Super Bowl internship opens eyes to new paths

Posted on Feb 12 2012 in Features

Cassie Screeton echoes the big “thanks” to the NFL for bringing the Super Bowl to Indiana. Screeton has served as a host committee intern since last August.

By the time Super Bowl XLVI kicks off in Indianapolis Feb. 5, 150,000 visitors are expected to have flocked in for the game and the 10 days of events preceding it. Some 8,000 Hoosier volunteers in handmade blue and white scarves will have provided them assistance and hospitality.But since last summer, a core group of 13 Super Bowl host committee interns has been working 50-,60-, even 70-hour weeks alongside 35 professional staffers to ensure the event surpasses all expectations. Like the dreamy-eyed youngsters of yesteryear who ran off to join the circus, these dedicated interns — all recent college graduates — put aside more immediate career plans to join this generation’s version of the greatest show on earth.“My degree is in economics and finance, so I was about to take a job in banking,” said Cassie Screeton, one of the interns who works in donor services. “I mean: it’s the Super Bowl! … I don’t know how anyone turns this down.”

Ten days after the game, Screeton will turn 23 and have to start thinking again about her first “real” post-college job. Her internship ends when the NFL drops the big top and heads for the next Super Bowl town, and the Indy host committee starts packing it in for good. For Screeton, a Fulton County native, the Super Bowl experience has been a life-changing six-month adventure.

“I worked at a bank in college and just thought that was my path,” she said. “I think I under-estimated myself. This has just opened up my eyes to how many other different things I can do — even outside of what my degree was in. I don’t think I can go back to that after this.”

The big town

Growing up on the edge of Rochester, the Fulton County seat 90 miles north of Indianapolis, Screeton said she’s always been drawn to the state capital. “It always represented fun and exciting things for me, whether we got to go shopping for the day, or my high school team made it to the state high school basketball championships. It always represented something big.”

Screeton has always loved sports and was a high school cheerleader for the Zebras of Rochester High School and has always been a Colts fan. So, she said it’s been an extra thrill just to work in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium.

“My family is a big sports family,” she added. “ESPN was always on in our house … so, I think I secretly always thought it would be cool to do something in sports, but I never pursued it.”

Her family, which includes parents Terry and Linda and younger brothers Cameron and Carter, will be coming down to enjoy the NFL Experience and other Super Bowl festivities around Indianapolis the week before the game. Her family’s home is served by Fulton County REMC. She noted she attended her 4-H meetings at the REMC headquarters.

Screeton continued cheering in college as squad captain for the Foresters of Huntington University, just south of Fort Wayne. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree last May.

While surfing through online job listings a month before graduation, she randomly came across the graduate intern position to assist in donor services. The mystique of the Super Bowl caught her fancy, and she had experience working with donors through an internship her senior year with the Huntington County Community Foundation. She applied and was called for an interview in July. The position had more than 300 applicants. “I couldn’t believe I got to interview,” she said.

She soon was even more surprised when she was offered the position. Despite having safe-bet offers from banks and businesses that would have provided the entryway into the career for which she prepared, she opted to go for the internship — with fingers crossed, much the same way a coach goes for it on fourth and goal. She was Super Bowl bound, beginning the post-graduate internship for the most anticipated single sporting event in Indiana history.

The big game

The Super Bowl in Indianapolis was a long time coming. Since the 1980s, Indianapolis has branded itself as the amateur sports capital. Coupled with the annual spectacle of the Indy 500 and the 1990s success of the Indiana Pacers, Indianapolis proved after multiple NCAA Final Fours, Big Ten tourneys, Olympic trials and large conventions that it could handle major events and show a good time to all visitors. Though not as large as most cities hosting these events, Indianapolis found it could rely on a super contingent of volunteers to provide the necessary manpower, know-how and enthusiasm.

“Indianapolis and Indiana have a pretty strong database of volunteers dating all the way back to the Pan Am Games,” said Dianna Boyce, director of communications for the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. “There were probably 35,000 volunteers that were engaged in those games. That was in 1987 — before the days of voice mail and e-mail and computers and all of that.”

Boyce, a Zionsville resident and a consumer of Boone REMC, was a volunteer right out of college for the Pan Am Games, the Olympic-style games held every fourth summer for nations in the Western Hemisphere. Boyce has worked in a number of marketing and communications positions for the many national sporting events Indianapolis has hosted since. In between, she worked in human resources and communications for the likes of the Indianapolis mayor’s office and Methodist Hospital. She left another job to join the Super Bowl host committee as its sixth staff member in January of 2010.

Indianapolis put together its first Super Bowl bid in 2007. That was for the 45th Super Bowl played last year. Dallas nipped Indianapolis for that bid. The NFL owners encouraged Indy to come back the following year — which it did.

In May 2008, Indianapolis was chosen to host this year’s game. Among Indy’s strengths were the city’s past successes, a unique legacy project and a $25 million budget fully-funded by donors in advance, a first for any Super Bowl bid.

This will be only the fourth time in the event’s 46 years the game has been played in a “cold weather” city. Two were played in the enclosed homes of the Detroit Lions. The other was at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, home of the Vikings at the time.

Next year, the game returns to New Orleans. The 2014 Super Bowl, however, will be played not only in a cold weather city but in an open-air venue, the East Rutherford, N.J., stadium shared by the New York Giants and New York Jets. Last October, Glendale, Ariz., home of the Arizona Cardinals, was chosen to host Super Bowl XLIX in 2015.

The Indianapolis host committee, a 501(c)6 not-for-profit organization, opened its doors in the fall of 2008. Each host committee serves as an extension of the NFL in the local community to centralize all the planning and coordination of the game. The Indianapolis committee includes 60 subcommittees involving 1,000 volunteers.

The big top

Screeton is the only intern working with donors. She helped organize and plan ticket and benefit distribution to about 150 individuals, groups and corporations that pledged that original $25 million, which has since increased to $26 million.

“It has been a big logistical process,” Screeton said. Donors receive different benefit packages for the different amounts they donated.

“There were no defined benefits — ‘you’re getting X, Y and Z’ — for giving this money,” Boyce said of the donors. “There was just a commitment that you were going to be a donor to this effort. As we could, we’ve provided them benefits.”

One of Screeton’s favorite projects came in September, just a month after joining the host committee. She helped organize a fall kick-off breakfast for the donors atop the Chase Tower in Indy. There, she met NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Another time, she met former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who happened to be in Indy and visited the host committee office.

“The experience I’ve gotten is tenfold from any job I could have been in,” Screeton said. “They give us responsibility. We run meetings and are in charge of projects. I guess I never expected that type of thing as an intern.”

Another intern, a recent Depauw University graduate, has the significant job of managing the website.

“Cassie has done the same kind of thing from our donor services standpoint,” Boyce noted. “… To do what she does and to do it well and to do it with enthusiasm and a smile every day is very important to us around here. We shouldn’t refer to them as ‘interns.’ They’re as much a part of the team as anyone else is because of the value they bring.”

“The workload and the intensity are the biggest surprises,” Screeton said. “You never get to the bottom of your ‘to do’ list. That’s hard for me. I’m a total planner, and I like to check things off. You might come in one day and there’s a curve ball …”

“Just one, … or 10 curve balls,” Boyce added.

“… and you never get to check one thing off,” continued Screeton. “That’s been a growing experience for me.”
Screeton also does numerous odds and ends, answers questions and compiles a newsletter for the donors each week. That plays to her public relations minor at Huntington, where she also worked for the campus newspaper.

Another of her favorite projects was to help support the “Super Kids, Super Welcome” project which received over 29,000 personal welcome notes from kids from all 92 Indiana counties. Those notes will to be placed in hotel rooms for visitors. She asked to make the presentation to the first and second graders at her old grade school, Columbia Elementary in Rochester.

“I wanted to take something back to my community,” she said. “I love Rochester. I was loved there. A lot of people in the community impacted me. I wanted to spread the excitement of the Super Bowl to northern Indiana because I think rural communities get overlooked.”

The Super Bowl host committee and the NFL are proud to tout a full playbook of more than 50 charitable and outreach programs, many that will leave lasting legacies in Indiana long after the final whistle blows at Lucas Oil.

The Super Bowl will leave a lasting legacy for its workers, too. The internship has Screeton rethinking career plans. “I don’t have a specific job or goal in mind,” she said. “I just really enjoyed working with different people and not being stuck in an office all day.”

“We’ve told the interns they need to take this into perspective because many of them have not been out in other work experiences,” said Boyce. “The pace, the intensity, the level of responsibility, the breadth and the depth of what we’re doing with this event is really of a different scale. Even for me, my next job is probably not going to be this fun.”

No matter where she’s bound after the Super Bowl, the experience on her résumé will always be a highlight for Screeton. “I’m just really proud of what’s going on here, proud of the way Indianapolis has done this,” she said. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

Story and photo by Richard G. Biever, senior editor.