UMSL sport management students work Super Bowl LVI

Sport Management students pose outside of SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles

Karen Boleska (top left), director of the sport management program, and seven students traveled to Los Angeles to volunteer at Super Bowl LVI. The students were among the thousands of volunteers who contributed to the production of the event. They worked at field level before the game and during the first quarter, validating credentials and monitoring access to restricted areas of SoFi Stadium. (Photos courtesy of Karen Boleska)

More than 112 million people tuned in to watch the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals battle it out on the field during Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13.

While most people had to settle for watching the big game on the couch, seven lucky sport management students from the University of Missouri–St. Louis got a much closer look at the action on Super Bowl Sunday.

The students were among the thousands of volunteers who contributed to the production of the biggest sporting event in the country. They worked at field level before the game and during the first quarter, validating credentials and monitoring access to restricted areas of SoFi Stadium.

Junior Kalyn Ohrt said the five-day excursion to Los Angeles to work the Super Bowl was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It was a really cool, surreal experience,” Ohrt said. “I had expectations for it, but it exceeded all of them. It was really neat to be able to see the ins and outs and the behind the scenes of what it takes to actually put on a Super Bowl, and I’m sure we only saw a fraction of what actually goes on to put on such a big event.”

Karen Boleska, director of the sport management program, which is housed in the College of Education, and the participating students started planning the trip in September. Boleska puts a high priority on practical skills, seizing opportunities for industry networking and professional development.

As she discussed potential opportunities for the school year, several students put forward the idea of volunteering at the Super Bowl. Within two weeks, they had booked flights and calculated budgets for the trip. To help pay for expenses, junior Alex Elmore spearheaded a fundraiser with the St. Louis Blues.

“We just thought, ‘Why not the Super Bowl?’” Elmore said. “We decided to do it, and we made it possible.”

Boleska and the students arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday before the Super Bowl. Ahead of the game, all the students went through online training for their assignments. They also toured the stadium to familiarize themselves with the space and their posts.

The students went through online training for their assignments ahead of the game and also toured SoFi Stadium to familiarize themselves with the facility.

For them, gameday began at 5 a.m. Sunday when they met other volunteers and event officials at a nearby community college before heading to SoFi Stadium. After going through security and receiving identification, they took their places in the stadium’s underground tunnels that lead to field level.

The UMSL team worked with NFL security; CSC, an event security firm; and former FBI agents to check credentials and help direct traffic in the tunnels. Boleska said everyone was very welcoming and eager to work with student volunteers.

“The biggest thing that they stressed on us is that safety is their number one priority,” junior Jacob Vogel said. “Safety was a big deal there because there were trucks, buses and golf carts going around. Even though we were checking credentials, we are also watching out for everyone around us. When a bus would come through, we’d be telling people to watch out and make sure they’re in a safe place so that no one got hurt.”

Boleska was impressed with the team effort.

“For us to see how someone from the NFL played the same role as someone who’s volunteering there from college was super cool,” she said. “Everyone was kind of on the same playing field.”

Because they were controlling access to restricted areas, the students had a handful of chance encounters with celebrities. They checked credentials for Jay Z, his bodyguard and his daughter and also saw former NFL quarterback Drew Brees and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

However, one moment in particular stood out to senior Amanda Barry.

“Snoop Dogg walked past us, and that will stick with me for the rest of my life,” Barry said with a laugh.

The students’ shift ended after the first quarter, and Boleska noted that everyone had nearly forgot they were at the Super Bowl because they spent most of their time underground in access tunnels. But the elevator ride up to the mezzanine quickly reminded them. Boleska said the group was awestruck.

“We get up to that level, and the doors open, and it felt like a movie,” she said. “The doors open, and the stadium was packed with people – the Super Bowl is here. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”

In addition to volunteering at the Super Bowl, the students also took the opportunity to network in California.

Before the trip, Boleska connected with Robbie Silva, a St. Louis native and sales coordinator with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks. Silva invited the students to a Ducks game, and they got to tour the Honda Center and meet with Scott Booth, the organization’s director of ticket sales.

Barry also connected with Brandy Thigpen, who was on the committees to bring the Super Bowl and the 2028 Summer Olympics to Los Angeles. She met with the students on their first night in the city to discuss her experience with event planning and marketing.

They even found time to network at the Taste of Inglewood.

“The Clippers were there advertising their new stadium that they’re getting ready to build,” senior Josh Dietz said. “We got to meet some representatives and get LinkedIn accounts and get connected.”

But it wasn’t all business, all the time. While Boleska emphasizes the importance of professional development and networking, she also wants to help her students create memories they’ll keep with them.

“Multiple people had never been on a plane, and a majority have never been to California before,” she said. “As a leader, I’m thinking we still have to make sure that they have other memories outside of sports. That’s what we’re there for. We’re going to do it every day, but we can also fit in other things. We did the Hollywood sign, and we went up to the observatory. We did the Walk of Fame. We went to thrift shops and Muscle Beach and Santa Monica Pier. We stopped at Dodger Stadium on our way out. We did all these small things because we’re still there to build memories.”


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