The “Big Easy” is no stranger to hosting entertaining weekends. From adventures on Bourbon St. to stadium-filling concerts, New Orleans is always a good time. However, last week, the city also played host the NCAA Men’s Final Four, which featured a highly-anticipated matchup between the Duke and the University of North Carolina on one side of the bracket and Villanova and Kansas – the eventual tournament champion – on the other side. For Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski (recipient of The Academy’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Coaching Award Winner in 2008 & 1991), the loss to UNC was last game of his coaching career at Duke – now retiring after a long tenure at the university that started in 1980.

For a group of students from the United States Sports Academy (USSA), the city of New Orleans became a classroom of sorts as it offered a first-class, experiential learning experience for those interested in working in sports.

USSA students worked as part of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation’s Host Committee team, which provided support for a number of events over the course of the weekend. Students of the Academy were actively engaged with operational logistics during the pre-game concert series sponsored on Saturday evening by Coca-Cola, provided support for the On Location Final Four premium fan experience in the Caesar’s Superdome, and organize the NCAA Men’s Final Four Dribble parade in downtown New Orleans.

The Academy provides comprehensive-content knowledge to students through each course offering, but being part of the Men’s NCAA Final Four afforded our USSA learners a chance to experience large-scale event operations in a pressure-filled, practical fashion.

Avery Collins, an education professional and Sport Management doctoral student at the Academy, made the trip all the way from Phoenix, Ariz. Collins appreciated the opportunity to network with other sport professionals, “The best part of the trip was talking to other doctoral students about their experiences, expertise, and career paths.”

Sports coaching bachelor’s degree student Vicki Mengel, of Joppa, Md., is the head softball coach at Cecil College.

“It was an exhilarating experience,” Mengel said. “I am appreciative of meeting Academy faculty, staff, and fellow students. This was a great networking opportunity.”

Experiential learning, which took place over the course of the weekend, serves as an important supplement to the learning which takes places in the online classroom. For our students, fundamental concepts were tested in real-world settings thus providing an opportunity to develop further knowledge, skills, and experience that will benefit them in their careers. Additionally, the experience served as a valuable, professional-networking opportunity.  We encourage students to seek and get involved in similar opportunities.