From MetLife to Work Life

By Kerry C. Regan, December 11, 2019
Students in all five schools were given ample opportunities to gain professional experience during a historic Cortaca Jug game.

Typically, football players appear on the big screen at MetLife Stadium in highlights of game action. But the experience of Bombers defensive lineman Noah Hill ’19 was something different. He, along with fellow Physics 101 students Anna Rebechi 22, Hannah Roa 22 and Leo Alessi 22, appeared in front of 45,161 fans at the 2019 Cortaca Jug game in a series of 20-second videos that explained the physics behind certain aspects of football, such as the Gyroscopic Effect — the effect that prevents a thrown football from wobbling around its central axis.

One of the videos that he appeared in played while he was on the sidelines, where he took some good-natured ribbing from his teammates for his star turn as a scientist. “I told them it’s good to break down the dumb jock stereotype once in a while,” he said. 

The videos were produced as a joint project between IC’s Office of College Communications, which shot them, and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Assistant Professors of Physics and Astronomy Colleen and Preston Countryman helped script them and recruited four volunteer students from a Physics 101 class to appear in them. “We aim to make physics relevant, in class and in these videos,” Preston Countryman explained. “The value for the students was that it strengthened their confidence in understanding core physics concepts, and it gives them experience in applying teamwork to problem solving, which is our approach in the class.”

Football player Noah Hill '19 and another student demonstrate the Gyroscopic Effect.

Hill and his classmates were among more than 100 students from all five schools who were involved in experiential learning opportunities at this year's Cortaca Jug.

Other experiences included students working directly with the football team and athletic department; student media members who reported on and broadcast the game; student employees in college communications who assisted in game-day social media promotion and news gathering; performers who were part of the halftime show; and sports marketing majors who were involved in ticket sales, marketing projects and production of a documentary.

Creating experiential learning opportunities for students is a key part of the college’s Ithaca Forever strategic plan, and it was a priority for Annemarie Farrell, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sport Management, who also served as the chair of the six-person Experiential Learning working group.

Of course, creating these experiences required collaboration from different entities across the campus community. Fortunately, valuing and supporting collaboration is another aspect of the strategic plan, and that was on full display during Cortaca.

American Flag at Cortaca

Fans who took in this visual during pregame ceremonies have Emily Palmer ’20 to thank for making it happen. (Photo by Steve Hockstein/Harvard Studio)

Leading up to the game, Emily Palmer ’20 had already played a key role in the success of the event, and the football team. For the past four years she’s served as a student operations manager for the team, and in the weeks prior to the contest she also served as a member of the on-campus student ticket sales team.

But it was on game day that she made an even bigger mark. Just 24 hours prior to kickoff, during game operations meetings, it became clear another field manager would be needed to assist in all the elements of managing pre-game ceremonies, halftime performances and the game operation itself.

Jon Gregory ’10, who was helping to coordinate the on-the-field operations and production, knew he needed someone he could trust in the role.

Palmer had previously interned with the athletic department at Duke University and had experience coordinating on-field operations for NCAA football games. That made her an ideal fit — provided Gregory’s team could borrow her from the event operations team, headed up by Sean Fitzmaurice ’04.

Gregory and Fitzmaurice quickly worked out the logistics — Palmer would execute several critical tasks on the football side of things before joining Gregory’s team to help with on-field logistics, including getting the football team to the field at the right time and helping lead a team of 100 student volunteers through a scripted flag and national anthem ceremony that included unfurling a 75-by-100 foot American flag.

“Emily quickly jumped in alongside our group and executed detailed tasks and game operations pieces as if she did those things every Saturday afternoon,” Gregory said. “She did so without any preparation and little guidance, carrying herself as if she had a decade of experience, and exceeding all expectations.”

Palmer, who is set to begin a full-time position at Duke in its facility and game operations department after graduating, took quite a bit from the experience. “I am so glad I got to be part of a large-scale event like Cortaca at MetLife that brought so many Ithaca alumni and students together to celebrate all the hard work that Ithaca football has put in this season,” she said.

Several other experiential learning opportunities came courtesy of Farrell, who began using Cortaca as a teaching tool in her classrooms as soon as the game was announced.

Last spring, students in her Sport Marketing and Sales class were tasked with developing a marketing plan for Cortaca weekend and pitching their ideas to members of the Cortaca working groups. In the fall, she supervised Marco Fontana ’20, who led a team of students in coordinating on-campus ticket sales for the game

Also this fall, the students in her first-year seminar, “From Cortaca to Fenway: Understanding Sports Fans,” were required to deliver a final project on a Cortaca-related topic.  

Among the projects, a team of five students produced a documentary about the history of the Cortaca Jug.

Two of the students working on the project were members of the football team, which gave the group unique opportunities. Offensive lineman Andrew Guerra ’23 and defensive back Shaye McKenna ’23 shot game-day footage from the sidelines with their cell phones.

Class in Session

All five schools at Ithaca College used the 2019 Cortaca Jug to provide experiential learning to students. Below is a list of opportunities provided by each school.

School of Business: assistance with on-campus ticket sales, assistance with in-stadium Fan Fest

School of Humanities and Sciences: assistance with production of physics of football videos

School of Music: African drum and dance and choir performances during halftime

Roy H. Park School of Communications: live broadcast of the game and pre- and post-game news coverage

School of Health Sciences and Human Performance: athletic training coverage during the game.

Most of the documentary consists of interviews with current players and coaches conducted by Jackie Leone ’23, who came into the project with on-air experience as an analyst on ICTV sports broadcasts and who served as an analyst for the Cortaca pre-game show that aired before the game at MetLife Stadium.

However, she had never interviewed anyone before, and her first interview was with Bombers head football coach Dan Swanstrom. “I was extremely nervous,” she said, “But he was very willing to sit down, and once I did that, I felt I could do anything. I was able to take skills I learned from my media class and see exactly how they would apply to a potential career. That’s invaluable.”

But two Cortaca-related learning experiences weren’t enough for Leone. When Farrell asked if anyone wanted to get some resume-building experience by working at the game, Leone signed on, giving her a Cortaca hat trick. She joined a handful of other volunteers and MetLife staffers at the pre-game Fan Fest at the stadium. The mini festival included stations where fans could test their football skills and have their photos taken in an oversized IC chair, which Leone helped manage as a brand ambassador.

“We were kind of bringing IC to MetLife,” she said.

Leone and her team will also be adding Cortaca game-day video to their documentary.

Fans who missed seeing the game live still got to see all the excitement thanks to Peter Raider ’23 and Brian Barnes ’22.

Any time there’s an Ithaca College athletic contest, the athletic communications department at IC springs into action. Along with professional staff, students are key contributors. For this historic game, Peter Raider ’23 was in the driver’s seat before, during and after the contest. Raider conceived of and produced a series of five countdown videos posted on social media in the week leading up to the game. He also worked with Nate McCoart ’13, director of technical operations at Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment, who led game-day production, to produce four videos that appeared on the big screen at MetLife. To top it off, Raider produced a highlight video of the game using footage shot by him and producer Brian Barnes ’22.

Charley Novack ’20, who grew up in Manhattan a self-described die-hard New York Giants fan, also works in athletic communications. He has helped track and compile statistics at many home football games — including the Cortaca Jug game. He was among those who felt “honored” walking into the press box.

“I took it as a normal game that I was working,” he said. “But at the end of the day I knew it was a different game, because it’s Cortaca and you’re at MetLife Stadium. Honestly from the moment I got past security, just getting out of the elevator heading into the press box, I was in awe…. But I knew I had something to do.”

Cooper Hayes ’20, a three-year veteran in athletic communications who also worked the game, had a similar reaction. “Driving in I told myself, ‘It’s just another football game,’ but once I stepped into the MetLife press box, it was hard not to gawk,” he said.

Ithacan students at Cortaca

Ithacan assistant photo editor Abigail London ’22 (left) and photo editor Kristen Harrison '20 made sure their readers would get a close-up look at all the action.

Although there was a record-breaking crowd in attendance at MetLife Stadium, not every Bomber fan was able to make the trek to East Rutherford, New Jersey. Thankfully, the members of the college’s student media stepped up their game to make sure no one missed out on a historic day.  

More than 30 journalists and media specialists covered the game, including 10 for radio station WICB, eight for ICTV, seven from The Ithacan (plus three working on it from campus), three from the student social media team and two student writers from the Office of College Communications.

The Ithacan, led by editor-in-chief Sophia Adamucci ’20, went all-out for the game, publishing multiple stories on the front page of the newspaper as well as shooting high-quality photos and videos, and producing comprehensive social media coverage.

More game-day coverage came from the broadcasting teams, and they had to overcome some unique challenges. Union rules prohibited students from working cameras for the TV broadcast, so the ICTV crew used video shot by MetLife staff in its livestream and utilized WICB’s radio play-by-play, while student camera operators shot footage for follow-up coverage. This arrangement created additional challenges — the audio feeds for radio and TV sometimes used different advertisements and announcements, and audio operator Steven Blenner ’21 had to ensure both ran correctly.

As a result of all this, it wasn’t just football players whose dreams came true at MetLife. “I can only imagine how special it was for the student athletes getting dressed in the locker rooms, going out on the field,” said Jeremy Menard, manager of television and radio operations in the Roy H. Park School of Communications. “For the broadcasters, it’s very similar. They emulate guys like Jim Nantz and Al Michaels and Joe Buck. So to open the same door, to hang your coat on the same rack, to sit in the same chair, that’s super special. It’s something they’ll never forget, no matter where their career takes them.”

“I was able to take skills I learned from my media class and see exactly how they would apply to a potential career. That’s invaluable.”

Jackie Leone ’23

As is the case with any large-scale event, planning helped. “The preparation was more intense that anything we’d done before,” said Chloe Hart-Kindelberger ’20, one of three paid student social media strategists at the game.  “Having a strategic plan in place and executing on it and responding to things that happen at the event to do my work on this larger scale is something I’m proud of.”

Like the social media team, student staff with the Office of College Communications sought to report not only on the game, but also on the experiences of the many IC stakeholders at the game. Grace Collins ’23 was on the team that interviewed students and alumni during the game for a post-game news story and was thrilled to get a chance to work as a journalist.

“Not being a journalism major, but being able to contribute to one of the biggest news stories of the year as a first-year student, is pretty incredible,” she said.  

The experiential learning continued on the field, as several student groups took part in the day’s festivities. Foremost among them were the cheerleading squad; the Ithaca College choir, which sang the national anthem before the game; and the African Drumming and Dance Ensemble that performed at halftime.

“I’m not a big football person,” said Naya Griles ’22, who performed with both the choir and the African Drumming and Dance Ensemble. “But I’ve never felt school spirit like this before. This is awesome.”

Evidently, other members of the ensemble shared that sentiment, because they dedicated their Nov. 21 performance at Ford Hall to Bombers football.

Another group of students who can appreciate the football team’s hard work are the athletic training students, four of whom have been with the team all season. In fact, they put in as much or more time as most players, not only attending every practice and game, but also coming early to apply pre-session treatments and staying late for any follow ups.

“Our athletic training students see the entire process from pre-season camp all the way to this game (Cortaca),” said athletic trainer and lab instructor Kyle Morris ’17, one of two full-time athletic trainers who works with the team. “To live and be part of entire process is awesome for them.”

The athletic trainers arrived on Friday and worked the team’s practice at MetLife that day. On game day, they caught a break. No serious injuries came up, just a few fairly routine turf burns.

And that was one more piece of good news on a great day for Bombers football and for experiential learning at Ithaca College.