Staying in the Field
A talented and successful group of former Binghamton University
softball student-athletes are now instrumental professional contributors
to a variety of sports organizations. This is a story about the
journey and experiences of these players from their undergraduate
playing careers to their current positions within the sports
By Matt Muzza
There is a
popular NCAA marketing slogan that states: "There are over
400,000 NCAA Student-Athletes, and just about all of us will
be going pro, in something other than sports." Although
this may be true for the vast majority of student-athletes that
come out of Binghamton, there are six former Binghamton softball
players who would tell you otherwise.
After finishing their respective softball careers at Binghamton, these women have gone on to be contributing members of a number of sports organizations, including the New York Islanders, the Western Athletic Conference, Major League Baseball and both the Rutgers and Binghamton University Athletic Departments.
In addition to being standouts on the softball diamond, these women have something else in common. They each started their professional careers as interns in BU's athletic department.
Putting the ball in play
By all accounts, Marybeth Lennox '94 was the one who paved the way for this group in their journey into the field of athletics. Lennox was a former women's soccer player at Binghamton and was a member of a team that won a SUNYAC Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament during her playing career.
After graduation, she took on the dual role of being an assistant in the athletic department while also serving as an assistant women's soccer coach. While working in the department she served in a variety of offices including game promotions, compliance, student-athlete services and business operations.
Shortly after she began working with BU athletics, the university began its transition from Division III to Division I. At this time Lennox was promoted to the role of assistant athletic director for internal operations and was later elevated to associate athletic director. It was her position in internal operations that provided Lennox an opportunity to reach out to student-athletes.
"When moving to Division I from Division III, we had needs that we couldn't fill and we didn't have a lot of funding so we got creative and started offering internship opportunities," said Lennox, now the Director of Athletics at Green Mountain College. "So we developed the intern program out of need for labor and all of those young women who are so amazing all earned their way into those internships."
"There's a shortage of women in the field and as a female who is in the field, it's great to see that a majority of the women who came in and did internships at Binghamton ended up as professionals in one way or another."
Just about all of these young women worked under Lennox at one point or another, either as an undergraduate intern or as a full-time professional staff member. All of the women credit Lennox for initially providing them with an opportunity to get involved in the sports industry as well as being a supportive mentor and educator to them.
Lehman, who later moved into a similar role as Lennox at Binghamton, offered further insight into the process and benefits of the athletic internship programs.
"When I provided internships, I tried to present the students with opportunities in different areas in athletics so they could get a sense for what they may or may not like and what they may want to pursue later in their careers," Lehman said, who is the currently the Director of Business & Operations for the WAC.
Binghamton's Assistant Athletic Director Leigh Ann Savidge added, "Binghamton's athletic department really allows its students to take advantage of any opportunity they are interested in."
Every one of the softball alums who are working in the athletic field took advantage of Binghamton's internship program as a student-athlete. This was their first taste of the athletic industry and it helped plant the seed of a future career path. The women learned valuable skills of time management and organization as they had to juggle classes, softball and their internships.
A number of them also earned positions of graduate assistantships at Binghamton following their undergraduate years. This allowed them to obtain their master's degrees while earning even more experience in college athletics. The assistantships would in turn prove to be a stepping stone for their entry into full-time careers in the sports industry.
"Without those opportunities at Binghamton, I wouldn't be where I am today," said Richardson, who is an assistant in the athletic development office at Rutgers. "I am so grateful I was able to have that opportunity to first of all play sports and second to have a quality education and then also gain experience in a field that I was interested in."
Getting called up to the big leagues
Although all of these former student-athletes got their start at Binghamton, many have made a seamless transition to other sport organizations.
Mollie Lehman would be considered the seasoned veteran of the softball alums, as she was the first of this group to start a career in athletics. As an undergraduate at Binghamton she was a part of the softball program that made the transition from Division III through Division II and eventually to Division I. On the diamond, she earned all-conference honors as both a Division III and II student-athlete and was also a two-time Division III Regional All-American.
Lehman was also able to balance her softball playing career and her class load with internships in the athletic department in internal operations as well as an internship for the Binghamton Mets, a Minor League Baseball Double-A team.
After graduation she was hired as a part-time assistant softball coach as well as a part-time administrator for men's and women's basketball event management. She eventually was promoted to a full-time position within internal operations and spent four years at Binghamton in a professional role.
Lehman was an influential member of Binghamton's host committee for the multiple conference championships that the university hosted during her time of employment. Because of this, she was able to develop a rapport with the America East as a liaison between the host site and the conference. This relationship would help her land her next job, working with sports administration and championships for the America East.
After a year and half of working out of the conference office, Lehman took a step away from her field to pursue a Master's in Business Administration at the University of Colorado. After earning her degree she was hired as Director of Business & Operations for Western Athletic Conference, a position she still currently holds.
During Lehman's coaching stint with the BU softball program, she coached Leigh Ann Savidge, an all-conference right fielder. Savidge would also later intern under Lehman for game management and internal operations and after Lehman moved on to the America East, Savidge assumed Lehman's vacated position in internal operations. Savidge is now the Assistant Athletic Director for internal operations and controls all aspects of game operations and oversees a large student worker staff.
Savidge currently sits in the role that Lehman and Lennox had before her and continues to offer internships to both students and student-athletes alike. Savidge has had a lot of success with the internship program and shares her knowledge of the sports industry with her staff and helps to mold them into future professionals who will one day work in the field.
Rose Barre is a former all-conference shortstop, and is still Binghamton's Division I record holder for highest career batting average. She did an undergraduate internship under Lehman as well as a graduate assistantship under Savidge in game operations. Barre is now a sales executive for group tickets for the New York Islanders. She knows that sometimes realizing what you want to do for a career isn't always an easy process.
"You're constantly searching for what you want to do after college and then it hits you," Barre said. "You've known all along that you're passionate about sports, but it sometimes it can take a while to figure out, even though it's right there in front of you when you're involved in sports, you already are doing what you want to do."
Lauren Verrusio took an interesting path to her current position of specialist for business public relations for Major League Baseball. During her senior year at Binghamton, she knew had a passion for sports but wanted to make sure it wasn't just an on-field passion.
"I took a job in a separate industry (Virgin Atlantic Airlines) because I wanted to make sure that the passion I felt about sports wasn't confused with the way I felt about playing softball," Verrusio said.
It wasn't long until Verrusio was back in the sports industry working for Major League Baseball.
"Sometimes you have to leave [the sports field] to find out how you really feel about it and to make sure that working in it is what you really want to do."
Verrusio is a former BUAC Citizenship Award winner; an honor bestowed to a senior student-athlete who has displayed sportsmanship, leadership and community service throughout her career at Binghamton.
Giving back to the next wave of student-athletes
Richardson and Felicia Malarkey are two more Binghamton softball alums who have it made it their daily focus to create the best possible environment for today's generation of student-athletes. Richardson and Malarkey were each members of the Binghamton softball program during the Division I transition years.
Richardson's successful playing career is evident in her honors, as she was not only an all-conference pick in Division II but was also one of the first Bearcats to earn Division I all-conference accolades in the America East in 2002.
During her undergraduate years she completed an internship under Lennox, and after graduation, was hired as a graduate assistant in development in Binghamton's athletic department. After she earned her master's degree she was employed full-time in the development office, and held that position until moving on to become an assistant director of athletic development for the Scarlet R Club at Rutgers.
Richardson has been at Rutgers for three years now and spends a lot of time working with donors and alumni. She lets the donors know how their gifts specifically impact the student-athletes, their career aspirations and fulfillment of lifelong dreams of playing college sports.
Malarkey is an academic counselor for student services at Binghamton and deals with student-athletes on more of an academic level than some of her other former teammates. Another student-athlete to play during the transition years, Malarkey did not have the benefits of a student services office to help her balance the difficult rigors of being a student-athlete.
"I chose to work in academic student services because that is why our student-athletes are here. They are students first," Malarkey said. "This office didn't exist when I was a student-athlete here and I wish it did. I would have loved to have these services when I was student-athlete that we now offer."
Malarkey has also used her own personal experiences as a student-athlete at Binghamton to help her in her job of advising the student-athletes and working with the coaches.
"I feel that being a student-athlete was a huge factor in helping me in my profession," Malarkey said. "I was once in their shoes so it makes it easier to understand the work they put in being a student-athlete. I can understand and relate to the student-athletes and coaches I work with and to the recruits and parents that I meet. I understand the importance of their Binghamton education and the discipline that it takes to be both a student and an athlete. I believe the services that we offer are absolutely needed because of the time demands that student-athletes face."
Who's On Deck?
Another softball alumnus seems to be poised to follow the footsteps of those that came before her. Sara Eppolito '08 is a former four-year member of the softball team and a current graduate student at Binghamton.
Eppolito first got involved in the sports industry from being a former teammate of Verrusio. Verrusio got Eppolito involved in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and PEER Pride. Through these student-athlete groups, Eppolitio said she was able to discover another side of sports that she was really interested in.
Eppolito is now a student manager for game operations in Binghamton's athletic department and has also spent the 2009 season as an assistant softball coach. She works under Savidge in her role with game operations. She has an interest in working in the sports industry and plans on pursuing a job in field after she finishes graduate school.
With all of these young women firmly implanted in the sports industry, and with more on the way, it seems that Binghamton's athletic department, and specifically the softball program, will become a solid feeder of extremely successful and driven women into the sports industry.
The experience earned through the internship and graduate assistant programs have been instrumental in the development of professional knowledge of the sports industry for these women. Also, Binghamton's approach of promoting from within and grooming student-athletes into future professionals has cemented a sound foundation for gaining entry into the field.
One of the greatest compliments this group has received comes from their collective mentor, and current Director of Athletics at Green Mountain College, Marybeth Lennox.
"I'm so humbled by what they've been able to accomplish and so excited that they have found careers that they enjoy," Lennox said. "I now consider them to be my peers in the sports industry."
It may be no mistake that Binghamton has aided in these women's success. The university is well-known for its progressive approach to women's athletics.
Binghamton University President Lois DeFleur is a former athlete and strong advocate of women's athletics. Also, the athletic department held its 4th Annual Celebrating Women's Athletics Luncheon this past academic year, which is part of the National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
The National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) serves to honor the achievements of all female athletes and recognize the positive influence of sports participation and Binghamton is a leader in this initiative.
The keynote speaker in Binghamton for the NGWSD was Jessica Mendoza, the President of the Women's Sports Foundation, who is also a United States Olympic Gold Medalist.
What sport did Mendoza win a gold medal in you might ask? Softball, of course.
L to R: Lauren Verrusio, Rose Barre, and Felicia Malarkey
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