Que’brelyn Hill grew up only minutes away from the Independence Bowl. She’s been to the state fair and other activities and events, but she’s never experienced a nationally televised college football game like the AdvoCare Independence Bowl.
By the time Arizona’s Wildcats and Boston College’s Eagles hit the football field for the annual Independence Bowl battle at 11:30 a.m. (today/Tuesday), Hill and a group of Grambling State University students will have been at work since before daybreak. Huddling in the brisk, frigid temps in the Independence Stadium’s “brown” parking lot, the students warmed up as they prepared to move televisions and help with other game prep this morning. Yesterday they hung a lot of signs, carefully placed field promotions and displayed school children’s art.
It’s a part of a joint agreement between the city’s Independence Bowl and GSU, giving the big game’s small staff some extra hands and help while providing eager students with valuable, and practical, experience.
This is the fourth year Grambling State students have helped prepare for the big game, but it’s not a repeat for any of the students volunteering this year.
“This is my first time,” said Hill, 27, a kinesiology and sports management major at Grambling State University interested in working in customer relations with the NBA one day. “I really want to get out and meet people. I have an interest in doing this kind of work, and I love to volunteer.”
This sports-university partnership blossomed when Willie Daniel, GSU’s head of the department of kinesiology, sport and leisure studies, responded to an email sent by Jeff Dittmer, assistant executive director for sales with the Independence Bowl in 2010. Dittmer sent several emails to multiple universities suggesting partnerships. Two responded. One has built the idea into an annual event.
Obadiah Simmons, an associate professor and the Robert L. Piper Endowed Professor in the university’s College of Education, has been the primary faculty facilitator and mentor, working with Christina Gipson, an assistant professor of sports management who joined the faculty three years ago.
“This is such a great opportunity for students, especially those who think they want to go into sports administration or management and they haven’t experienced a major college football game like this,” said Simmons. “Jeff and the Independence Bowl staff have been great partners, and this has definitely been a two-way street with the bowl and the university’s students benefitting.”
Simmons said it couldn’t be done without the help of Shreveport area business owners Herbert and Irma Rodgers and some GSU alums who provide support to help make the opportunities possible.
“A lot of students, like me, don’t have time to work while going to school but they really need some practical experiences,” said Dittmer. The Grambling State partnership “was just one of those natural fits….We’ve had a great relationship with Grambling.”
“What I try to teach them is why we have signs in certain places…instead of just saying ‘Put it here,'” said Dittmer. “I want them to understand that we’re … providing maximum exposure for our sponsors.”
The students spent much of Monday in the frigid temperatures affixing and placing signs, and Dittmer said the GSU students will also help with ticket distribution, media relations and event management the day of the game. “I want to get involved, help the school out, get some experience, get my name out, get my face out there and let people know I like to work,” said Ryan Burton, 19, a junior from Grambling, La. “I’ve always wanted to do anything with sports, so this is the beginning of it.”
Justin Miller, 19, stands tall, and large. He’s a tackle with the GSU football team and a sports management major. Instead of being on the football field the Ruston resident will be dashing around the stadium doing whatever needs to be done.
“I want this to be something that is a part of starting their careers,” said Dittmer, a native of Nebraska who grew up in Nebraska and Oklahoma. “Once they do this, I tell them, ‘If you guys need anything…just give me a call.”
Just recently, a Grambling State grad sent Dittmer an email thanking him for the opportunity to participate and giving him such a valuable experience that it launched him into a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “That was touching,” he said, “and that meant a lot.”
Hill is participating primarily for the experience, but she’s hoping she can prove herself to her teachers and others. “I’m hoping it will help me because I want to do an internship and it would be nice to do something close to home,” said Hill, who grew up in Shreveport’s Caddo Lake area and now calls the Sunset neighborhood home. “I know this can help me working with sports and I can show that I can show that I can work with a team. I don’t mind doing any of this. I want to show my teachers that I’m dependable and I’m a good worker – and I really want this.”