Wakeland Sports Management: Redefining the High School Experience

By: D.J. Podgorny, @DJPodgorny

For most students, getting an internship during your junior or senior year of college is deemed a success. At Frisco Independent School District (ISD) in Frisco, Texas, however, this standard is being completely redefined.

This year, more than 40 students from four different schools will hold internship positions at sports and entertainment companies throughout the Frisco area. These students will have an opportunity to experience the fundamentals of the sports industry firsthand and hear from top executives, all before ever setting foot on a college campus.

“Students are getting a base understanding of the ins and the outs of the industry,” said Leon Friedrich, the instructor for the Sports Management, Marketing, Finance and Business courses at Justin Wakeland High School.

“The fact that they get to work next to somebody in the morning in a professional organization, to see how people work and what they do to maintain a level of professionalism in an office setting, that’s a great thing.”

Students at Wakeland have the opportunity to take an elective course that provides the foundation of sports and entertainment marketing in their sophomore or junior year. After completion of this course, the students are then given the chance to apply for a continuation course in their junior or senior year that features an internship with a local sports organization.

After a rigorous application and interview process, only a select group of students are selected to participate in the internship program. For the 2016 school year, students were selected from Wakeland, Lone Star and Centennial high schools, as well as the Career and Technical Education Center.

“It takes a high caliber of student to participate in this program and we have been fortunate that the district has that,” Friedrich commented.

Leon Friedrich - Instructor for the Sports Management Internship Program

These students then report to their assignments during the first half of the school day, performing tasks varying from marketing to operations to social media and everywhere in between. The hands-on experience allows the students to validate their interest in the industry early on, providing unheralded value towards their long term success.

“In terms of the overall ability to get your feet wet and see what working in sports is about before you go to college, we’ve got a pretty unique program here,” Friedrich added.

“They are even ahead of the freshman entering college. Now they can figure out what path they want to take. For instance, perhaps they could major in Finance and minor in Sports Management or do something else entirely.”

In its third year, the Sports Management Internship Program has experienced continual growth year over year. This year’s jump to over 40 internships marks a significant uptick from 2015, in which 28 students were granted roles.

The program came to fruition due in large part to the efforts of Dr. Jeremy Lyon, Superintendent of Frisco ISD. Dr. Lyon’s advocacy for students to gain real-world experience and his ambitious, innovative mindset were critical in the execution of the program.

Additionally, Frisco Mayor Maher Maso’s involvement with the US Conference of Mayors Sports Alliance, as well as his work to recruit more sports organizations to the area, catalyzed the district’s growth and created more opportunities than ever for students.

Thus, with a keen interest to create a brand new program and a plethora of sports businesses within a ten-mile radius, the Sports Management Internship Program was created three years ago. Wakeland hired Friedrich, an industry veteran with over 25 years of experience, including stints with the Dallas Stars and The Madison Square Garden Company, to lead the way for their program.

“It’s easy to take life experiences and relay them in the classroom when you’ve done it,” explained Friedrich.

“I’m happy to share my stories with my students and [my background] also helps with the relationship building with internship partners because it adds some credibility.”

In the first three years, partners have included the Dallas Sidekicks, EXOS, Michael Johnson Performance, Texas Legends, Professional Futsal League, Southland Conference, Texas Revolution, Frisco RoughRiders and Learfield. Students are oftentimes place in highly visible positions alongside college students and recent graduates.

Based on the performance of the students and the organization’s needs, the internships have the potential to continue after the semester concludes as well. Students at both Michael Johnson and the Frisco Family YMCA have been hired after the school year to help out. In one intriguing case, a student that excelled with EXOS, a sports performance company, was able to secure a once in a lifetime position with the Dallas Cowboys.

Upon completing her junior year of high school, the student was referred to Cowboys by Friedrich after they inquired about a community relations internship they needed to fill for that summer’s training camp. The student nailed the interview, landing the paid internship for the duration of the summer. Her work was so well received, she was asked to continue with the franchise and assist during a handful of Cowboys home games that fall.

This high level of performance is hardly a fluke, as the students consistently impress the industry professionals they work side by side with.

“It’s a great experience for these students and the Southland Conference is proud to be a part of this program,” said Jenny McGhee, Associate Commissioner of External Affairs at Southland Conference.

In addition to the internship component of the course, Friedrich has leveraged his network to curate 10–20 speakers per year to address the class. Speakers, such as Chuck Cooperstein of the Dallas Mavericks, Jason Stolly of BSN Sports and Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News have shared their indispensable tips and advice for the young professionals.

As the program continues its third year, the future looks even brighter for Wakeland and Frisco ISD. In addition to the continuous business development efforts Friedrich conducts to lock down new internship partners, the Dallas Cowboys new World Headquarters opened in August, in Frisco.

With the introduction of the 91-acre, 12,000 seat facility comes a wide variety of ways for students to interact outside of the classroom. The headquarters will open doors for students to participate in work experiences in facility operations, event management, culinary arts and multimedia to name a few. The district will also gain exclusive access to parts of the facilities for school events during the week including high school football games.

To add to the improvements of the content for the program, FISD Area Director for Secondary Instruction, Clarence Williams, is spearheading a partnership with local Collin College and the University of North Texas to create a pathway in which the students would receive dual credit. The objective is to provide the students with three credit hours for both the classroom activity and the internship experience, giving the students an even bigger advantage over their peers.

Only time will tell if the Sports Management Internship Program will, in fact, produce the next generation of sports business leaders. But, in the early going, all indications are pointing very favorably for Wakeland and the entire Frisco Independent School District. The future is certainly bright for these incredible students.

Front Office Sports is proud to have featured the Sports Management Internship Program at Justin Wakeland High School. We would like to thank all parties involved for their time and insight and we wish them the best in all their future endeavors. You can connect with the Sports Management Internship Program on LinkedIn or Twitter.