities does Cleveland offer sport business professionals?  
Cleveland is a great city in which to pursue a sports career. The teams are progressive in how they approach their businesses and how they look to develop positive and memorable fan experiences. We see this with upgrades to facilities and venues for the fans, usage of data and analytics on both the team and business sides, the innovations around social media and digital platforms and more. If you have passion for the industry, understand the importance of hard work and have a desire to be creative and innovative, you should pursue any opportunity that is available with our sports teams. 

Why would you encourage current students to major in sport business?
The opportunities that the Mount Union sport business program provides are fantastic. The professors have decades of experience in the industry, have a strong and connected network of sports professionals and provide their students with the first-hand experience that every student should be given. The industry is beyond books and exams. You’ll quickly learn if the industry is for you thanks to the experiences you’ll get from the Mount Union sport business program. 



Matt Kalister ’05
Director of Ticket Sales and Service, Lake Erie Monsters and Cleveland Gladiators

My role is to oversee our ticket revenue teams for the Monsters and Gladiators at Quicken Loans Arena. We have a sales and service team that sells and services all of our season tickets, partial plans and groups for both the Monsters and Gladiators.

What do you enjoy most about working in Cleveland?
I feel like this is a turning point in the city of Cleveland’s history. The city is booming with young professionals coming to work and live downtown. It’s exciting to be a part of something bigger than just our day-to-day job.

How did the sport business program at Mount Union help prepare you for your future?
The amount of experience I gained while I was in school was priceless. I was much more prepared to start working in this industry than some of my other coworkers from around the country. Whether it was internship experience or class projects that forced me to think about the bigger picture of the sports world, it all helped prepare me for the first steps in my career when I graduated.

In your opinion, what is the best part of your profession?
I love walking into a packed arena and knowing that I helped play a part in creating that environment for our teams on the ice, court, field, etc. It’s an amazing feeling to see that all of the hard work our sales and service teams put in has a true impact on game days.



Gina Wall ’15
Group Event Specialist, Cleveland Cavaliers

My main focus is to bring in new groups to Quicken Loans Arena.

What does the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship mean to the city?
It means so much to both myself and the City of Cleveland. It will open opportunities for everyone. It finally gives people hope for more successes in the future.

How did Mount Union help you find your passion for sport business?
I played soccer throughout my four years. I didn’t want to leave that bond behind. Mount also taught me everything I know with regard to working in the sports world.

How did the sport business program at Mount Union help prepare you for your future?
We always had realistic projects that you could put on your resume.

Who was your favorite professor at Mount Union and why?
Dr. Lori Braa! She always made things so much fun and upbeat. She made me realize that I can make it extremely far in the sports world.

In your opinion, what is the best part of your profession?
I love making people happy! That is hands down the best part of my job. I love knowing that a product I sold someone is constructed to be the best fit for that specific person.


Brent Stehlik ’99
Executive Vice President/Chief Revenue Officer, Cleveland Browns

Currently, I oversee all aspects of revenue generation and marketing for the franchise, including corporate partnership sales and activation, ticket sales and service, suite and premium sales, concessions, merchandising, marketing, creative services, content and production, digital media, fan experience and special events efforts for the club.

In your opinion, what is the best part of your profession?
The ability we have to impact so many lives. From our staff, to our community, to all of the fans…sports can build friendships, transcend cultures and render even the most heated battles temporarily irrelevant.

What types of opportunities does Cleveland offer sport business professionals?
Seemingly unlimited amounts of opportunities to network and learn from open and honest industry professionals.

How did the sport business program at Mount Union help prepare you for your future?
It provided a great support system with the professors and pushed students outside of their comfort zones. One example is all of the presentations versus written exams.



Lindsay (Wise ‘04) Strauch
Manager of Corporate Partnership Activation, Cleveland Browns

I manage and retain our corporate partnership accounts.

Why did you decide to work in Cleveland?  
I enjoy working in Cleveland because it is close to my extended family, and I love living near Lake Erie.

What is your favorite thing about Cleveland sports?
I love Cleveland sports because of the passionate fan base. It is inspiring. I hope I am part of bringing this town a Cleveland Browns championship!

Who was your favorite professor at Mount Union and why?
Dr. Jim Thoma and Dr. Jim Kadlecek are my two favorites! They both invested in me by helping me get internships and connecting me directly with other sports teams and executives. They are very passionate about their students and want them to succeed.

How did the sport business program at Mount Union help prepare you for your future?
I completed six internships while attending Mount Union and the opportunity to work at the National Sports Forum allowed me to build a great networking base.


Nick Volsko ’08
Director of Corporate Partnerships, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission

I am responsible for increasing organizational revenue through strategic partnerships for Greater Cleveland Sports Commission-owned events.

What do you enjoy most about working in Cleveland?
I enjoy the lifestyle. The vibe here is so different than any other city. You can sense that people have great pride for their city and they are not afraid to show it.

What types of opportunities does Cleveland offer sport business professionals?
Not every city is fortunate to have three major league teams and an AHL, AFL and multiple minor league teams nearby. Additionally, organizations like the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Home Team Marketing provide great non-team related opportunities. Sport business professionals have many options in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.

What is your favorite thing about Cleveland sports?
I love how this city breathes sports. Win or lose, this city has passion for its teams.


Cari Henegar ’00
Senior Manager of Partnership Development, Cleveland Cavaliers

I grow and renew existing partnerships/sponsorships. 

Why would you encourage current students to major in sport business? 
There is definitely a cool factor to working in sports but it’s key to remember that it is still a business and not always fun and games. You are playing a role in helping someone make memories.

In your opinion, what is the best part of your profession? 
After 18 seasons, it is always different and always changing.  I’m not sure there are many other industries that can say that. I feel like no two days are the same. Obviously at this moment, I am at the pinnacle of my career and I can proudly say I work for the NBA Champions!


Ryan Robbins ’00
Director of Corporate Partnerships, Cleveland Indians

In my role at the Indians, I lead our Premium Department in sales and service, which includes all of our suites and the Infiniti Club.

Why did you decide to work in Cleveland?
I’ve worked in other markets around the country, and I’ve always said that if I can do what I enjoy doing and do it for a team in Cleveland then that is the best place for me.  

What is your favorite thing about Cleveland sports?
There is such great history with our teams, and that connection is what makes Cleveland special. People appreciate that and when we take Indians alumni players around to meet fans, there is always a special story from when a client was growing up and what game or play they remember.

How did Mount Union help you find your passion for sport business?
The passion of the professors comes through in their knowledge and network with leaders in the industry.

Why would you encourage current students to major in sport business?
It is a very rewarding career and you can really have an impact on people’s lives in a positive way. That can come in the form of creating a memory for a family or helping business clients transform their businesses.



MacKenzie Parsons ’14
Account Coordinator, Home Team Marketing

I communicate daily with parent companies, contact new business leads, create contracts for new clients, organize the new hire on-boarding process and complete data and analytical research.

What do you enjoy most about working in Cleveland?
My favorite part about working in Cleveland is the diversity. Cleveland brought me to some really incredible people.

How did the sport business program at Mount Union help prepare you for your future?
The professors in the program provided me with so many opportunities to help prepare me for a future in sport business. They set up guest speakers, interview assignments, real-life sales experiences, event planning projects and so much more. Throughout my career thus far, I’ve come across multiple projects that were assigned in sport business classes that have been applied to real-life scenarios.


Building Networks for Success

Todd FlemingExceptional Education – Building Networks for Success
Sport Business Program Prepares Students for Post-Grad Prosperity

The sport industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing economic enterprises in the world. Audiences from across the globe witness the competitions that take place in a host of different international venues. People from all walks of life come together based on their devotion to the team out on the gridiron, court or pitch of their choosing. The athletes take center stage and receive much of the recognition for their hard work, yet it is today’s sport business professionals who must adapt their behind-the scenes efforts to the field’s ever-changing culture.

The faculty and staff of the University of Mount Union’s sport business program, a part of the Department of Human Performance and Sport Business, recognize the need to prepare students for a number of different career options they may pursue.

Among the common career fields of the program’s alumni are: professional sport organizations, recreation, fitness clubs and YMCAs, event management and national sport governing bodies. Without diving into detail regarding specific occupations within the careers mentioned, one can see the diverse opportunities students are presented with after graduating.

As the program began to grow in popularity, Dr. Jim Thoma, director of the sport business program at Mount Union, was hired when the program was only three years old.

“My assignment was to add more depth to the program,” Thoma said. “After a couple of years at Mount, I realized that two tests, a research paper and a final exam were not going to prepare our students for life in the sport business field. That began the transition to experiential learning through a steady diet of practical projects, research, public speaking and improved writing skills.”

Although a love of sports is encouraged, the goals of the program focus more on the professional abilities and skills Thoma implemented early in the life of the program. Written and oral communications are benchmarks for much of the curriculum within the program, as employers from almost every field are focused on hiring strong candidates with those skills.

What may be most impactful for some Mount Union students are the lessons that do not come from a textbook or presentation. One of the goals of the sport business program is to prepare students for responsible citizenship, both in and out of the workplace. In most of the classes offered by the program, students are required to dress in business professional attire when giving presentations or speeches, getting them ready to become professional employees in any setting.

The program’s professors and speakers are seasoned industry professionals who are figureheads for best practices in the field. Armed with this experience, these individuals are well positioned to guide students.

“Dr. [Lori] Braa is my favorite professor,” said Sarah Heilman ’16, a recent sport business graduate of Howland, Ohio. “Her classes are always entertaining and worthwhile. She serves as an incredible role model for me as a successful, strong woman in the sport business world.”

The faculty of the program also understand the strong importance of the liberal arts. The program is designed to give students the option to potentially double major, earn a second minor or study abroad, all while still being on course to graduate in four years. Students and faculty members know the importance of being well-rounded while searching for a job right out of college.

“The benefits of an education grounded in the liberal arts are that you get to explore areas that you would never have thought of before,” said Kelsey Coleman ’18, a sport business major of Rittman, Ohio. “This type of education expands your horizons and your intelligence. I have been able to learn about classical music, the country of France and many other things all while learning about sport business.”

Brent Stehlik and AJ Gioglio

Experiential Learning

Much of the curriculum in the sport business program is rooted in hands-on learning. The focal points of such learning are numerous. The sport sales course taught by Dr. Jim Kadlecek, associate professor of human performance and sport business, provides an example of one of the focal points. The sales courses focus more on the concept of garnering skills by role-playing real scenarios in the ticket sales world rather than typical quizzes or exams. Each semester, students have the opportunity to sell tickets for the Cleveland Cavaliers as a part of the introductory sales course.

In the fall of 2015, Danielle Augustin ’16 of Olmsted Falls, Ohio, broke the class record by selling nearly $10,000 worth of tickets for the organization in less than three months. Results like Augustin’s are incredible and illustrate the benefits of the program. She made real sales with real customers and, in the process, made the Cavaliers organization some very real money.

Other focal point examples include creating and running events on campus, developing sponsorship proposals while working with and for professional teams, writing and presenting bid proposals for international events to professional experts and completing individualized projects that meet the needs of sport and recreation organizations. In reality, the list goes on and on and all of these opportunities prepare students to perform at a high level from the moment they start their careers.

As mentioned previously, one of the cornerstones of today’s sport business professional is the ability to adapt to any situation. Because of the constantly changing professional climate, the faculty of the program are always pulling current events into their classroom lessons. New training techniques, rule changes in a given sport and many other observations can be pulled right fromthe news headlines into useful tools for students.

The utilization of some of those new tools and technologies in the industry make it very easy for most of the program’s courses to fulfill the project-centric mindset that Thoma created years ago. In a field that may change with new information daily, the faculty has recognized that hands-on projects have the potential to be incredibly valuable, keeping students up-to-date by the time they are wearing their caps and gowns.

Sport Sales WorkshopConnections for the Future

“I believe our University provides real-world experience,” said Dr. Lori Braa, assistant professor of human performance and sport business. “In sport business, our curriculum is based on giving students situations they will face in everyday life. Our students graduate with experience on their resumes that many programs do not provide, thus making them more marketable in the workplace.”

If you were to walk into the office of any one of the sport business faculty members and ask them what the biggest takeaway is for a sport business major’s future, they would say one word: networking.

Mount Union’s sport business program is one of the most successful programs in the nation when it comes to alumni connections. There are currently more than a dozen Mount Union alumni who hold management-level or higher positions with professional sports teams. All of those alumni have attended the Sport Sales Workshop and Job Fair (SSWJF) as either students or trainers; some have even attended as both.

The SSWJF is in its 12th year and is organized by Kadlecek with the help of the Cavaliers organization, as the host site is Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The purpose of the SSWJF is to connect students with professionals in the sport business world. The 2016 event featured representatives from more than 40 professional organizations and had more than 100 students in attendance from institutions across the country.

Much of the day-long event consists of the professionals giving students special training sessions. Job and internship interviews take place during the day for the upperclass students, potentially helping those students obtain positions within the field immediately after graduation.

Mike Dellosa ’07, director of season ticket sales and inside sales for the Arizona Diamondbacks, has attended the event as both a student and a trainer.

“It’s not just the quantity of students that attend, it’s the quality. Both seem to get better every year,” he said.

The program also offers annual trips to the Robert Morris University Conference to help network with other members of the sport world. In addition, Kadlecek takes a small group of students each year to New York City to tour the NBA, NHL and New York Yankees executive offices, as well as Madison Square Garden. While in New York City, the groups have connected with Ed Kiernan ’96, president and founding partner of Engine Shop Agency, a sport marketing agency headquartered in New York City.

Other trips organized include Braa’s student trip to the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she worked for five years, and a behind-the-scenes trip to the athletic and recreational facilities at The Ohio State University, hosted by Mount Union alumni Rob Jech ’01 and Joel Swaney ’11.

Mount Union faculty, staff and students travel far and wide to help bolster success for all students, and the sport business program does a great job of bringing impactful alumni back to campus with a speaker series each year. Experienced alumni in diverse fields as well as recent graduates who have taken their first steps to meaningful careers come to campus to talk to students about best practices to succeed and reach their goals.

During the 2016 Spring Semester, the program presented talks from the likes of Brent Stehlik ’99, chief revenue officer and executive vice president of the Cleveland Browns; Todd Fleming ’00, vice president and general manager of Legends Global Sales; and Jennifer Keurulainen ’03, former vice president of sport for The Special Olympics World Games. Industry experts are a resource students can use for future career advice.

“I still get daily emails informing me about available internships or job opportunities in my field from the sport business faculty,” said Heilman. “My professors have given me guidance to get ahead of the game. Mount Union has also provided many leadership opportunities on campus that I have taken advantage of, preparing me to be a leader in the future.”

When asked about the direction of the program moving forward, Thoma is optimistic about the faculty’s ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape.

“[My hope is] that the faculty continue to learn from industry professionals about what we need to do in order to prepare our students to excel in their chosen profession, be it sport related or not,” he said.

Stepping Up to the Sport Business Plate

Erin SimmonsInspiring Stories

Stepping Up to the Sports Business Plate

Erin Simmons ’16 is Excited to be Working for Cleveland Cavaliers

By: Jamie Eyssen '16 

It is always an exciting opportunity when you are able to turn a passion into a career, something that Erin Simmons ’16 experienced when she chose to go into the field of sport business.

“I have been an athlete since kindergarten so sports have always been in my life,” Simmons said. “The fact that you can actually make a career out of it is what interested me the most.”

Although she has always had a passion for athletics, Simmons came onto campus her freshman year at the University of Mount Union as a biology major looking to pursue a career in education. However, it did not take her long to find herself in the sport business program at Mount Union.

“After meeting kids from other sport business programs, you realize how good you have it here at Mount,” Simmons said. “The professors do a really good job of actually getting us out in the industry and working with people who are doing things that we might be doing when we graduate.”

One way that Simmons and other students in the sport business program have received hands-on experience is through the annual Sport Sales Workshop and Job Fair hosted by the sport business program every year in Cleveland, Ohio. During the workshop, students have the opportunity to attend breakout sessions to learn more about the field and network with individuals in the profession. Simmons attended the workshop for two years and then was able to assist Dr. Jim Kadlecek, the workshop director and associate professor of human performance and sport business at Mount Union, in running the workshop this past winter.

“There are so many industry professionals who come to the event from all over the country,” Simmons said. “It allows everyone to meet people in the industry and start making those connections that help them out later on.”

It was through her connections formed at the workshop that Simmons was offered a full-time job opportunity with the Cleveland Cavaliers upon graduation in May. Previously, the workshop helped Simmons secure internship positions with the Cleveland Gladiators and the Canton Charge, both of which helped lead her to her current position with the Cavaliers.

“It was pretty much all from the sport sales workshop,” Simmons said. “The Cavs organization is a great one and I have gotten to know a lot of people up there already. Being able to have the opportunity to work for the Cavs is just really exciting.”

In addition to attending the workshop, Simmons gained experience in the industry through various classroom projects. All of these projects have given Simmons the hands-on experience necessary for entering the sport business field. Simmons’ favorite experience was a corporate partnership project through which her group put together a partnership proposal that they pitched directly to the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Our pitch was about a partner whom they were actually trying to secure so they could take some of our ideas and actually use them,” Simmons said. “We pitched it to their partnership people, which made it very nerve wracking, but once it was over I was like ‘Wow, I really just did that.’”

Not only does Simmons know how important hands-on experience in the classroom can be, she also knows how crucial being involved outside the classroom will be to her future career. Through working with the Sport Marketing Association, she has had the opportunity to travel to different events in Atlanta, Georgia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Simmons has also interned for the National Sports Forum in Cincinnati, Ohio and Portland, Oregon. She credits her exceptional professors in the sport business program for leading her to these opportunities.

“You have to use your professors as a resource,” Simmons said. “They are there to help you. If there is somebody that you want to get to know in the sports industry, one of them will know him or her or know someone who knows them.”

Not only is Simmons’ plate full with her passion for the sports sales industry; she was a starting pitcher for the Mount Union softball team. She said her involvement in athletics helped set her apart in her academic field as well.

“When you go to interviews with these teams, they look for athletes, especially for sales,” Simmons said. “They look for somebody who is coachable and if you have been an athlete throughout college you are going to have that trait.”

Leadership is another important trait that Simmons has learned through softball.

“The field of sports is very competitive and there are a lot of people now trying to get into the industry,” Simmons said. “Being able to stand out through your leadership is definitely important and it will help you move up through any organization.”

As for her future goals, Simmons doesn’t fail to include Mount Union in her plans.

“I want to be able to give back to the sport business program,” Simmons said. “Alumni come back all the time and we have some top-level people in the industry now. I eventually want to be able to do that as well and tell my story to students and say ‘you can do it too.’”

Olympic Trials and Tribulations

Dr. Jim ThomaExpert Voices

Olympic Trials and Tribulations: Dr. Jim Thoma, Professor of Sports Business, Former Coach and Business Manager for Olympic Teams

Where Legends Are Born

The 2016 Games of the Olympiad, commonly called the Summer Olympics, will be held from August 4 – 22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Throughout the spring and early summer, each Olympic sport will choose its team and athletes during the Olympic trials or other qualifying methods. Interestingly, for many athletes, making an Olympic team is more important than winning an Olympic medal. The reality is that few athletes actually have a chance to earn an Olympic medal. However, once an athlete is selected to compete, that person will forever be known and introduced as an Olympian, no matter how he or she performs in the Olympic Games. This realization struck me while working at the 1980 Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon. (Note: Eugene will also host the 2016 Track and Field Olympic Trials.)

I was asked to be the business manager for the 1980 Olympic track and field team and travel with the team while representing the USA track and field federation. As such, I was able to witness the emotion of the athletes when they finished in the top three of their event and the joy they felt by making the Olympic team firsthand. Subsequently, being in the room where the newly-selected Olympians were processed for their Olympic credentials and given their Olympic uniforms was such a memorable experience for everyone there, especially the athletes. Forever an Olympian!

Now or never

One aspect that has become more well-known recently is the psychological preparation athletes experience before the Olympics. Of course all performers, athletes or not, prepare mentally for their performances. However, what is unique about the Olympics is that they are only held every four years. For many it is now or never! And the consequences of that one competition are huge.

This struck me as I was having dinner with the top USA decathlete after a competition in Berlin, Germany, in 1980. The previous Olympic decathlon champion, Bruce Jenner, had become world famous with his victory in the Montreal Olympics; he even had his picture on the Wheaties box. Being the Olympic champion and “world’s greatest athlete” is a mantra never removed. The 1980 USA decathlete had anticipated becoming equally as famous and earning a lifetime income based on the Olympic results. However, he expressed tremendous disappointment to me that he had no chance at an Olympic medal because of the Olympic boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games, something he had absolutely no control over. Now, the decathlete’s name is only known to a few.

Food or fuel?

Another interesting aspect of Olympic preparation is the food. Most Olympians are very careful with what they eat in order to maximize their competition build-up. When athletes travel to a number of countries for competition, they often have to adapt to what food is available and its preparation. In Stuttgart, Germany, the Olympic team was having dinner in the hotel. Near me I heard, “Yuck, I am not eating that!” A couple more athletes loudly agreed. The food seemed fine to me, just beef and vegetables. One athlete had read the posted menu that was on the table. The meat was “beef lips.” There was no way these athletes were going to eat beef lips, no matter how tasty. These Olympians, including an American record holder, were not going to take any chances with food that may disrupt their competition preparation!

Food preparation is not just an American idiosyncrasy. At the Asian Track and Field Championships held in Jakarta, Indonesia, I was in the dining hall with my team from the country of Brunei Darussalam. The Japanese team entered carrying their own food. They were not going to eat anything that would possibly disrupt their performances. I also observed this when my team from the state of Sabah was at the Malaysian national championships. The meals were prepared in Malay style, spicy hot, and many of my athletes did not eat this style of preparation in their daily lives. There were no other food options and some of my athletes had stomach and intestinal problems that affected their race performance preparation.

Champions’ focus

Preparation for the competition is also mental. Again, when the Olympians are traveling away from home, out of their comfort zone, any kind of disruption can affect their performances. Because this is the Olympics, any faltering becomes magnified on the international stage. For example, while traveling together in Europe, two USA Olympians had a wonderful romance. The young couple had a lovers’ spat and both were in foul moods, which had the potential to affect their athletic performances. Seeing this, a USA Olympic team official had flowers delivered to the female athlete with a note from her Olympian boyfriend. The couple reconciled, all was well, and their performances never suffered.

Being an Olympian is a lifetime honor that athletes take very seriously. The extent of the mental and physical preparation is not commonly known outside the team, but is often crucial to the athletes’ success when representing their countries. I have been honored and privileged to observe and share these experiences as a coach and administrator – something I cannot ever fully express!