In This Issue:
For pro sports fans everywhere, this is an especially exciting time of year. Your favorite baseball teams are reemerging on the spring training diamonds down in Florida and the NCAA college basketball tournament is in the middle of a full-court press.
While some of you may be content to watch the action from the sidelines, others want nothing more than to be sweating it out on the field, court or rink. If you want to play sports professionally after high school and college and you’ve got the sporting goods, then the best advice, say the pros, is to give it all you’ve got. There are lots of players vying for a finite number of spots, whatever sport you choose, and you have to be totally devoted and willing to make sacrifices to advance to the big leagues. Even then, it’s going to be tough.
You don’t need to wear a uniform to have a successful career in sports. Countless other executives and managers are at work to let the games begin—and continue long past the exit of screaming fans. Here is a sampling of other sports industry careers:
According to Mark Washo, a sports exec and author of the book “Break Into Sports Through Ticket Sales,” one of the best ways to break into sports is to network at sports marketing events and approach sports executives for informational interviews. Ask lots of questions! You can reach out to professionals on local teams and also join groups on Linkedin specific to the sports industry. And never underestimate the power of an internship with a team or related sports organization to get your foot in the door and your name on the minds of future sports employers. For more tips, check out this article from Sportsnetworker.com: http://www.sportsnetworker.com/2011/03/09/exclusive-secrets-to-landing-your-dream-sports-job-from-an-industry-insider/.
Talk about commitment. Brendan Cusack, a senior at North Hunterdon High School, has been practicing his sport of choice five days a week, every week for seven straight years. “When I was younger, my friends and I were into fighting with sticks outside and I asked my dad if I could try fencing,” says Brendan, 18. “I’ve been at the Clinton Fencing Club ever since.”
And a lot of other places, too. Brendan, who won the New Jersey State High School Fencing Championship for the first time on March 13 (beating Andrew Ark of Ridge High School in Basking Ridge), has competed in Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Austria, England and Azerbaijan (to name a few) to challenge the world’s top young players in the stately sport of foil fencing. While Brendan lives and trains in Hunterdon County, he is a member of the Irish national team, acquiring Irish citizenship from his grandfather, John Cusack. Brendan’s ranking has catapulted in the past year into the top 40 for fencers under 20, due in large part to his victory at the Irish Open Championship in Dublin late last year and bronze medal at the Junior World Cup in Aix-en-Provence, France last month. He heads to the Junior World Championships in Jordan on April 3.
Brendan says he has always had natural speed—a gift of genetics (his dad Michael was once a substitute for the Olympic cycling team in Ireland). “I really like individual sports and I like that fencing is pretty aggressive,” says Brendan, who adds that fencing is also known as physical chess for its mix of strategy and athleticism. “I’m very unconventional when I fence. I use a lot of my body. I’m very explosive. The most important thing about fencing is to hit the target and be there as fast as possible.”
Brendan, who works as an assistant coach at the Clinton Fencing Club, would like to pursue fencing as a career, though he admits it’s not very lucrative. Still, he is aiming for the Olympics in 2012 or 2016 and would like to qualify next year for the senior world championships. If fencing doesn’t work out—he’s got a plan. “I’m in a polytech class for health science and then I’ll take a program to become certified as a personal athletic trainer,” says Brendan. “I’ve always wanted to be an athletic trainer or a nutritionist.” He also intends to take a year off from education after graduation in hopes of competing in the Olympics and then possibly go on to college.
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Real People column’s “View All” feature and selecting “Brendan Cusack.”
Some 10 schools in New Jersey, from Cape May to Manasquan, have competitive high school surfing teams. Top among them is the team from Cape May County’s Ocean City High School. Chris Kelly, one of the best surfers in the Northeast, is a 2009 graduate of Ocean City High School, where he was considered New Jersey’s best high school surfer. Chris, 20, is pursuing a career as a surfer, which isn’t all about competing. He is sponsored by top companies like Monster Energy Drinks and Fox Clothing (free stuff!), and he is well known on the surf circuit. He talked with njnextstop.org about high school surfing, reality show stardom on MTV2’s School of Surf and the life of a semi-pro surfer.
NJ Next: How did you get into surfing?
Chris: I started surfing when I was 6 years old. I used to spend my summers in Hawaii visiting my family. I’ve been hooked since my uncle taught my brother Rob and me at Waikiki Beach. I went back home to Bucks County, Pa., where we lived at the time, and we ended up going down to the shore at Ocean City, N.J. I bought a board there and started surfing. My family moved to Ocean City the summer after I finished 7th Grade.
NJ Next: What captivated you about surfing?
Chris: You can do a lot of sports for an hour or two and get bored. With surfing you can go to the beach and make it an all-day thing and it never gets boring. It’s always changing with the waves and the weather.
NJ Next: What was it like participating in a high school surf team?
Chris: Our Ocean City High surf team was pretty awesome. I started on the A team freshman year, which was one of my goals moving into Ocean City. My brother was on there and all my good friends. We surfed all year long. The surf team was in September and October. We would surf all day after school and have mock heats and contests within the team. We challenged other teams around us in order to practice for state championships, which were usually October 15. Usually the next two weeks after that the surf would start to get really cold. We surfed all winter long. They make wet suits now that let you surf five hours on the coldest day of the year.
NJ Next: In early 2010, Ocean City Surf Team was featured on MTV2’s School of Surf, a reality TV series that documented two high school surf teams in their daily lives and their experiences surfing the Red Bull Riders Cup to the national championships in spring 2009. The other surf team on the show was Malibu High School in California. You were still surfing with your high school team at the time of the filming. What was it like to star in a reality show?
Chris: It was senior year and all my best friends and I were getting ready to graduate. It was a dream come true. They picked an East Coast team and a West Coast team. The producer, Jake Burghart, wanted to pick an interesting team and not necessarily the most popular team. Surfers in Florida are known for surfing a lot better than people in Jersey or up North. He picked us because of our character. Malibu High also had a cool story. We were so excited when they picked us because we could show the world our lives and how we do what we do. They would come over on a weekend and say, ‘What would you guys normally do today?’ We went off-roading in cars or we surfed. All the camera guys and the producer were really funny. They could relate to us and made it easy for us to be ourselves. I remember one episode where we went off-roading on dirt paths in Upper Township. I took my car out, which is kind of a newer car. We were all loaded into the back, going through the mud. I remember a couple of times the camera guys hit their heads on the roof. A rock ended up getting stuck in the brake of my car and it just sounded like the axle broke. We all freaked out thinking that I broke my car. But it was probably just a pebble. We really wanted to mix it up when they were filming and show them more than just surfing. We also went cliff diving at a quarry.
NJ Next: What career will you pursue when you’re through with surfing?
Chris: A lot of surfers have the idea of surfing as long as they can in the spotlight and then working for the industry or doing something business-wise with surfing. I’d like to own a surf camp—something that involves what I learned about surfing throughout my life. I’m taking business classes to help me figure it out.
NJ Next: What’s your next surfing career highlight?
Chris: I’m really excited about the Dark Fall, a movie I’m in about surfing that came out in July. It’s a movie about surfers in New Jersey. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments. It is a documentary that shows the lives of surfers. The whole East Coast saw Dark Fall as breaking the barrier of a good surf movie. The producer is going to continue to film and may even do something else bigger and better.
NJ Next: What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career in surfing?
Chris: I would say to follow your dreams and work hard. Stay in the water as much as you can and keep practicing. Don’t worry about what anybody else thinks. Just go for it.
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Real People column’s “View All” feature and selecting “Chris Kelly.”
Athletes are often strong, quick on their feet and willing to take risks. Toss in some business skill and you’ve got yourself a great entrepreneur, someone who starts his own business.
Entrepreneurship is another avenue for the off-the-field sports star. Think sports memorabilia dealer, sports technology innovator or athletic clothing designer. And then, of course, there’s elite baseball and softball training. Diamond Nation, located in Flemington, was started by New Jersey residents Jack Cust Sr. and Jack Cust Jr. as a baseball academy in 1997. The business has grown into a full-service training facility with the largest turf softball and baseball complex in America.
Among the employee team players at Diamond Nation who have chosen to mix business with baseball is Nick Massari, assistant general manager. Nick graduated from Hamilton High West and then Monmouth University in 2006 and went on to play professionally with the Washington Wild Things of the Independent Frontier League. Post pro-baseball career, he’s now staying close to the game he loves as a manager at Diamond Nation without donning a uniform for work each day.
Chris Pincin has another cool job at Diamond Nation. A one-time all-conference basketball star and graduate of the Wendelstedt Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Florida—after which he worked for two years as an umpire in professional baseball—Chris oversees all the baseball leagues and tournaments at Diamond Nation.
Ami Iwicki, a former softball star and graduate of Hunterdon Central Regional High School, is putting her business marketing degree from Wagner College to good use as the softball coordinator and lead graphic artist at Diamond Nation. She creates marketing materials and still gets into the game as a softball coach.
These entrepreneurs and managers illustrate that you can build careers out of your passion for sports—without having to make the pros.