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Super Bowl 2020
Left to right: Ashley Smith, Mary Jo Swearingen, Waverly Whiston, Wade Sluss, Ruth Ann Reason, Alyssa Andreno, Maria Smith, Trey Smith, Erin Gilroy, Tyler Young, Debbie Mackey

On February 2, as millions of people sit down to enjoy Super Bowl LIV, nine UT students will be in Miami, hard at work behind the scenes.

For the 14th year, UT students will learn firsthand what it takes to stage such a major event. This year’s group—which includes five student–athletes and four others, all majoring in either business, communications, kinesiology, or sport management—will be in Miami from January 29 to February 3, 2020.

Debbie Mackey, distinguished lecturer and coordinator of undergraduate human resources management in the Haslam College of Business, is leading the group for the sixth year. Ashley Smith, director of student–athlete development at UT’s Thornton Athletics Student Life Center, will be serving as a trip leader.

Students who are part of the group, known as the Big Orange Combine, are:

  • Alyssa Andreno, of Stafford, Virginia, a senior in sport management and a member of the volleyball team
  • Erin Gilroy, of Bellmore, New York, a senior in supply chain management and a member of the soccer team
  • Ruth Ann Reason, of Birmingham, Alabama, a senior in human resource management
  • Wade Harrison Sluss, of Knoxville, a senior in human resource management
  • Mariah Nicole Smith, of Clarksville, Tennessee, a junior in kinesiology and a member of the golf team
  • Trey Smith, of Jackson, Tennessee, a junior in sport management and a member of the football team
  • Mary Joanne Swearingen, of Ooltewah, Tennessee, a senior in human resource management with an international business collateral
  • Waverly Whiston, of San Diego, California, a junior in accounting and a member of the golf team
  • Tyler Harrison Young, of Halls, Tennessee, a junior in supply chain management

Whiston said she applied for the trip for a variety of reasons.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not only do we get to experience what happens at the Super Bowl, but we also have a great networking opportunity for future employment,” she said. “An event like this brings in a lot of major companies I hope to someday have the chance to work with. It is also a wonderful experience to be able to work in such a highly intense environment. In the end, I hope to be able to learn how to work efficiently on such a large event and network with a lot of companies that I might not be able to meet normally.”

Swearingen said she, too, sees the trip as a not-to-be-missed opportunity.

“To be able to represent a university that I have grown to love so much in my four years here at the largest sporting event in America is an incredible experience,” she said. “I hope to learn how to identify problems, choose strategies that address those problems, and execute the tactics needed to achieve goals such as putting on the Super Bowl.”

Mackey said the group will work at special events before and during the game.

“It’s a big deal being able to work at the Super Bowl,” she said, adding that the group used VolStarter to raise money for trip expenses.

In the past, students have done everything from taking tickets to holding up signs to throwing footballs with kids at a booth at the NFL Experience.

While it’s not always glamorous work, it helps the students understand the many details that go into staging such a big event. There may be celebrity sightings—students may be called upon to interact with athletes and notables attending the game—but it’s business, not fun and games.

They can’t act like a fan and clamor for autographs or photos, Mackey said.

Andreno said the trip is just the kind of experience she needs:

“I have a large interest in working in the sports field, and being able to work a mega event such as the Super Bowl is a fantastic opportunity,” she said. “I want to learn about how an event with so many people and so many moving parts operates.”

In addition to arranging for students to work at Super Bowl–related events, Mackey and Smith have set up professional development visits so they can learn more about career opportunities at other sports franchises and a major corporation.

“Dr. Mackey and I are very excited to take the students to visit with the Miami Dolphins, the Orange Bowl office, and the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line headquarters,” Smith said. “In addition to working the Super Bowl, we feel that these visits will expose and educate student–athletes to career opportunities in the sports and business industries while networking with professionals that could impact their careers in a positive manner.”

A large number of student applicants interviewed, and nine applicants were selected. Mackey and Smith looked for students who will represent UT well and take the opportunity seriously, realizing that it’s a prime opportunity to network and gain significant experience to add to their resume.


Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993,