Fairfield Now - Summer 2007
Stags in Sports
By Meredith Guinness
Ken Arnold '88, today senior director of communications for the San Jose Sharks, has been with the team and its wildly popular mascot, S.J. Sharkie, since its founding in 1991.
Careers in the sporting world are hard to come by, but a few lucky Fairfield alumni have been able to turn a lifelong passion for a game into a rewarding, challenging, and often thrilling profession. And many credit Fairfield with showing them how to incorporate the two.
Take Ken Arnold '88. When Arnold left Fairfield, marketing degree in hand, he knew he wanted to keep hockey, a sport he'd played both in high school and college, a part of his life. "I love the speed, the action," he says. "It's the way it unfolds. It's not really choreographed. It's fluid."
So after a short stint at the National Hockey League's office and an internship at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, he headed to San Jose, Calif., where he'd snagged a job as assistant director of media relations for the San Jose Sharks, a brand new hockey team hoping to make a splash in an area not exactly known for its fascination with ice sports. All that's changed now.
"When I first got here, it was awesome," Arnold said of the start-up years. "In 1991, the major sports leagues hadn't had much change in a while. We sort of started this wave of expansion."
Soon flashy Sharks apparel was among the top-selling merchandise in all of sports. And the excitement around the team and its new arena, which also hosted concerts by headliners Barbra Streisand and Bruce Springsteen, was putting San Jose on the entertainment map. For Arnold, the thrill of the sport is nearly matched by the excitement of building a new team, one that's got a real shot at the Stanley Cup this season. Now senior director of communications for the Sharks and Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment, he travels with the team on occasion and oversees media interviews, the organization's websites, published pocket schedules and media guides, public relations for HP Pavilion, and their wildly popular mascot, S.J. Sharkie (no, he's not a Jesuit).
During Steve Corvi's days as a professional umpire, calling balls and strikes were not the only perils of the game.
"I expected to be here three, maybe five years and then move back east," says Arnold, a New Jersey native who's set down San Jose roots with his wife and three children. "But this has been a wonderful experience and a tremendous area of the country to live in."
And it's not like Arnold has abandoned his roots - or Fairfield. Every year, he and about 20 other college friends get together for a golf "fun raiser" in Rhode Island. "Rain or shine," he said. "We'll play in downpours if we have to. We really formed some lasting friendships at Fairfield."
Moving and traveling are part and parcel of a career in sports for many alumni. It wasn't uncommon for Steve Corvi '95 to drive 30,000 miles in a seven-month season when he was a professional umpire, a career he chose after a planned Fulbright scholarship year fell through at the last minute after his Fairfield Commencement. Instead of Italy, he found himself in Florida at one of three U.S. umpire schools. Serving a highly competitive field, the schools trained about 300 hopefuls vying for a precious 20 spots in the minor league and single and double A baseball. "It's five weeks, six days a week," Corvi said of the experience. "It's like boot camp, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m." But it does prepare you for the rigors of the job.
Corvi, who umpired for single and double A games in six leagues, was often on the road for seven months straight, a schedule he tolerated until his wife and two daughters came along. Now he's content to umpire college games on weekends around his job as head of operations at Phoenix-based Applied Materials, which builds machines that create computer chips for Intel and other companies.
One way that attorney (and former Stags basketball player) Barbara Robb '90 stays close to the game is through her specialty in employment law, which includes negotiating contracts for college coaches.
In the final weeks of umpire school, instructors actually run out on the field to yell at students, giving them a taste of what's to come. "The first few years I had 25 or 35 ejections," Corvi says. "People can get pretty ugly. I've been head butted. I've had coolers thrown. One coach took off his shirt on the field. The worst thing an umpire can do is react. It definitely teaches you patience."
Patience and an eye for detail are tools Barbara Robb '90 relies on when working with basketball coaches' contracts and employment issues through her Boston-based law firm Shilepsky O'Connell Casey Hartley Michon Yelen LLP. Robb, an attorney who has specialized in employment law for about seven years, said coaches often ask her for legal and/or contract advice and she's helped about 10, including Pam Borton, who coached the University of Minnesota to the NCAA Final Four in 2004.
Robb, who played at Fairfield and was a student assistant coach under former Head Coach Dianne Nolan her senior year, said her time on the team, and studying for her politics degree instilled in her the strong work ethic and teamwork skills so important in a law office. She also understands the precise wording needed in a coach's contract.
"With every client you have to know what they do to better represent them," she said. "With coaches, I don't have to do that legwork. When you coach at a Division 1 program, there's incredible pressure. They work seven days a week, all day. I understand that."
Former varsity player Ed Horne '86 has found a home in the National Hockey League, as president of NHL Enterprises.
Sometimes the pressure on the court is mirrored behind the scenes. Ed Horne '86, president of NHL Enterprises, has been responsible for league sponsorships, broadcasting, licensing, and club relationships through a very turbulent time in hockey: The 2004 player lockout cancelled the entire season, the first time ever a major sports league cancelled a season for labor disputes. "The economics of the game was broken and we had to shut down and improve the product and the game on the ice," Horne says.
But Horne has never turned his back on the sport he loved, which is more popular than ever. Having played as a kid growing up in New Jersey and for four years at Fairfield, he worked his way up the ranks, eventually officiating games at the Calgary Olympics when he was only in his early 20s. Time spent refereeing in the minor professional leagues, where he experienced firsthand the same pressure Corvi witnessed on the baseball diamond, made him rethink his career goals. "It was at that point that I also began to understand the potential to combine my sports experience and my Fairfield education into a career in the business side of sports," he said. He's never looked back. "It's not easy to get into the field because, like me, most people are very happy with their jobs."
You want happy? Talk to Chris D'Orso '88. A communication major, D'Orso left Fairfield thinking he'd get into entertainment - and in a warmer climate. He had job prospects with CBS News in Los Angeles and Disney MGM Studios. But, in 1989, he took an internship with the newly created Orlando Magic basketball team. Warm weather? Check. Entertainment? Try watching Shaquille O'Neal in his rookie season. With 18 seasons under his belt, D'Orso, now vice president, marketing and ticket sales, enjoys bringing his wife and two children to the Orlando's Amway Arena. "The years have gone by in a flash," he says.
While it might not seem like the flashiest of jobs, D'Orso says his staff's work is vital. "Ticket sales are the life blood of any pro sports team," he says, noting that sales ebb and flow depending on the action on the floor. When Shaq left for the Los Angeles Lakers, there was a little lull, but things are definitely heating up around center Dwight Howard, now in his second year with the Magic. "Dwight Howard is one of the premiere centers in the league," D'Orso says. "They had his jersey on the Statue of Liberty at the New York, New York Hotel in Vegas during the All-Star break!"
Moments like that make lasting memories for D'Orso. "Opening night. I'll never forget our first game. That and when we played the Bulls in the playoffs and, with a few seconds left, Nick Anderson picked off Michael Jordan," he says, sighing. "Unbelievable."
An old family friend led Thomas Kushner '86 into a career in sports. An old family friend named Joe Torre. Orphaned at a young age, Kushner said he always looked up to the Yankee general manager, who is the father of one of his lifelong friends. Kushner was having dinner with Torre one night when talk turned to baseball. Already a board member of the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, which develops educational programs to end the cycle of domestic violence, Kushner peppered him with questions about the business side of the sport.
Soon the New Canaan resident, who had once been involved in Michigan's Ann Arbor Ice Cube, was sitting in another restaurant - this time in Bridgeport - discussing plans to buy the Bridgeport Bluefish baseball team, with Jack McGregor and Mary-Jane Foster, former owners who wanted to give it another go. The team ushered in the 2006 season with a dozen new owners, a new coach - former Dodgers pitching star Tommy John - and big plans to make the Bluefish experience even more fun for the whole family with a new Jumbotron and more tasty treats at the snack bar.
Kushner has high hopes for the coming season. "Last year, nine players went back to the majors," says the former marketing major, who often entertains family and friends in the owner's box. "It's really competitive. These guys are really hungry. But at the end of the day, it's about the fans. You can poll people leaving the game and two-thirds of them might not know what the final score was, but they know if they had a good time or not."
|Tom Kushner '86, an owner of the Bridgeport Bluefish, takes special delight in bringing his son, Daniel, 10, to the stadium in Bridgeport.|
Two more Fairfield alumnae are just coming off their first season in sports - first fashion season, that is. In January 2006, Melissa Maundrell and Dana Coppolino, both '00, and their designer friend, Nicole Bonderheide, unveiled Verdina, their new line of golf apparel geared to the sophisticated woman looking for fashion-forward style. Company president Coppolino studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology after earning a marketing degree from Fairfield. While working for Nautica, she met Bonderheide, senior vice president of design, and the pair turned to Maundrell, now senior vice president of sales and marketing, for her business acumen. Maundrell, who holds a finance degree, had also been learning a little about golf through her job with Deutsch Bank. "Where I was working, many of the guys would go out on golf outings and I had to learn how to play," she says. "I had no choice." She soon realized she had few choices for apparel, either. "Back then, the clothing was horrendous. They were just men's clothes cut in smaller sizes."
Wearing their Verdina Line of golf apparel, Melissa Maundrell '00 (left) and Dana Coppolino '00 show how adding a jacket or putting on heels make the collection suitable after a day on the links as well.
She and Coppolino are changing all that. Their line of skorts, capri pants, and bias cut and drop-waisted dresses - often fitted with tabs for tees and d-rings - is winning fans on the fairways among those who like the ease of playing a round, slipping on some heels, and heading for dinner at the club. "I knew there was a need for it, but I didn't start really paying attention until I started playing golf four years ago," Coppolino says. "We're trying to do things differently, to make it not look like golf clothing."
The team relies on feedback from actual golfers, including those they've met through their affiliation with LPGA pros In the Fight to Eradicate breast cancer (LIFE), founded by golfer/commentator Val Skinner after her friend succumbed to the disease. Verdina donates to the foundation 50 percent of the profits from two items it sells. It's an outgrowth of Maudrell and Coppolino's commitment to community service. While at Fairfield, both participated in Hunger Cleanup and Maundrell took a mission trip to West Virginia in 1998. "It was very important for us to associate ourselves with a cause we believe in," she says. "And that really started when we were in Fairfield."
Maundrell admits that starting a new company was a bit daunting. But the friendship and expertise the three women had built gave them the confidence to test the waters. "Women are the largest growing part of the game so it's a great time to be in the industry," she says. "We just sort of held each others' hands and jumped in."
Both Maundrell and Coppolino were back on campus recently to help Coppolino's sister, Ashley, settle in for her first year at Fairfield. "We were so excited to be back and I think the other people were thinking 'Who are these women? They're not students," says Coppolino, laughing. "But we just loved Fairfield. I got so much out of my education there, things that I'm using today. I can't say enough about it."