From Ship to the Big Leagues—Alumni in Pro Sports

Many of us have nailed the winning shot at the buzzer, set a new world record, scored the go-ahead touchdown, or hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning for our favorite team. And then we snap out of our daydreams. The vast majority of us will never get the call that we’ve been selected to play a sport at the professional level as several Shippensburg University athletes did this year.

Now working in social media for the NFL, Perry Mattern ’14–’17 (left) and Kevin Kline ’13M (right) gained valuable work experience as graduate assistants for Bill Morgal ’06–’10 (center), Shippensburg’s sports information director.

Now working in social media for the NFL, Perry Mattern ’14–’17 (left) and Kevin Kline ’13M (right) gained valuable work experience as graduate assistants for Bill Morgal ’06–’10 (center), Shippensburg’s sports information director.

BY CHRIS ECKSTINE ’14

In June, Raiders pitcher Gabe Mosser ’18 and shortstop Cash Gladfelter were selected in the twenty-seventh round of the Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft. Mosser was drafted by the San Diego Padres, while Gladfelter, selected just seven picks later, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners when he was a junior. These are the first Ship selections in the MLB Draft since 2008. Later that month, their teammate, outfielder Dalton Hoiles, signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

Then in August, the all-time leading scorer in Ship men’s basketball history, Dustin Sleva, signed a contract with Paris Basketball to play professionally in France.

Ship may not be known for producing top tier sports superstars, but chances to compete at the next level are possible for those willing to put in the work.

The same goes for anyone looking to break into professional sports in other areas.

Did you watch the MLB All-Star Game held this summer at Nationals Park? You may not have been aware that a Ship grad was tabbed to be the official scorer for that ten-inning affair. Ben Trittipoe received his master’s degree from Ship in 1990 and has served as an official scorer for the Washington Nationals since 2005.

In the Washington metropolitan area another Ship grad works for a pro team. Perry Mattern produces content for the Washington Redskins’ digital and social media platforms. He interviews players, creates videos, manages livestream shows and press conferences, all while planning future content.

Mattern received his bachelor’s degree in communication/journalism in 2014, participating in WSYC, SUTV, and The Slate throughout that journey. He returned to get his master’s degree in communication studies and worked in the sports information department.

“There was never a line to be involved at Ship; I walked in to any extracurricular activity—even those outside of student media—and was immediately able to participate. You can’t do that at the bigger schools.”

Prior to being hired full-time as a digital media producer for the Redskins in 2017, Mattern was an intern for the team during the 2016 NFL season. That wasn’t his first foray in pro sports. He also worked as a broadcasting/media relations assistant for the Harrisburg Senators, the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) Double-A Affiliate of the Nationals. As a play-by-play announcer for the Senators, Mattern saw a dream come true, but he wanted to push himself to the next level.

At Ship, he learned a thing or two about being pushed, crediting Dr. Michael Drager in the Communication/Journalism Department as a major motivator. “The conversations we had outside of the classroom have stuck with me. He made me believe in my own talent while encouraging me to go outside my comfort zone.” 

Mattern also recognizes Ship Sports Information Director Bill Morgal ’06–’10m as a major influence. “I’ve never had a more kind or hardworking boss. He remains a role model in my life who I stay in touch with often.”

Kline, on the field for the New York Jets, said the job comes with a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day, “It's sports. It's fun.”

Kline, on the field for the New York Jets, said the job comes with a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day, “It's sports. It's fun.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Kevin Kline ’13m, who, like Mattern, worked first as a graduate assistant and later as a full-time assistant in the sports information department and now also works for an NFL team. He is the social media manager for the New York Jets and has worked in their social/digital media department since 2014.

“My primary objective is developing a strategy for and maintaining our social media accounts, while fulfilling many of our objectives on the platforms: brand awareness, fostering fan excitement and interaction, providing news and updates, executing sponsorship deals and internal goals such as ticket sales, event attendance, and merchandise.”

Kline said his on-the-job, real-world experience at Ship prepared him for his fast-paced and pressure-filled gig with the Jets.

“Because of the market we’re in, there are a ton of eyeballs and tons of attention on our organization, including our social media properties. That requires us to be very careful and deliberate in all our decisions, knowing that the critical New York media market and our savvy fan base can pick anything apart. It keeps you on your toes,” Kline said. “The attention and added pressure is a fun part of the job that those in smaller markets may not encounter. Win or lose, good or bad, all eyes are on us. And I love that part of it.”

Being under the microscope might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Kline said it’s all about keeping things in perspective. “At the end of the day, sports are sports—they’re meant to be an outlet for people. They’re for relaxation and leisure,” Kline said. “We’re not doctors or politicians, we work in entertainment. So when the going gets tough and the stress creeps up on you, keep that in mind. It’s sports. It’s fun.”

Lindsey Knupp ’05 discovered that same fun in her junior year during an internship with the Double-A Affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Reading Fightin Phils. Prior to that, the marketing major was unsure where she would end up after college, but she realized she could make a career out of working in pro sports.

Knupp first worked as an associate with the Fightin Phils for two years before moving up to Phillies’ Triple-A Affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. She served as the director of promotions and entertainment for the IronPigs from 2007 to 2015 before becoming vice president of marketing and entertainment.

In her current role, Knupp’s daily routine includes executing marketing campaigns across all platforms; ordering and designing promotional products and giveaways; planning, scripting, and executing in-game entertainment; and managing the community relations manager, executive director of the team’s charities, the multimedia and design team, the social media director, and the promotions department.

It's fairly well known that one of the best parts of an MiLB game is the draw, whether it’s a giveaway, an off-the-wall theme night, or a spectacle like Cowboy Monkey Rodeo. There might not be another MiLB team with allure quite like the IronPigs.

Coca-Cola Park is the place fans have come to expect the unexpected, whether it’s the fun freebies, fireworks displays themed around anything from Beyoncé to bacon, or theme nights such as #LVWantsLeBron Night—a push to get basketball superstar LeBron James to join the team during his free agency, complete with James-inspired giveaways, activities, and a billboard detailing the campaign. Fans even have the chance to sign a one-day contract to “retire” as a member of the IronPigs.

The team may be best known for its swine-infused swagger. There are many pig products on the food menu, bacon ball caps, and even the Pork Racers—mascot characters of different cuts of pork that race on foot. The IronPigs say their annual Pig Day observance, held in the offseason, is considered to be the largest celebration of its kind in the world.

Knupp’s efforts with IronPigs’ promotions earned recognition in publications like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and The Wall Street Journal; GameOps.com’s “Best Game Operations and Presentation” award; and Ballpark Digest’s “Promo of the Year” award. She also earned the Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award in 2015.

Despite the national buzz and the many recognitions, Knupp maintains coming up with new ways to get people through the gates is still one of the biggest challenges of her job. “We always want our fans thinking and asking, ‘What’s next?!’” she said.

With fans chomping at the bit each year to get a peek at the next promotional schedule, Knupp can’t help but be delighted when everything comes to fruition.

“(My favorite part about my job is) our fans and the excitement that fills the ballpark on game days. When people walk through the gates of Coca-Cola Park, they leave their worries and stresses at the door and are looking to our staff to offer them an enjoyable night with their families and friends,” she said. “I think Coca-Cola Park has been an incredible addition to the Lehigh Valley, and the IronPigs not only entertain on the field, but we are also very engaged in the local community and offer various grants to nonprofit organizations and try to better the area in any way that we can. Being from the Lehigh Valley, that’s also very important to me and something to be proud of.”

About seventy miles southwest of Coca-Cola Park, you’ll find Clipper Magazine Stadium. That’s the home of the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. It’s also where you’ll find Edward Novakoski ’94 dressing up in crazy outfits and dancing on dugouts.

Novakoski is an algebra teacher at George A. Smith Middle School in the Solanco School District. He decided five years ago to look for a summer job. Seeing as he fell in love with the Phillies back in 1978, there was an obvious appeal once Lancaster got its own pro team.

During his first summer with the Barnstormers, Novakoski worked in fan services. A year later, he was asked to undertake a new venture, and that meant heading into the stands to mingle with fans.

“I said to (the director of business development) that if you want me to do this, I will, but let me put my own spin on it,” he said. “So, I started dressing up in crazy outfits to do the 50/50 Community Aid raffle nightly. I would wear a crazy eighties wig and huge sombrero, and it got Community Aid and me noticed. I had lots of fun, people cracked up when they saw me and donated to a good cause. We totaled about an average of $40,000 for the first three years of raising money for that great cause.”

In his third year, Novakoski was asked to start subbing as the on-field emcee.

“I loved it,” he said. “What a great moment for me to showcase my crazy teacher talents combined with DJ ideas. Yes, I am a DJ with my own company, NovaMagic Entertainment.”

His students love it as well, asking for selfies at the games and even competing in a raffle to win “A Day at the Stormers with Mr. Nova.” “People come to the Barnstormers to have a good time. And the fan experience, the positive fan experience, is what it is all about, to have people enjoy the game, or enjoy the antics, or to enjoy the fireworks, or to enjoy the giveaway, and hopefully they return.”

The Ship connection to the pros doesn’t stop in Lancaster either. There are other grads around the country, like Matt Trust ’18 with the Hershey Bears, Anthony Renz ’18m with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, and Alexa Alpaugh ’16 with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, to name just a few.

The achievements and destinations of all these “players” in professional sports might differ, but each of their journeys trace back to Ship. And while it’s easier to view the accomplishments of people like John Kuhn ’04, a recipient of two Super Bowl rings, the athletes have a lot in common with the people behind the scenes in sports. That’s because the path from Shippensburg to the pros, no matter how you’re looking to get there, is a grind.

“If you want to break into the industry, you better be willing to at least work harder than the person next to you, because there are plenty of other talented professionals who you don’t see that are willing to put in the work. Have a passion for your work,” Mattern said. “Find a way to make yourself stand out.”

Chris Eckstine ’14 is SU’s digital content producer.