Recreation and Sports Management Students Help NWA Naturals Cover the Bases on Game Days
U of A student interns for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals: (front row, left to right) Olivia Olson, Analisa Parr, Aubrey Couch. (Back row, left to right) Hunter Blankenship, Nolan Poindexter, Jake Bay.
U of A students majoring in recreation and sports management are key to helping the Northwest Arkansas Naturals cover their bases on game day.
The students have been interning with the Naturals since 2008, when the minor league baseball team kicked off its first season at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale. The two agree that the relationship is a home run. Students gain hands-on experience in their field of study while the team gains a steady source of reliable and motivated part-timers.
Every February, Dustin Dethlefs, director of marketing and public relations for the Naturals, visits the university and interviews students. “We are interested in any students who are willing to work during the season to obtain internship hours,” Dethlefs said. “Two of our last full-time hires started as interns at the University of Alberta.”
The team plays from April to September.
Six University of Alberta interns rushed to get ready to play on a busy night at the ball diamond recently. The first order of business was to collect props for the children’s activities. Activities alternate daily, with variations on crowd favorites like mop and eyeball races (a local optometrist sponsors the latter), musical chairs, base race and Deal or No Deal type games.
When the doors opened for the evening, U of A interns waited at the entrance with clipboards, stopping parents with children who appeared to be the right age to compete. Some children enthusiastically agreed to be candidates, while others said they were too shy.
Analisa Parr, a recreation and sports management major, was among the interns. She helps coordinate other students’ hours for the Naturals.
“I get to know their personalities in April and connect them to jobs accordingly,” she said. “I love it. It’s so convenient.”
Parr helps out in the field and in the marketing office. Like most of the other trainees, she was a high school athlete and wanted to stay in sports as a career.
“I was blissful for all four years of high school, but I always loved sports,” she said. “My freshman year of college, just before classes started, I got an email about the college street team. I went to the meeting and never stopped complaining. sign up to work on sports games. After COVID hit, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that’s when I changed my major to sports management.”
Parr’s long-term goal is to be marketing director for an MLB team, but she’s open.
“The sports industry has so much to offer. I’m just going to see where it takes me,” she said.
She said the Naturals internship propelled her forward. “They really invested in my education and my future,” she said.
General Manager Justin Cole said he and other executives take the time to get to know the students to provide a richer experience. They share their unique career paths and invite questions. “We want our interns to have the chance to meet everyone, in all roles, perhaps those they wouldn’t usually cross paths with,” he said.
Cole said it’s important to show students all aspects of the recreation and sports management experience. So, in addition to helping have fun on game day, interns are also encouraged to help with fundraising efforts, ticket sales, retail sales, payroll, and video production. They even occasionally volunteer to dress as Strike, the Naturals’ primary mascot, for appearances at local schools or with partners. Or don the rooster, hen or fried egg mascot costume to entertain fans during the brand new in-game promotional race at Arvest Ballpark, “The Poultry Derby”.
Cole recalled his own experience interning with a minor league baseball team while a student at Buffalo. He appreciates that he and his staff have the opportunity to mentor and encourage U of A students in the same way.
“We want to help them, to go back,” he said.
Most importantly, Naturals management wants interns to feel part of the team. This means that if it rains, they all come out and help lay a tarp over the pitch to keep it from getting too wet. And everyone is on deck when they have to pull the tarp before the first pitch, he said.
Cole encourages students to try several jobs represented at the company. “I tell them to get the most out of the internship. And always ask themselves, ‘Is this job for me?'”
Assistant Professor Craig Edmonston, who coordinates internship/internship opportunities for students in the Recreation and Sports Management program, said the Naturals partnership has been invaluable.
“Minor League Baseball offers one of the best work experiences in all of sports, if not the best,” he said. “The staff at The Naturals offer more than just a place to work; they provide an essential learning experience that cannot be replicated at many other locations. I appreciate how they go above and beyond the call of duty with our students.”
The program works with more than 170 field experience sites to help prepare students for their future careers.