Not Your Typical Rags to Riches Story

If you will, please excuse me from my weekly Thursday night rapid fire rundown of random topics to quickly focus on a much more meaningful issue.

Today via the website, a guy named Kenny Dow wrote a piece about coming out as a gay man in the very masculine and testosterone driven industry of athletics. He chronicled his childhood and early professional career living in ultra conservative Montana where he didn’t feel the slightest bit comfortable revealing his true self. You would have thought that as he grew older and more established in the Big Sky state it would have made it easier to share with others his sexual orientation. Not so. Working inside probably the most visible, scrutinized, and tradition ridden office in the state, the University of Montana Athletics Department, Kenny didn’t feel comfortable. When an awesome job opportunity came his way, he got out.

Let me introduce you to Kenny Dow (photo courtesy of

Let me introduce you to Kenny Dow (photo courtesy of

During the last year of his tenure at Grizzly Athletics, Kenny (along with Christie Anderson), served as my mentor(s). As a young intern in the marketing department I looked up to my bosses. I had such an amazing year learning about the business and having an absolute blast. A friendship grew between Kenny and I, one that would really only get stronger as we lived hundreds (and now thousands) of miles apart. When Kenny did announce his departure from Grizzly Athletics I put on hold a fully paid graduate school opportunity to do everything I could to get his job. Stars aligned and I was successful and for my whole time at Grizzly Athletics I poured every ounce of my being toward trying to equal the contributions Kenny made during the time he sat in my chair.

All people in this photo used to have an association with Grizzly Athletics. We were all in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, for a UCA camp. Christie is on the far left and Kenny and I on the right.

All people in this photo used to have an association with Grizzly Athletics. We were all in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for a UCA camp. Christie is on the far left and Kenny and I on the right.

As the marketing director in the Portland State Athletics Department, Kenny turned everything about that place around. He took it from absolutely nothing to an award winning, prideful marketing program. His professional accomplishments at Portland State will go down as nothing short of spectacular. Don’t kid yourself though, the most significant accomplishment during his time in the Rose City wasn’t a professional one…it was a personal one. Encouraged by the openly gay women’s basketball coach Sherri Murrell to be himself, Kenny no longer hid who he was. Portland State accepted him and Kenny couldn’t have felt more comfortable.

Kenny and I in Missoula at the end of 2010.

Kenny and I in Missoula at the end of 2010.

At around the same time I left for Coastal Carolina, Kenny also left for a different job. Taking another giant leap up the ladder, he took an executive position with the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. Besides now making big marketing decisions for a professional sports team Kenny also gets to make big strides for the LGBT community. The WNBA has launched a large campaign to embrace its gay fan base and Kenny has an instrumental part in executing it. You got to think about this for a couple seconds: A guy who once worked in a place where he felt he couldn’t even come out is now an openly gay executive for a pro team playing an integral part in a national LGBT campaign. Not bad.

Kenny and I in Missoula. We are now literally as far away from each other as you can get in this country,

Kenny and I in Missoula. We are now literally as far away from each other as you can get in this country,

I am so proud of what Kenny has done both for others and himself. I am also extremely proud to say that he mentored me and has had a major impact on my professional career. You keep succeeding, good sir. Don’t Blink.

To Everyone at Grizzly Athletics: THANK YOU

Earlier today I walked out of the Adams Center for the final time, ending an almost five year ride with Grizzly Athletics. I like to think I left a small part of me behind. With the long hours I worked and the contributions I made I hope I left the department better than when I arrived. But this blog post is not about me (By the way, for all I know my employers could have thrown a celebration party after my car drove out of the parking lot). Rather, this post is to say thank you to the people who supported me, helped me, and listened to me. It is to show gratitude to those individuals who believed in me and let me grow. It is to recognize my co-workers and bosses who helped make me look good and who always took my best interests to heart.

First and foremost I want to thank Christie Anderson. She hired me, she believed in me, she mentored me. Without Christie I would not be where I am at today. I learned everything I know about marketing in intercollegiate athletics from her. For over a year before we got more suitable offices I sat behind Christie and observed everything she did. What an awesome learning experience! I have so many memories with Christie whether it be going on trips, working games, or doing things totally unrelated to work such as going to concerts or bowling.

Next up I want to thank Jim O’Day. My first role model in the college athletics world he treated me with so much respect and kindness. He knew about the power of social media long before many other college administrators even knew what the phrase meant and he gave me the green light to take Grizzly Athletics full throttle down the new media avenue. Two years ago on that terrible day when he had the rug pulled out from underneath him I will never forget the address he gave us at the hastily called all-staff meeting. He epitomized class and humility in a very dark moment and that will always stay with me.

I owe so much gratitude to Brynn Molloy. She came into the Marketing Director position and just kicked butt. Definitely one of the most positive people I know I had a wonderful ten months working for her. We had such a solid working relationship based on collaboration and respect. She was there for me and I was there for her. She allowed me to continue to do my thing and always took the time to tell me good job. We came in each morning on fire for Grizzly Athletics and it made for a great work environment. It is no secret why everyone loves Brynn.

I don’t think I had a bigger supporter when it came to getting me to where I wanted to be than Greg Sundberg. Besides being the best leader I know, no one took the time to help me reach my goals more than Greg. He cares so much about his employees and brings the same positivity to the office each day in the same way Brynn does. I said Jim was my first role model in college athletics; after Greg started overseeing all external communications a couple years ago he became my second. “Sunny” played a big role in getting me to where I am now.

Then there is Kent Haslam…the third person I identify as a role model of mine in intercollegiate athletics. I was so happy and relieved when he got hired as our athletic director. You would be hard pressed to find someone with greater integrity than Kent. Over the past couple years he has been a great supporter of mine. Always sending recognition my way and 100% supportive of my decision to go to Coastal Carolina I feel very fortunate that our AD cared so much about me. Grizzly Athletics is in great hands.

Thank you to our sports information staff! I had the opportunity to work very closely with our legendary SID, Dave Guffey. I earned Dave’s respect and he treated me like a son. I will miss him a lot. I also feel like I got a lot from Joel Carlson (Assistant SID). No one writes better than Joel and I had the pleasure of reading award winning material from his desk on a daily basis. I know by paying attention to his techniques and style that it made me a better writer myself. Rounding out the staff is Renee Valley who never ceased to lend a helping hand when it came to making a few more credentials or helping me find something in the archive room.

I owe big thank yous to the people who generated much of the great content that I was able to use on our new media outlets to give our fan base a great experience. Nate Michael (Griz Vision producer) is an extremely talented individual and one of the best guys I know. Todd Goodrich (University of Montana photographer) works magic with the lens and pours a lot of his time into covering athletics. Jerek Wolcott (videographer, now at Idaho State) really started the video tradition at Grizzly Athletics and was a great friend of mine.

Thank you to our genius I.T. man, Aaron Heiner. This guy gave me a new perspective on what it is like to work under pressure. He also bailed me out of numerous situations involving technology on game days. Speaking of smart people, I couldn’t have succeeded at my job without the help of Chuck Maes. That man has a computer for a brain with incredible knowledge on how every device and piece of equipment under the name of Grizzly Athletics works. . Just like with Aaron, Chuck has helped me out many times when I needed quick assistance.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my office mate, Paul Hengel. Paul became a great friend of mine and provided me an example each day of what hard work is all about. No one works harder in the department or has more demanded of him than Mr. Paul. We got along great and our office arrangement couldn’t have worked out any better.

Much appreciation to Heather Alexander (business manager) who showed great patience towards me when I asked stupid questions or accidentally went away from protocol when completing a business transaction. I also am very thankful for how much she has made my transition between jobs easier. Heather, you better make good on your plans to visit Myrtle Beach during the summer of 2015!

Then there are just the people who have supported me so much during my time with Grizzly Athletics. I am talking about people like Janie Haight, Sue DeMers, Cyndi Steigers, and Celine Fisher. They have acted as moms to me and supported me since I have stepped foot in the Adams Center. I was overjoyed when my “Montana Moms” got to meet my real mom at my going-away party late last week.

I don’t want to forget about the coaches. I learned a lot about the crazy lives they live full of pressure, stress, and travel. Take it from me right here: Our “Big Three” head coaches (Robin Selvig, Wayne Tinkle, and Mick Delaney) are absolutely class acts. They are passionate for the Griz and are incredibly kind. Each one of those men took time to congratulate me when I announced that I was moving on. Special shout out to Griz softball coach Jamie Pinkerton who became a good friend of mine. I am sad that I will miss the first pitch in 2015. Also thank you to soccer head coach Mark Plakorus who always took time to talk to me and even attended my going-away party.

Finally, thank you to all the students I had the privilege of working with over the years. From our student-athletes to our Spirit Squad to our team of interns to our mascots I felt so fortunate working a job where I got to interact with young and motivated individuals on a daily basis. In the end my ultimate mission was to serve them and I felt so lucky that I was able to do just that.

The chapter is closed. I now move onto the next stage of my life at Coastal Carolina. However, I will always be indebted to the wonderful people at Grizzly Athletics who gave me my start. Please know I hold all of you in very high regard. THANK YOU. Don’t Blink.

Serving the Youth

A cool part of my job centers on the fact that I get to do interesting things that are not necessarily always completely focused on the Griz. Because of my background as DJ for Montana athletics, I get hired to do similar type work for other functions. I have DJ’d numerous cheerleading competitions, social events, University of Montana academic rallies, Tim Tebow’s stop in Missoula, and various other events and situations. Just a few weeks ago I got to help with an engagement proposal at midfield inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium. However, this past week I got to work an event that topped all the other non-Griz things I have done.

On Friday night, the Missoula Youth Football (MYF) league held its championship games under the lights in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. MYF is the Missoula version of Pop Warner football. In its inaugural season, the league produced strong numbers for kids participating in its two divisions, third/fourth grades and fifth/sixth grades. After a hard fought season, two teams from both divisions faced off to become the first champions of the newly formed league.

At first, I didn’t think I would get the opportunity to help with the championship games. I had been hired to do music for the Missoula Mayhem fights that night. Late Friday afternoon while I was testing equipment for the event, one of the employees of the Adams Center came over and notified me that the Missoula Mayhem organization would bring its own DJ to the fights and that my services would not be needed. I immediately became ecstatic as I am not an ultimate fighting fan and was not looking forward to the evening by any means. Suddenly, my Friday night had opened wide up and I planned to finish my prep for the Griz football game the following day and then go home and relax the rest of the evening.

With only about five minutes separating me from a non-eventful, relaxing evening at home, I heard Christie call my name from her office. I went to see what she wanted. Christie had already volunteered to help with the MYF championship games. She was going to run sponsor ads up on Griz Vision. She also planned to download a National Anthem clip to play prior to the start of both championship games. However, she could not seem to be able to download the certain clip which was way she called me into her office. Not knowing a solution to the problem either, I told her that I would just go up into the press box with her and set up my equipment and play the anthem. It would take just a few minutes to go up into the box, play the song, and then get out of there and head home. That was my initial plan anyway.

The awards ceremony for the third/fourth grade game. Lots of fans came out to watch.


Christie and I practically ran up to the press box as we were running late. We climbed the stairs and entered the control room and as I looked out the windows and onto the field, I knew I would not just be sticking around for the anthem.

A large crowd of around 1,500 to 2,000 people had gathered in the west stands of Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Although still light out, the stadium lights were turned on. Our inflatable Griz helmet that serves as the entrance for our own football team was erected. I got audio set up and was told that the teams would soon run out of the tunnel and onto the field. I immediately cued up the entrance song that we use for the Griz and hit play. As “Bring ‘Em Out” blared over the house speakers, the third and fourth graders ran out onto the field, waving their arms up and down in the motion for the crowd to get loud. The sight of how small the young kids looked in the large stadium immediately brought a smile to my face. Here they were playing in their own little Super Bowl inside the best stadium in Montana. Right then, Christie and I knew we were going to give them the best experience possible.

Treating the MYF championship game just like an actual Griz game, Christie and I pulled out all the stops. All the “TOUCHDOWN”, “FIRST DOWN,” “TURNOVER.” etc prompts were used on Griz Vision. Signature clips such as Godzilla and the Animal House “You Make Me Want to Shout” scene were shown during both championship games. The songs synonymous with Griz games including “We Like to Party” and “Cotton Eyed Joe” echoed through the stadium as fans danced along. Griz football color man and MYF board member Scott Gurnsey served as the PA announcer and did an amazing job recognizing the kids. Joining the three of us in the control room included a scoreboard operator, a cameraman, and then two of our hard-working marketing interns.

Christie and I up in the box on Friday evening. We had a great time.

Instead of leaving work at 6 p.m., I knew I would be there until 10 p.m. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Christie and I were having such a good time running our usual gameday production in a non-stressful environment. Darkness finally overtook the stadium and our brand new lights illuminated the field and the youngsters playing on it, making for a great scene. Watching the young kids playing football and reacting to everything that was going on was pretty special. A couple times Christie and I mentioned how these kids would remember playing in this game for the rest of their lives. To know that we had a part in shaping it definitely brought some satisfaction.

In the third and fourth grade championship, the Alamo Rent-A-Car Ravens defeated the Mountain West Bank Chargers. In the fifth and sixth grade game, the Sleep City Steelers became champions by defeating the Lifestyle Fitness Falcons. As “We Are the Champions” filled the stadium as the Steelers received their trophies during the awards ceremony under the bright lights to conclude the evening, I realized that not only the kids would remember this night for a while but I would too. Needless to say, I was very happy I did not leave work early that night. Don’t Blink.

NACMA Board Retreat 2012

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to venture over to Whitefish, Montana, to help out my boss, Christie Anderson, with quite a big deal she had arranged. Starting July 15 and running through July 18, Grizzly Athletics hosted the 2012 National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators (NACMA) Board of Directors Retreat. Wow, what a mouthful. Referred to in the condensed version as the 2012 NACMA Retreat, it served as a great way for me to see the top people in my industry while at the same time getting to visit one of the most gorgeous spots in Montana.

The NACMA Board is made up of individuals from all across the country who serve as marketing directors, or in other equivalent roles, in their respective athletic departments. When I say all across the country, I am not kidding. We had representatives from the west of us (University of Oregon, Boise State, University of California – Riverside), south of us (Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Arizona State, University of New Mexico), and a whole host of schools from back east (Xavier, Kansas State, Northern Illinois, several Florida schools, etc.). Not only were our guests from diverse geographic locations, they were also from diverse institutions as well. While the board contains reps from powerhouse schools such as the University of Oregon and the University of South Carolina, several colleges in smaller conferences such as Embry-Riddle University and the University of New Hampshire also enjoy representation on the board. While geographic location/conference affiliation might differ, the goals for most of these people are shared.

I joined Christie in Whitefish to help her with transportation. Joining in the effort to haul the NACMA board around the area was our assistant athletic director for business operations, Jimmy, and one of our interns in the department, Tim. As we did not attend any of the meetings or do any of the “official” board stuff during the conference, the three of us got to hang out with each other quite a bit.

Tim and I drove to Whitefish at 8am on Sunday (7-15) morning. With me behind the wheel, we made the two and a half hour drive in a University of Montana 2010 Dodge Caravan. We arrived in the Whitefish area and started shuttling people from the very small Glacier Park Airport to the retreat headquarters at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain. As the members of the board all came in at different times, the three of us drivers made several trips back and forth between the airport and resort. As most of the board members had never been to Montana before, many of them asked interesting questions as we took them on the thirty minute drive that took them down an old Montana highway, through downtown Whitefish, and then up a big mountain: “Are there really Grizzly bears here? What kind of place is the Blue Moon tavern? General stores really do exist? How hard is it to work for Christie? Do you actually know where you are going?”

Up on the mountain, our guests could not resist taking pictures.

The first day centered mostly around getting the whole board to the retreat spot. As people arrived, we took them to the lodge at the resort where they hung out and chatted. For the first night, a progressive dinner was held. To buy supplies, we transported the 20+ person group to the Whitefish Safeway where they pretty much took over the store. The board members made sure to buy all the necessary items that would make the dinner a smashing success, so you can probably understand why this resulted in the blocking of several aisles, the forming of long lines, and the irritation of locals who probably just wanted to pick up their milk and bread. I don’t think anyone could really complain though…the Safeway had to have made a killing during that half hour of chaos. Tim, Jimmy, and myself all got to participate in the progressive dinner and the food was delicious. I had never had better pigs in a blanket in my life.

The NACMA Board took a picture together on the roof of the resort.

The next day the board strapped down and went to work. The three of us drivers transported everyone from the resort rooms to the lodge where the meeting room was. After getting everyone there, Jimmy, Tim, and myself moved from our previous living headquarters at the Hibernation House to the Morning Eagle, the place where the board was staying. Because the three of us were missing three days of work, we did as much away from the office that we could in the early morning. We then went back into town where we made a trip back to Safeway and then ate lunch at the local Taco Del Sol. Soon enough, it was time to pick up the board after the long day of meetings and take them back to their rooms so they could get ready for the night’s activity. What was the activity you might ask? A beautiful boat ride on Whitefish Lake. With the weather absolutely perfect, we took three boats out onto the lake for a two hour cruise. We had amazing tour guides who told our guests every single detail about the lake itself, the residents who lived in the giant lake houses, the exact value of each property, and anything else they could possibly ask. After the boats docked, we all got to enjoy the breathtaking Montana sunset on a warm summer evening. The whole night was probably the shining moment of the retreat.

Several members of the NACMA Board on one of the boats.

Christie and I after the boat cruise.

The next day started with the same thing. Jimmy, Tim, and I transported the marketers from Morning Eagle to the lodge. We then went to town where we ate breakfast at the Buffalo. We returned to our room and I did work for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. The time quickly came for us to pick up everyone from the long day of meetings. After bringing them back to freshen up and change for the evening, Christie and Nick came up to the room to hang out with the three of us drivers. Now, I have neglected to talk much about Nick in this post. Nick was one of our interns who recently received a prestigious internship with NACMA. In addition, he also earned the opportunity to attend the retreat as well. It was very nice for the five of us to take a little bit of time and hang out. We sat out on our room patio and chatted and joked around for about an hour. That night we took the board to downtown Whitefish where they got to eat at a nice restaurant and then explore the town for the rest of the night. Just like at the lake, you could tell that the attendees were genuinely enjoying themselves and really taking in a way of life that was dramatically different from their own.

After the meetings on Tuesday the business part of the conference was officially over so that meant Wednesday was departure day. We returned from town late on Tuesday night and because I had to transport two of the members to the airport at 4:30am I just stayed up. That initial venture out to the airport signaled the start of a very long day for me. It seemed like I was driving back and forth between the resort and the airport (and many places in between) nonstop. After dropping off some luggage to a couple of the attendees at Whitefish Lake, I made the trip back to Missoula. I dropped off the van at motor pool a little after 5pm and went home. After not sleeping for thirty plus hours I fell down on my bed and slept.

The three vehicles we utilized during the trip.

Although I did not participate in the content portion of the NACMA Retreat, I did get to meet some of the top marketers in the nation who are doing some really cool things at their universities. Most of them were down-to-earth, nice, fun people to be around. I even met a few who I looked at and told myself that I want to be like that guy (girl) as I advance in my career. Although all of the people at the retreat come from different backgrounds and situations, they all battle with the same issues in their respective positions. Because of this, there is a tremendous level of respect shared between every single member of that board. This was something that I envied and really made me want to be on a board of a similar nature in the future. Aside from observing people who I didn’t know, I also got to have a great time with the people who I do know. Jimmy, Tim, and myself worked together to do the best we could to serve our guests and help Christie out. The instances that the three of us got to spend time with Christie and Nick were very worthwhile, especially since I will probably not see Nick for a very long time. The NACMA Retreat was an exciting adventure that I will look back on fondly. Don’t Blink.