Things Learned While Writing My Member Profiles

By Robert Knox posted 11-02-2017 09:09


Sharing stories of my amazing colleagues for the second consecutive year has been a blessing. It makes me realize how special working in this profession is despite all of the demands on our time and the never-ending workload. 

This year, as part of CoSIDA Membership Recognition week, I was privileged to write feature stories on some of the talented people that make our profession awesome. CoSIDA Membership Recognition Week is from Nov. 6-12 and you can learn more by visiting the website HERE. We encourage everybody to use the #ThankYourSID hashtag when posting next week.

The best part was being able to write about somebody from every level of our profession from Division I to NAIA. I learned plenty from writing about Andrea Wheeler (Alabama State), Jason Southard (Coast Guard), Bri Funte (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association), Jacob Knabel (Concordia), Jim Zuhlke (West Chester) and Danah Allen (Immaculata).


Beginning next week, you’ll be able to read about them and numerous others.


I knew everybody except for Knabel. However, after writing his story, I felt like I knew him most of my life. He’s the envy of everybody because his parents used to write him sick notes to stay home and watch the first two days of the NCAA Tournament when he was growing up in Iowa.


Southard is one of the first people I met when I started in the business in 2004. He had already been crafting his legendary reputation for 11 years at Coast Guard when I began at Lincoln. He’s still at Coast Guard and I am at my fourth school with a two-year media relations sabbatical at ESPN. Southard is the current president of ECAC-SIDA, an organization that’s meaningful to me. My first professional development opportunity was attending ECAC-SIDA in Valley Forge. 


Funte and Wheeler are two of my mentees and good friends. They are a pair of talented young ladies who have already done great things in a short period in our profession. Wheeler has earned the nickname “Graphics Bae.” It was interesting speaking with her to learn what inspires her creativity and understand how she has positively transformed Alabama State in such a short period with her outstanding work.


Meanwhile, Funte, is the glue of the annual CIAA Basketball tournament, a huge event that should be on everybody’s bucket list to attend. I wanted to share how she handles planning, executing and managing such a major tournament. Funte has been to a pair of CoSIDA conventions and like me, she shares a passion for writing and football.


My last feature was probably the most unique. Allen and Zuhlke have been married since 2008 and have a two-year old daughter. As a parent of two energetic kids, I was fascinated by how Allen and Zuhlke perform their jobs at a high level while raising their daughter. They worked at Army together where the love blossomed. Of course, you’ll have to read the feature to get all the details of their first “unofficial” first date. 


Of course, with the amount of information I got from each person, I couldn’t share everything in a story. So here’s a few nuggets of wisdom that should motivate you about the profession. Even though I am a veteran, I am never too old to learn. Writing these features gave me life and most of all fun. Hopefully when reading, you’ll see how much fun I had sharing these stories.


Funte on advice she would give somebody entering the profession.

“Put in the work. I know it doesn’t sound glamourous, but there is no other way to get in to athletics besides putting in the time and working your way up to the position you ultimately want. I did everything I could to prepare myself, including five internships. Not all of those internships were paid either. When I arrived with the Iowa Barnstormers, I was an unpaid intern and I’d planned to be with the team all season. Fortunately, I was hired full-time after interning for two months, but I was prepared to go unpaid all season to get the experience I needed. It’s not always fun, but you have to prove yourself in athletics because so many people are trying to get in. If you really love it though, the commitment is worth it.”


Wheeler on the best part of her job and what excites her daily.

“The student-athletes of course. I love “making things” that get the students excited. I love seeing them report my work, use it as their avi, share it with their friends and families. We have some amazing student-athletes here who definitely deserve the best, so I love being able to give them what I can. Also the students that I work with, we have some really great students who volunteer their time in the department and I love teaching them, getting ideas from them, helping them get involved…it really makes me love my job seeing them grow.”


Southard on what his biggest takeaway that helps him today from his first CoSIDA Convention.

“My first convention was in 1996 in Boston, I recall not knowing many people and making it a point to meet as many people as I could. I still say to the younger people that I meet at the conventions, that if you don’t meet at least 10 new people, you are cheating yourself. You never know who can help you or who will hire you for your next job and some of them could become lifelong friends. You will learn as much outside of the panels as you do during the panels.


Knabel on his philosophy as a strategic communicator.

“As strategic communicators, we have many tasks to fulfill and many responsibilities, but I believe our main aims should be to tell the story of your athletic department. I also believe strongly in making each opportunity your big time. Maybe your goal is to work for a school with nationally known athletic programs, but don’t take for granted the opportunity you have. I find life at the NAIA level very rewarding and I hate when people look down upon it.”


Allen on what it takes to be successful working at any level of the profession.

“I had somebody say to me before ‘What would you know about being an SID at our level? You were at Division I, and did your two or three sports and went home every day.’ I was so appalled by the comment. It doesn’t matter if you are at a Division I Power 5 school or a small Division III or NAIA school, being an SID demands dedication, hard work and long hours. The requirements and demands of the job may be different depending on where you work, but the skill-set needed to accomplish the job really is the same.”


Zuhlke on the best part of his job.

“The interaction with student-athletes. They keep me feeling young. I’m almost 46 years old, but the kids make me feel like I am still in college. The next best thing would be the interaction with the other SIDs in the conference. I truly believe that I am blessed to have worked with, and currently still work with, some of the best SIDs this profession has ever produced. I consider many of them friends – not just colleagues. They help me strive to be better.”


Six awesome professionals with different backgrounds. Yet, they all share the same thing: A passion for tirelessly and selflessly promoting their institutions, coaches and student-athletes. It’s been a blessing to be able to write about what makes each one special.