(From left to right) Panelists Bill Pennington, Meghan Essman, John Fetterolf '93, Tal Alter '98 and Jason Polykoff ’06.
Careers in Sports Symposium Comes to Campus
“Most of my professors would be rolling over in their graves if they knew I was here speaking to you!” said Jon Fetterolf ’93 to the assembled crowd students gathered in Chase Auditorium on Sunday morning. The self-proclaimed “quiet student in the back of the class” is now the agent for 15 of the biggest names in baseball and was one of five panelists at the first-ever Careers in Sports Symposium.
The symposium, a joint project of the Bi-Co Career Development Office and the Haverford College Athletics Department, was created to address growing student interest in professions in sports. Fetterolf, attorney and certified MLBPA player agent at Williams and Connolly LLP, was joined by Jason Polykoff ’06, the head basketball coach at Friends Central School; Tal Alter ’98, managing director for Peace Players International; Meghan Essman, director of fan development and educational programs for the Philadelphia Phillies; and Bill Pennington, a sports writer for The New York Times. And over the course of the day’s panel discussion, workshops and lunch, the speakers told interested students about how they got into the sports industry and gave tips on how to get jobs in this competitive field.
“Your athletic career comes to an end and you’ve got to do something with the rest of your life,” said Pennington as he launched into his history as a sports journalist. “I happened to be lucky. I happened to be in Boston and there was lots of stuff to cover.” Since his start in Boston, he has not only become a full time columnist for The Times, but also written several books. “I’ve covered just about every sport except for field hockey, I think,” he said.
Essman started her career in sports somewhat earlier. “I didn’t know it, but my career started when I was 14 years old,” she said, when she filled out a questionnaire, which prompted a call two years later from the Phillies, offering her an unpaid internship. She’s stayed with the team ever since, moving up through the ranks to her current position, which puts her in charge of many pregame duties and nine different community outreach programs.
When asked how he got to his current position, Fetterolf admitted “there’s a little bit of luck involved.” When he joined Williams and Connolly after law school, it didn’t represent athletes, but when they wanted to create a baseball practice they turned to him because of his background in sports. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
“The only thing I ever wanted to do was play baseball, so I ended up at Haverford,” joked Alter. Realizing the difficulty of making it to the major leagues from a Division III school, Greg Kannerstein, then the director of athletics, suggested that Alter try the European baseball teams. So after graduation, he flew to the Netherlands to try out. He didn’t make it, but he did wind up the head varsity coach of the American School in the Hague. Afterwards, he pursued an education degree at Harvard, where he discovered all “the nontraditional ways you can be an educator.”
Polykoff stayed closer to home. Straight out of Haverford he became an assistant basketball coach at Friends Central School, near campus. Five years later he has been promoted to head coach, and has created a sports program that attracts recruiters from across the nation.
All of the panelists stressed that networking was important to success in the competitive field of professional sports. “Who you know is critically important,” said Fetterolf, “but it has to come naturally.” Students got to try out that advice for themselves, networking with the five panelists during a post-panel luncheon.
-- Jack Hasler ’15