A Different Wire: A Look into the Not-So-Glorious Side of Collegiate Athletics

Ben Gainsboro

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“Of course, you could never find her office alone.” These were the words spoken to me when I asked for the whereabouts of a Mrs. Virginia Sheppa Shupe, our Assistant Director of Operations and Facilities. And, as the kind lady escorted me to the basement level of the Edmunds Center, I quickly found out that she was right.

The office was located in a long corridor, one very much reminiscent of a labyrinth. Busy people passed me on my left and right, but not without offering me a quick smile, first. The whole floor was alive. Though I began my walk to the Edmunds Center just a few minutes earlier tired and nervous, this corridor gave off a raw energy; one infused heavily with caffeine and long, sleepless, nights.

When I finally arrived at the office of the person I was looking for (it should be noted that it was the last possible one, on the left) she, like the people around her, the ones that passed me, was working, hard. “Just give me one second”, was the first thing she said to me, before beginning to make another cup of coffee. Virginia Sheppa Shupe, entering her fourth year at Stetson, is the machine that made this whole, crazy, machine run.

And yet she, herself, was so down to earth. The first thing I noticed when I sat down for the interview was the calm, easy, approachability of this person. “Have a seat, I’ll be right with you” she said, the Keurig coffee machine whirring and spinning as it pumped out more of the fresh, hot liquid. The office was crammed, sure, but it was also a quite welcoming environment. Even when she said to keep the door open, the interview was one of the utmost personable variety.

“So, what do you want to know?” She asked me to begin the interview. And I told her I had a series of questions we were going to work through. I was nervous, as this was not only my first interview for The Reporter, but also my first time conducting a professional interview (looking back on it now, sports shorts and a hat probably was not the most professional attire I could have chosen). But, eager and excited, I launched into my questioning.

It was an engaging experience, talking to one of the cogs that made the engine of Stetson athletics run. Of course, she would never say that, as her humbleness and sarcastic attitude towards her coworkers gave off a far more “sibling feel” than professional environment. But make no mistake about it, Mrs. Sheppa Shupe is the real deal. A graduate of Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia for her undergraduate degree, Ms. Sheppa Shupe was surrounded by many of the big names in collegiate athletics: “when you’re there you have experience with UVA fans, Tech fans…you’ve got lots of separate schools, so it’s a very different atmosphere versus here”. As a sports fan her whole life, Virginia, when reminiscing about this opportunity to be surrounded by three premier sports universities, sounded just like a kid again.

After Roanoke, she attended and graduated from Georgia State University in Atlanta. “[it’s a] very urban campus, that’s located in the heart of Atlanta, and it’s huge.” While I began the interview hoping she would favor one school over the other, it ended up being a five-minute appraisal for both institutions. “Two great schools.”

And though I only know Virginia as my interview subject, this vibe, this constant appraisal and utter lack of negativity was apparent throughout our thirty minute discussion. When I asked her about the positives and negatives of working at Stetson, her positives consisted of: “getting to know the athletes very well”, “watching sports live, right in the action”, and the “growth of students from freshmen to seniors.”

When asked about the negatives, she simply answered with: “I mean…space, storage.” The answer was met with laughs by both her and I. Though I pried for more, she launched right back into the positives, stating that “you go into sports because you love sports”.

So what is it that Virginia does for Stetson, exactly? I think the better question would be what she does not do. I asked her to take me through an average event that she works on, Men’s Basketball, in particular. “Usually either the day before or the day of, depending on shootaround time and practice times, we usually set up the gym, that’s usually myself and my student assistant, and my student event staff manager, we pull all the bleachers out, get those set up.” Sounds tedious? She was just getting started.

“Three hours out is really when the main stuff happens. That’s when… usually when shootaround has finished up, you’re setting up the court, you’re unlocking bench chairs, you’re unlocking table chairs, you set up the band stands, everything you need to get on the court is already ready to go, your floor mops, your chairs, your possession arrow if it’s not for some crazy reason already out, it goes out, your stickpad, is on the center court, your tape for your stick pad, your timing shoots are already distributed…so about two hours out…your visiting team arrives.”

So the visiting team is here, that’s when you hand off the work to someone else, right? Wrong. She then proceeded to take me through the rest of her duties which included greeting the officials, making sure they had everything they needed, and trying to make their experience as easy as possible. Her and her team also help with ushering people in and making sure they park in the right areas of the Edmunds Center parking lot. With about an hour left before the game, she and her crew open the doors to let people in, dealing with things like reserve seating and general admission for specific tickets. If that is not enough, she also has to make sure her security guards are informed and in place. At the end of the half, Mrs. Sheppa Shupe and her crew escort the officials and visiting teams back to their respective locker rooms.

At this point in the interview a man walked in and said something about paying someone for fixing a washer. Virginia answered in the style that I was expecting, laughing and saying: “this is just day to day life.”

So how did Stetson land Mrs. Sheppa Shupe? It should be noted, of course, that Virginia had experience in bigger institutions than Stetson. The ACC, SEC, MLB, Atlantic 10, and others were all previous stops before she finally found her way here. Thankfully for us, it does not sound like she will be leaving anytime soon. “When I was at Auburn, I did strictly game management, I didn’t touch a volleyball net, I didn’t touch a basketball net, I didn’t touch a soccer goal…The most I did was put towels in the locker room.”

I asked her to compare that to what she does here. “Being at Stetson, it’s neat, you’re not siloed, I do everything, I’ve learned more here in terms of how to do facility maintenance than I did at the bigger schools that I went to. So I’m a lot more confident now, If equipment breaks, I’m more confident in fixing it, or coming up with a solution to work at getting everything back on track. So that’s the biggest thing.”

Facilities and operations was never something I was interested in doing, but hearing Virginia talk about it, it almost made me want to ask if I could shadow her. I didn’t, but I did ask what someone who wanted to do what she did, should do? She answered quickly and with conviction: “Volunteer. Volunteer. Volunteer. If your athletic department hires students to work in athletics, get a job working in athletics.”

Her answer, as with the rest of the interview, was delivered with confidence and poise, yet she kept the conversation warm and welcoming. Maybe it had to do with something she mentioned in the last part of the interview, when I was done with my questions.

“If you work in facility ops you are definitely wired a little differently than anybody else. I can tell you right now, me sitting at a desk for 9-5 job, would never work.” After a few more laughs, she finished with: “And it’s awesome, because I don’t sit at a desk.”