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Sport and Recreation Leadership Majors

Sport and recreation leadership major works hard on game days

As a cool September sunrise greeted the ESPN College GameDay set in downtown Fargo, thousands of NDSU students and fans crowded Broadway and the buildings surrounding it. They were there to support their team while the popular Saturday morning show was making its first visit to North Dakota.

Scott Maher wasn't with his friends and fellow students, however. He was 15 blocks north preparing for a football game.

Maher is a first-year student pursuing a degree in sport and recreation leadership. And he's one of eight student managers in the NDSU football program.

He exudes passion about the team and his role, which provides hands-on learning for his major. "People in the professional world like seeing good grades, but they also look for individuals with experience in their field," Maher said. "While this might not be a shoo-in for what I want to do, it already is paying off."

The experience is made easier when his team's success makes ESPN take notice.

On Friday night, Maher visited the TV set and met on-air personalities Chris Fowler and Lee Corso, among others. He noted the behind-the-scene efforts. "It was cool to see everything for GameDay in relation to sports management," he said. "The effort into pulling off an event that size was impressive."

Maher is doing much of the same for the NDSU football team. This summer he arrived at NDSU on July 29, ready to begin his role as student manager. He arrived before the team hit campus, and each day has brought something new.

The managers begin setting up equipment an hour before practice starts and more than 100 players arrive. Broken chinstraps are replaced. Helmet air bladders are adjusted. The slick film covering new footballs out of the box is scrubbed off. Each act, as minor as it might seem, adds up to build a winning tradition.

Each manager then assists during drills with a specific position group - Maher focuses on the fullbacks and tight ends. The routine carries over into Saturdays.

GameDay started as any other game day for Maher. Kick off was set for 2:30 p.m., but his duties actually began Friday, helping ready the player's game uniforms and equipment. On Saturday, he arrived early in the Fargodome to prepare the sideline - wheeling out extra gear, setting up white boards, towels and the coaches' headsets.

As the players arrive, Maher helps with any last-second equipment needs before helping his position group warm up. During the game he fixes broken equipment and makes sure the kickers have space to keep loose. He also retrieves the kicking tee after each kickoff. >>

After the first quarter, the managers return to the locker room to get things ready for halftime. After the game, they wheel everything back to the equipment room and start laundry. The managers rotate schedules, and this Saturday Maher stays late to wash and air-dry game jerseys and set out practice gear. He leaves the dome around 8:30 p.m.

Away games follow a similar routine, with the exception of loading equipment onto a truck for the trip. Each week also features "helmet night," where helmets are washed and torn decals are replaced. It's all part of making sure everything behind the scenes runs smoothly, and the team performs at its best. "It can feel like a full-time job," said Maher, who is taking 15 credits. "It's something you do because you love it."

The work experience meshes well with his academics. Maher"s sport and event management class teaches the aspects of managing sporting events. He volunteers time scheduling events for the Fargo YMCA. In addition, he's an active member of Saddle and Sirloin, Chi Alpha and the Sport and Recreation Leadership Association.

Maher plans to pursue a master's degree in sports administration with hopes of becoming an athletic director or professional football scout.

Raised as a self-described "ranch kid" near Timber Lake, S.D., he is used to hard work. He grew up as a hired hand each summer, cutting hay and branding beef cattle. "It hasn't always been easy," Maher said. "You just have to be in the right place at the right time."

Maher has strong family ties to NDSU. His grandfather, Alan Woodbury, is a 1970 animal science graduate who lives in Dickinson, N.D., and saw NDSU's first back-to-back national football championships as a student. Maher and Woodbury attended the 2012 championship game in Frisco, Texas. "We both have a passion for NDSU football," Maher said. "In order for him to see that now - how far we've come - to be able to share that experience with him was amazing."

Growing up about 120 miles south of Bismarck, N.D., put Maher squarely in enemy fan territory. His classmates gave him a lot of grief for being an NDSU fan. Many of his friends rooted for South Dakota State University. Maher and his co-workers traveled with the team to SDSU to watch a 20-0 win in September. He hopes to make one more trip to Frisco in January.

"However the season goes, it's been rewarding," Maher said. "I give a lot of credit to my fellow managers and boss."

- Dave Nilles

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.