What’s in a smile

My first job was as a sports information intern at the University of Central Florida. I wanted to work in college athletics and I wanted to work with a women’s basketball team. After 17 interviews in two days at the annual sports information director’s conference (CoSIDA), I ended up at UCF for that perfect opportunity.

I was told I was an assistant, I just didn’t get paid or have benefits like a real assistant. But, I really needed an internship. I needed guidance, to be taught and prepared for the real thing, like interns are supposed to be treated. My previous experience was as a graduate assistant at a Division II school and UCF was DI. It was still basketball, but it was very different.

First, there were actually more fans at the DII games. That probably was because they were there early to attend the men’s game that was to follow, but they were there. Since both men’s and women’s games were on the same day, it was easy to staff games. If you worked one, you worked them both.

Second, there was TV, radio, and a few media outlets at DII games but the “real” media (local newspaper guy) sat on the operations side, rather than the media side. Student media outlets owned the other side of the court and because they were students, no attention was given to them. And, because we did statistics by hand, no stats were provided during the game. There weren’t any real media outlets at the DI games, but there were media timeouts and we did stats with a computer. That meant at every 16, 12, 8 and 4 minute mark a stat sheet had to be “run” to the other side of the court and given to the students calling themselves media.

At the DII school, I kept stats. I watched the game and yelled out what happened. At the end of the game I worked with the boss to add and divide as fast as we could to come up with a final stat sheet that we could copy and hand out to those who mattered. Once that was done, I either left or wrote an article about the game for the school newspaper.

At the DI school my job was to find people to work the games and to provide the media whatever they needed. I needed an official scorer, a clock operator, 30-second shot clock operator, an announcer, two statisticians and runners to make copies and provide stats to the media. I had to order pizzas for the media so they had something to munch on prior to the game, ideally while looking at the game notes I spent hours working on for them, but mostly just as incentive to show up. After the game I would use the runners to make copies and hand out stats to the media and the coaching staffs of each team, freeing me up to get the coaches and players ready for media interviews. Once the interviews were done I would write a press release about the game and send it to the “real” media that didn’t show up for the game.

It was a big difference and despite being given instructions on what to do, and a giant list of what to take to the arena (I also had to set everything up and tear everything down for the games), I was absolutely shocked that my first game was, well, mine. No one helped me. And, you know, I mean, I’m a big girl – you can throw me in the deep end. But, I couldn’t believe, as an intern, I was given this responsibility with verbal guidance and a sheet of paper with a list on it. I knew I wouldn’t trust an intern to do that type of work when I became boss*.

Finding the staff to work wasn’t too difficult; the same people had been doing it for several years. The problem was they were old men stuck in their ways. They showed up 10 minutes before the game, just enough time to snag pizza and read through my work looking for mistakes they could point out to me. This would almost always give me a heart attack because I had no way to replace them in less than 10 minutes if they didn’t actually show up. And then to pick on me? It was a struggle to accept and as much as I wanted to find new people to work the games, I wasn’t allowed to because “they had been doing it so long.” I knew I wouldn’t accept that type of work, or treatment to one of my employees, when I became boss*.

Runners were students, paid only in pizza. I could rarely find them, which meant that I had to do their work. That was fine during the game, I would wait for the stats to come out of the printer and run them over to the other side of the court. I’d come back, sit down for a few minutes and do it again. At halftime, I’d run to each locker room, give a set to the coaching staffs and then make copies to prepare for the end of the game. The tricky part came at the end of the game. Making copies, handing out the copies, grabbing coaches and players for interviews, tearing down the equipment, hoping a piece of pizza was left for me, and writing a press release that wouldn’t be used causing the coach to scream at me the next day for not getting media coverage – it took its toll on me quick.

Before the conference season started I was miserable. I was all business, all the time. Get me the stuff so I can get it where it needs to go. Period. Leave me the *&(! alone otherwise. I remember once during a timeout I was grabbed by the SWA (the “senior” woman administrator of the department). She pulled me close and said, “Try smiling.” First, I looked at her confused, and then I tried not to kill her with my look of anger and frustration as I continued my run to the other side.

I met a lot of people along the way who were just like me — worn down to a nub before turning 25 because of women’s basketball. Some people came from schools that actually did have coverage for their team and I envied them. The work they were doing was useful and I wanted that too. I could see it in their eyes, the sorrow they had for me and my pathetic attempt to be good at something that didn’t matter enough for anyone – even in my own office – to show up and watch. The sad look they had for me as they handed me band aids for the blisters on my feet from wearing heels to go with my suits that I wore so I would be respected. I loved basketball but every game I worked a piece of that love left.

I didn’t want to be out of love with basketball and I didn’t want to ignore the criticism I had been offered, so I tried smiling. Every time I walked by the SWA I would smile, forcefully and fake. It disappointed her, but I was young and miserable. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized the benefit of smiling.


* I never became the boss.