Roanoke College graduate gets her career break in sports communications at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Several years ago, Blacksburg native Ali Hamden saw up close the way that sports can bring people together for healing.
It was 2007, and a few months after 32 students and professors were shot at Virginia Tech. The New York Yankees visited Blacksburg to play a baseball game as a show of support for the university.
"It really became apparent how important and how much of an impact sports can have on people's lives," Hamden said.
This revelation led her to study Sports Management when she enrolled at Roanoke College.
Hamden graduated from Roanoke in May 2011, and she secured a part-time internship working for the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Because of her dedication and work ethic, Hamden was promoted to an expanded position when the speedway merged its events and guest services departments a few months ago.
Through her job, Hamden regularly sees first-hand the passion that fans have for sports such as NASCAR.
"I've met numerous fans who save up their vacation time and paychecks just to come see a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway," she said. "Just to be a part of something that important to people is what makes my job so great."
Hamden's day-to-day responsibilities are numerous.
"I do everything from help staff our parking lots with attendants to scheduling and coordinating entertainment for our fan activities," she said.
Specifically, Hamden oversees the operation of the speedway's Powerade Playzone, a special play area for children. She also manages entertainment for the speedway's Welcome Center and the alcohol and tobacco-free family seating area.
Hamden said she loves the pace of her job and the new experiences that she has every day. Still, one particular experience has been her highlight - the Parade of Power.
The August event featured cars from all of the speedway's fall events and four professional NASCAR drivers: David Ragan, Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Reed Sorenson.
The four drivers signed autographs for about 100 fans. Hamden stood at the autograph table with the drivers, and she had the chance to casually talk with each of them during the event.
Hamden credits her time at Roanoke College for much of the success she has had post-graduation.
"Roanoke really did prep me for entering the 'real world,'" she said.
While at Roanoke, Hamden did a marketing internship with Brad Moore, the college's director of athletic communications. She said the internship gave her an up-close look at what makes an athletics program run smoothly and effectively.
Moore said Hamden was invaluable during Roanoke College's basketball and lacrosse seasons. Her specific responsibilities were keeping a game log, developing a calendar of promotional sports nights (and finding student groups on campus to sponsor them) and organizing in-game and half-time contests to excite fans.
Hamden "was always really creative and able to think outside the box in order to keep fans engaged during dead points in the game," Moore said.
Hamden also excelled at community outreach at Roanoke. She served as a liaison between Roanoke College Athletics and various civic and community institutions, such as the Special Olympics and local schools, to create community interest in attending the college's sporting events.
Dr. John Creasy, associate professor in Roanoke's Athletics department, was another mentor and advisor to Hamden.
"Dr. Creasy really helped in advising me to take risks and to not settle or stay in my comfort zone," Hamden said.
She recalls describing the Charlotte Motor Speedway internship to Creasy. He immediately told her, "This is you! This is your niche!"
Creasy "really cares about making his students successful not only in the classroom but in the real world as well," Hamden said.
She plans to continue working in motorsports.
"I love the fans and how passionate they are," Hamden said. "I definitely think what I'm doing now is a stepping stone to where I want my career to be. As long as I'm able to interact with the fans and be a part of something that makes their experience more enjoyable, I am fulfilled."
Besides Hamden, other Health and Human Performance Roanoke graduates are thriving in the sports communications field.
Chris Herron '11 was also an intern for Moore, and he now is an assistant sports information director at Randolph-Macon College. Another graduate, Greg Roll '11 landed a position as a sports information intern at Wilkes University. Bryant Mortimer '10 was recently hired by Monumental Sports & Entertainment, a large sports company that owns the Washington Wizards (NBA), Washington Capitals (NHL), and Washington Mystics (WNBA).
Nick DeSanctis, a senior at Roanoke, has been invaluable to the Athletics department's web presence, volunteering many hours of his time to Maroons Tuesday Night Live, a sports news webcast. Moore also is helping DeSantis apply to graduate schools, including Syracuse University, a school known for its sports programs.
Moore has worked to build the sports communications program at Roanoke since joining the staff in August 2007. His work in the past four years includes organizing an arrangement to have Roanoke sports televised on Valley Vision TV (reaching 500,000 households in the Roanoke Valley), working on a new athletics website and creating Maroons Tuesday Night Live, which broadcasts live every other week at Mac & Bob's restaurant in Salem.
"The reason we've been able to accomplish the things we have and basically build a department from the ground up is because of students like Ali and Nick," Moore said.
Moore sees the growth of the Internet and social media as key ingredients in the sports industry's boom. He believes the rapidly expanding world of sports will need qualified communications and information experts to help it stay connected.
Roanoke is the perfect environment for students interested in sports communications to develop their passion and start on the path to a rewarding career, Moore said.
"The students here, because we're a Division III school, get so much advanced hands-on experience that they wouldn't get at a Division I school," he said. "They already know what it takes to succeed in the field of sports communications."