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KNOXVILLE—For the first time, a team of University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students will be working behind the scenes at the Kentucky Derby and will manage the hospitality suite for the event’s elite guests.

The group leaves on Thursday, May 3, and will work a Friday pre-Derby show and then the main event on Saturday. The team returns Sunday, May 6.

Derby Team
Pictured, left to right: Candice Greene, Fritz Polite, Sarah Frazier, Kiel Castle, Danielle Polk, Tyler French, Asia West, Sean Hensley, and Kristen Petway.

UT students received an invitation to help with the Derby after its officials learned of their work with the Super Bowl, said Fritz Polite, a UT clinical professor of sport management and director and founder of the Institute for Leadership, Ethics, and Diversity.

Team UT has worked at eight Super Bowls.

There are more than 400 sports management programs all over the country. “What is it about UT that we continue to get invitations to these events?” Polite said. “It’s the unique experiences we can provide that sets us apart.”

The ten-person group will include seven students, two mentors, and Polite. Two of the students—Dani Polk, of Fishers, Indiana, a freshman marketing major, and Kristen Petway, of Nashville, a sophomore recreation and sport management major—were part of the Super Bowl XLVI team. They will be the co-directors of the Kentucky Derby team.

“It allows them at a very young age to develop their leadership skills,” Polite said.

Polk noted that the Kentucky Derby will be attended by about 130,000 people—double the number of Super Bowl participants.

“I feel like the Super Bowl gave me a preview of one of the big sporting events and it helped me be prepared for the fast-paced environment,” she said.

Petway said she’d never had the chance to work under pressure until the Super Bowl, an experience that will translate well to working at the Kentucky Derby.

She added that the Super Bowl team had the luxury of a four-month planning period. The current team had only the month of April to plan for the Kentucky Derby.

“I’ve learned time and stress management,” Petway said.

Two former UT students—Justin Shaw, of Memphis, and Sean Hensley, of Knoxville—will serve as mentors to the team.

Other team members:

  • Kiel Castle, of Adams, New York, senior, recreation and sport management major
  • Sarah Frazier, of Cleveland, Ohio, junior, recreation and sport management major
  • Tyler French, of Hendersonville, Tennessee, senior, recreation and sport management major
  • Candice Greene, of Knoxville, senior, recreation administration major
  • Asia West, of Chattanooga, freshman, accounting major

C O N T A C T S:

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,

Kristen Petway (615-720-4268,