F&M alumni parlay their passion for sports into rewarding careersThey are surgeons and team owners, psychologists and writers, coaches and organizers. From the sidelines to medical buildings—and many places in between—Franklin & Marshall alumni are pursuing an eclectic range of careers relating to sports.
These six alumni have used their liberal arts education to communicate through writing and coaching, to pursue advanced degrees to help others heal physically and emotionally, and to acquire the business savvy to build successful teams and support their communities.
Donnie Marsh '79 Associate Head Coach, University of Alabama at BirminghamDonnie Marsh '79 can close his eyes and see it now, just as it happened more than 30 years ago. Mayser Gymnasium is packed to capacity for an NCAA quarterfinal men's basketball game between F&M and Jersey City State. The Diplomats take control late in the second half, and it becomes clear to the standing-room-only crowd that F&M will advance to the 1979 Division III Final Four in Rock Island, Ill. The crowd rises and begins to chant, "Rock Island, Rock Island!" The Diplomats win the game, 83-72, and earn a trip to the school's first-ever Final Four.
"I'll never forget the crowd and the noise level in that gym," says Marsh, who is the all-time leading scorer in F&M's men's basketball history. "That experience will never leave me. There was a huge banner in the College Center, with messages to wish us well. I get chills talking about it right now."
Marsh is still experiencing the thrill of college basketball as he enters his fifth season as associate head coach at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). It is the latest stop in a 30-year career that has included coaching positions at Florida State, Virginia Tech, Indiana University and Florida International.
He began his coaching career at F&M as an assistant under Glenn Robinson, the coach who helped him develop into an All-American player. Marsh, who was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in the third round of the 1979 NBA draft, was also head baseball coach and associate director of admission at F&M in the 1980s.
"I was a point guard when I first started playing at F&M," says Marsh. "As a point guard, you are an extension of the head coach on the floor. I took pride in leading the team on the floor and being a student of the game. I thought coaching would be a good fit, and I was fortunate to begin coaching at the college level."
At UAB, Marsh's responsibilities include everything from scheduling to ordering equipment to NCAA compliance. He is regarded by his colleagues as one of the top recruiters in the nation. On the court, Marsh is in charge of running the Blazers' defense, a position he also held at Indiana under current UAB coach Mike Davis.
But for Marsh, the most important work takes place away from the hardwood, as he tries to serve as a role model to the student-athletes under his guidance. "Regardless of the level of basketball, I want to make sure the young men remember me in five, 10 or 15 years," Marsh says. "You can never lose sight of why you do what you do. I want all of our players to say, 'He tries to set the right example.'"
Ariane Smith Machín, Ph.D., '00 PsychologistAriane Smith Machín '00 could not have asked for a better start to her collegiate career as a cross-country runner. She registered impressive times as a first-year runner, eventually qualifying for the national championships. Her inaugural campaign appeared to be the beginning of a brilliant athletic career.
But soon, painful injuries forced Machín to ponder what might have been. She suffered several "overuse" injuries during her time at F&M, including broken metatarsals, a torn Achilles, compartment syndrome and iliotibial band syndrome.
The experience might have been a blessing in disguise for Machín, who is now a licensed psychologist specializing in working with athletes. She practices at Lakefront Wellness Center S.C. in Wisconsin and is the sport psychologist for the Froedtert Hospital and Medical College of Wisconsin.
She has counseled athletes at every age and ability level, from youth to professional athletes. Often, athletes are interested in performance-enhancement skills training, including anxiety management, motivation, distraction control, concentration, confidence and coping with injury.
"I connect with them a great deal and have empathy for what they are experiencing," says Machín, who holds certification from the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. "I have athletes come in who are really down, but I get it. Some want to continue their sport professionally. They feel like failures, and it's hard for them to imagine getting out of that hole."
Machín traces her interest in sport psychology back to F&M. With encouragement from Robert Bunnell, then-director of athletics, Machín wrote an honors thesis on changes in self-esteem in cross-country runners before and after competition. She then completed her master's in kinesiology with a specialization in sport psychology at the University of Minnesota.
Machín earned her Ph.D. in counseling psychology at the University of North Texas, where she daily worked with college athletes, coaches and local elite club teams. In her clinical work, she also specializes in assisting athletes experiencing body-image concerns and disordered eating patterns. "I love the process of counseling and seeing change over time," says Machín, who is married to Sebastian Machín '00, a former F&M soccer player. "I enjoy connecting with athletes, especially when they're excited about their potential and want to change their thoughts, emotions and behaviors."
Sometimes Machín sees athletes who want answers immediately. The counseling process, however, takes time. "If I had a magic wand, I'd wave it. It's difficult for athletes because they're used to controlling the things around them," she says.
"We focus on attempting to understand and shift what the athlete is experiencing, but also learn new strategies of coping with emotions or situations," Machín says. "I believe my energy, optimism and humor come out in the clients I work with. My goal is to inspire curiosity, personal growth and empowerment. Ultimately I want to help them reach their athletic goals."
Ron Sirak '72 Executive Editor, Golf World MagazineFor Ron Sirak '72, a 350-mile trip from western Pennsylvania to Franklin & Marshall in 1968 was like a journey to a different planet. He unloaded his 20-pound Remington typewriter and looked around at what he considered to be a smarter, more sophisticated world. His F&M education propelled this son of a steel worker on another journey, this time toward a highly successful career in sports journalism.
Sirak has covered some of the top athletes and sports moments of his generation. The author of several books, he is executive editor of Golf World and senior writer for Golf Digest. Prior to joining the magazines in 1998, he worked for the Associated Press for 18 years, the first seven as a news editor before becoming deputy sports editor, the second-highest-ranking person in the sports department.
His assignments took him to the Olympics, the NCAA men's basketball tournament and a host of other big events. The two most exciting events both involved female athletes—for vastly different reasons.
"The first was the night in Lillehammer, Norway, in the 1994 Winter Olympics, when Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding faced off in the figure skating competition after Harding had hired a man two months earlier to try to cripple Kerrigan," Sirak says. "The second was when Annika Sorenstam played in the PGA's 2003 Colonial Invitational. Given that both her reputation and the reputation of women's golf were at stake, I don't think anyone ever hit a single shot under as much pressure as Sorenstam when she hit her opening drive."
In 1996, he returned to writing as the AP's golf writer. The switch happened at the same time a young man named Tiger Woods was taking the golf world by storm.
Sirak feels fortunate to have been on the golf beat during the careers of Woods and Sorenstam, whom he believes are the best male and the best female golfers ever to play the game. Sirak's dream foursome would include golfer Ben Hogan, President Barack Obama and his father, John, who introduced him to the game.
From his time at the AP through today, Sirak has witnessed a remarkable evolution in the tools of his trade. He remembers a day when reporters would dictate stories over the phone to their offices, and when the high-speed wire at the AP transmitted 1,200 words per minute. Now Sirak, whose daughter, Rachel '04, is an F&M graduate, carries a smart phone to check e-mails constantly and tweets several times a day (@ronsirak) to nearly 2,500 followers.
One thing has not changed: You still need to know how to tell a good story. "The most-important skill for a journalist is the ability to perform the mental triage that separates the insignificant detail from the crucial element of information," Sirak says. "I learned that at F&M, and I learned how to communicate that information."
Carl Becker, M.D., '87 Orthopedic SurgeonOrthopedic Surgeon Carl Becker, M.D., '87 goes by many names, including orthopedic surgeon, father, husband and racecar driver. But in the early days of his career as a physician, he often went by the same name as the star of a hit 1980s television series—at least in the confines of the operating room.
"One of my scrub nurses used to call me 'MacGyver,'" Becker says of his connection to the character who found unconventional solutions to problems. "I would say, 'We need an instrument that can do this,' and find a way to perform the task. But today we have new instruments and new techniques."
Becker practices orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at Argiers, Becker & Westphal, the only multispecialty group in central Pennsylvania that combines neurosurgery, orthopedics, physical therapy and interventional-pain-management services. He and fellow F&M graduate Thomas Westphal, M.D., '75 are the orthopedic specialists in the group, and two of the busiest surgeons at Lancaster General Hospital. Becker specializes in arthroscopic and reconstructive surgery of the shoulder, hip and knee.
Becker's career began to take shape at F&M when he had a conversation with Jim Spencer, the William G. and Elizabeth R. Simeral Emeritus Professor of Chemistry." Professor Spencer told me to use my brain," Becker says. "He told me about a friend of his in Colorado who was an orthopedic surgeon, and that he was always using his hands. He was telling me I probably wouldn't want to do it. But I've always enjoyed working with my hands on physical and spatial problems."
Sports medicine was nothing new for Becker, a wrestler in high school and college. He first became interested in the field when he injured his medial collateral ligament while wrestling in high school. "That's when I first realized what this field is all about," he says. "I like helping people get better, whether it's getting rid of the pain or helping them to do things better. I don't consider my job a job."
Becker recently put those words into practice when he performed a hip replacement for a friend of a friend who could not afford the operation. In a gesture of thanks, the friend presented Becker with a gift certificate to the Skip Barber Racing School. The school's graduates include professional drivers Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and Juan Pablo Montoya.
As a result of his trip to the racing school, Becker participated in the taping of a reality show called the Robin Hood Rally, a race between average people in their everyday cars. He spent one day driving his Porsche on the Formula One course in the Poconos, and another in New Hampshire.
"I like racing because you're not thinking about anything else," Becker says. "Usually I say no good deed goes unpunished, but in this case, it was rewarded."
Jen Fried '04 Assistant Director of Athletics, Husson UniversityRelationships are important to Jen Fried '04. Ask her for mentors, and she speaks glowingly of F&M coaches and professors. Ask her about a highlight from her collegiate career, and she reflects on the shared "agony" of preseason soccer with teammates she still counts among her closest friends. Ask her about working toward her master's degree, and she focuses on the honor of doing an intern- ship with one of the pioneers of Title IX.
Those shared experiences led Fried to choose a career path in which she can form relationships with the next generation of student-athletes. Currently she is assistant director of athletics, sports information director and compliance coordinator at Husson University in Bangor, Maine.
Fried is enjoying the return to her Division III roots at Husson. "My time at F&M was the perfect balance of academics and athletics," explains Fried, who majored in psychology. "It was a completely integrated experience. I played two sports and was involved in many activities. It really set the tone for the kind of experience I want to be a part of fostering as a professional."
At F&M, she played soccer for three seasons and softball for four seasons, culminating with being named the 2004 Centennial Conference Softball Player of the Year. On Oct. 30, she was inducted into the F&M Softball Ring of Honor.
Before going to Husson, Fried was a graduate student at the University of Iowa, where she worked as a Title IX intern with Christine Grant, the former athletic director of the Department of Women's Athletics, and as a volunteer assistant softball coach. "Working with Dr. Grant helped me understand what my history was and the privileges that I've had within athletics and my responsibility to be the kind of administrator who honors that." Title IX is the landmark legislation that opened the door to women in high school and college sports.
Recently honored as the 2010 Administrator of Tomorrow for Division III by the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletic Administrators, Fried as started on her career path by her F&M soccer coach, Steven O'Day, who offered Fried her first job as one of his assistant coaches. The two remain close, and she continues to consult with O'Day, now F&M's senior associate dean of the College, on impor- tant professional decisions.
Another F&M relationship that continues to exert an influence on her career is the one she built with Psychology Professor Terry Greene, who died in 2006. The two met at F&M's Beginnings program, an orientation for first-year students.
"From that moment, Professor Greene was an adviser and then my mentor. She was a fixture at all my games," says Fried, whose brother, Ryan '08, also became close to Greene. "I think that as a professional, if I can make other people feel as cared about, valued and supported as she made so many of us feel, then I will succeed as a person and as a professional."
Jim Brooks '98 Owner & President, Wheeling Nailers and Adirondack Phantoms"I was always curious and intrigued by sports statistics," says Jim Brooks '98. "When I was a kid, my mom would tell people to ask me for a stat, and I always knew it."
He credits his fascination and facility with numbers to his father, Bob Brooks '66, a mathematics major at F&M and former chief financial officer at Westinghouse Air Brake Co.
In college, Jim Brooks pursued his love of both numbers and sports by majoring in business, with a concentration in accounting, and by playing club ice hockey as well as numerous intramural sports with his Phi Kappa Tau brothers.
Despite this dual affinity, Brooks did not go directly into a career in sports. His first job was at accounting firm Arthur Andersen. "What a great experience. I really learned not just how to act in a business culture, but also the work ethic that is necessary to succeed," Brooks explains.
Brooks left after a few years to help an ailing uncle run his tax business in West Virginia and eventually returned to Pittsburgh, unsure of his next step.
Coincidentally, his brother, Rob, was at a crossroads in his career. "We always got along well, so we talked about doing something together," he says. "We looked at owning a golf course or a business franchise. Then we thought, What about owning a sports team?"
Jim talked with their dad, who is part of the ownership group of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pirates, and spent time with major- and minor-league teams figuring out what the sports business was all about and how to operate a team on their own.
They discovered team ownership was not just about excitement and entertainment. It was about creating memories for the fans. He also realized, "Through your team's exposure and involvement, you can do so many good things for your local community. I think that part is what led us to ownership."
In 2003, the brothers bought the Wheeling (W.Va.) Nailers, the ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens. Last year they also purchased the Adirondack (N.Y.) Phantoms, the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Rob and I are touching the community in ways that you can't in other businesses," Brooks says. He cites the "Booze, Cruise, You Lose" program in Wheeling as a perfect example. The Nailers partner with the state police and a local law firm to educate students about the consequences of driving while drunk. The police talk about the results of impaired driving, and the lawyer explains how it alters the rest of your life. Then the hockey players, who are seen as role models and are closer in age to the students, encourage the students to make smart choices.
In addition to making a difference in the community, Brooks also loves the thrill and passion that fuel the sports world. "There is nothing quite like the feeling when your team scores a goal in overtime," he says. "It's just a little different feeling than when you complete an audit."