NACOGDOCHES, Texas — When the NCAA selected Houston as the location for its 2023 men’s basketball Final Four, a request for volunteers was sent across Texas in January. Several Stephen F. Austin State University hospitality administration and sports business students answered the call for the tournament held March 31 through April 3.
Responsibilities included checking in guests, assisting with event activations, scanning tickets and helping fans meet basketball players at the fan fest.
“People were being sought in all areas to assist in putting on an unforgettable experience in Houston,” said Dr. Robert McDermand, senior lecturer in the Nelson Rusche College of Business’ sports business program. “We knew SFA students would be a great fit.”
Students gained insight into managing one of the biggest sports events of the year, said Dr. Mary Olle, associate professor in the James I. Perkins College of Education’s hospitality administration program.
“I am so proud of our students who participated in this event,” she said. “What a great opportunity for them to experience and learn more about what it takes to organize and execute a national sporting event, including the coordination of thousands of volunteers.”
Kailey Leighty, a senior from Waco majoring in sports business, volunteered to help with logistics and operations.
“My role was to assist in fan fest activities and ensure that the event was running smoothly,” she said.
Leighty said her career goal is to work in sports industry events.
“An event like the Final Four is exactly like something I want to be a part of,” she said. “Plus, I got to see celebrity basketball players like Magic Johnson do meet-and-greets at the fan fest.”
Emma Grotemat, a first-year student from Lindale majoring in hospitality administration, ran the photo booth at the fan fest event.
“I have always had a love and passion for sports and events; however, growing up in school, I thought working in sports just meant being a coach,” she said. “But there are so many jobs out there that are sports-related, and that's what I'm starting to dive in to.”
Grotemat said she likes the gametime atmosphere.
“I love seeing people all excited for the games and just getting to welcome them in. For some of them, the Final Four is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so I wanted to help make their experience the best one.”
Jake Walston, a senior from Cypress majoring in sports business and management, gave guests directions, kept people in designated areas and scanned tickets for entry at the Final Four. He also networked with sports business professionals and other college students who have similar interests and career goals.
“I met some awesome people already working in sports, and I was able to make some great connections,” Walston said. “My volunteering experience showed me the different opportunities out there in the sports world.”