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by Amy M. Buzinski ’03
Inside the AFL
A cry of "hike" from the quarterback elicits instant action. Linemen as big as mountains heave forward in a constant battle to defend or seize the ball. Swift footed receivers streak downfield in an attempt to lose their defenders. The ball glides through the air on a path towards the end zone…touchdown! It all happens in what seems like an instant.
With the popularity of the Arena Football League (AFL) growing each year, more and more college athletes are given the chance to pursue careers in this unique type of professional football. Bryan Snyder ’98 and Russell Benditt ’01 are two of those athletes. Playing in the AF2, the AFL’s minor league, Snyder and Benditt are gaining valuable experience, which they hope will lead to careers in the big leagues.
A star at Albright, Snyder still holds almost every passing record for the Lions. In 1999, while playing overseas, he was invited to an AFL tryout held at the Meadowlands and discovered by the head coach of the Alabama Vipers. "He saw me and liked my numbers so he signed me to a contract," says Snyder. He has been playing arena football ever since.
Benditt, the anchor of Albright’s hard hitting defense for the past four years, had some help getting his foot in the door. "Coach (E.J.) Sandusky made a phone call to an old friend and I was able to send him a game film. He liked it and offered me a contract," says Benditt. He recently completed his rookie season as a fullback and linebacker for the AF2’s Roanoke Steam.
While this fast-paced game of indoor professional football is similar to the established outdoor game, it is also very different. Both Snyder and Benditt agree that the style of arena football takes some getting used to. "You have to adapt to playing with mostly Division I athletes and the quicker pace of the game," says Snyder. The reason the pace is so quick in arena football is because the field is only 50 yards long, which allows teams to make big plays and score many times in a matter of minutes.
the fundamentals of the game, how to watch film and also how to deal with
success and failure.”
Also, only eight players on the field for each team instead of the normal 11 makes for an "offense friendly" atmosphere, which is never lacking in excitement. Touchdown dances and taunting seem to be as common in arena football as fighting is in hockey. "Having less players means more one-on-one play which allows for a lot of showboating," says Benditt.
The jump from college to professional sports can be daunting for some yet, thanks to their college experiences, Snyder and Benditt take it in stride. In college, "I learned the fundamentals of the game, how to watch film and also how to deal with success and failure," says Benditt. Although the season is only during the summer, these athletes are either practicing or on the road every day during that time. "College teaches you how to be out on your own. I don’t get home sick," says Snyder.
The off-season in arena football is fairly long because the regular season takes place only during the summer months. Players use the time to work out and, if necessary, renew contracts or discuss trade options with their current teams. "I’m a free agent now so, who knows where I’ll end up next season," says Snyder.
"I’ve had tryouts with Arena One teams and some National Football League (NFL) teams have asked for game film. I’d also like to play closer to home if that’s possible," says Benditt. Not knowing where you might be playing next season is a part of being a professional athlete. But Benditt doesn’t seem to mind. "This is my dream," he says.
A (Basketball) World Away
How do you say, "Dream come true" in German or French? Terrence Skyrm ’01 and Mark Moritz ‘01 can tell you. Both have recently made the huge leap from Division III athletics to the professional basketball leagues of Europe. For the last two years Skyrm has been traveling Europe playing power forward for Trierer Basketball, one of Germany’s professional basketball teams. Moritz recently hooked up with Inter Ajaccio, a professional team located on the island of Corsica.
After graduation, Skyrm obtained a French passport and set out for Europe. "Getting a European passport is really the first step," he says. Moritz agrees, "A European passport allows players greater opportunity to get signed onto a team anywhere in Europe."
The popularity and quality of basketball in Europe has skyrocketed and has become especially attractive to young Americans looking to gain playing experience. The European game is, overall, more fundamental than the professional leagues in the United States. Instead of emphasizing dunking and fancy moves, Europeans emphasize jump shooting, dribbling and good team skills. These skills are always helpful in developing as a player.
While the game is basically the same, there are some nuances that distinguish the European style from that of the United States. "Just the little things about the game are different over here," says Skyrm. Rules pertaining to things such as timeouts and jump balls are different, as well as the court dimensions. "The first time I dove on the floor and tried to call timeout, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. That’s because players [in European basketball] can’t call timeouts," he says.
Surprisingly, language is not a huge problem. "I’ve picked up the basketball terms and learned basic phrases so I can go eat and go shopping without any problem here," says Moritz. Trier, says Skyrm, is a tourist city and most people know how to speak English. But, "I know enough German to get by," he says, and the head coach is American so team activities tend to be conducted in English as well.
"Playing at Albright really helped me develop as a player. Basically, if it wasn’t for that experience, I would have never been able to play at this level" - Mark Moritz '01
Starting in August players get ready for a grueling season, which can last until May. "You have to train and take care of yourself because your body is your investment to the team," says Skyrm. With a one-year contract already worked out, Skyrm will focus on improving his player resume. "My immediate goal is to improve and then hopefully get a starting job for a good team in the future," he says. Moritz is just starting his rookie season in the French Federation Basketball League.
Skyrm transferred to Albright in 1999 after playing two years at Division I Bucknell University. "I knew I had a chance to play a lot against good competition. I don’t regret playing Division III," Skyrm says.
"Playing at Albright really helped me develop as a player. Basically, if it wasn’t for that experience, I would have never been able to play at this level," says Moritz.
Happy to be living out his dreams, Skyrm says, "I laugh at my friends when they say they don’t like their jobs." Being able to travel, save money and not having to work a nine to five, says Skyrm, is what makes his career special. "I’m getting paid to do what I love," he says with a chuckle. Moritz agrees that what he’s doing is a dream come true. "I play basketball and I live on a beautiful island so I can’t complain."
“You’re Outta There!”
The sky is clear…the game is close…it’s a beautiful night for baseball. Matt Hollowell ’94, an umpire for Major League Baseball (MLB), is concentrating on first base. Suddenly, out of the Comiskey Park stands, a bare-chested father and his teenage son slam Tom Gamboa, Kansas City Royals first base coach, to the ground right in front of Hollowell.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. But incidents of fan violence are increasing at sporting events, adding a unique twist to Hollowell’s job. Yet, even having to deal with overzealous and sometimes drunken fans, being a MLB umpire has always been his dream.
In fact, when kids on the little league baseball field dreamed of becoming the next Babe Ruth, Hollowell was busy calling out balls and strikes. "Whenever I wasn’t playing or practicing baseball I was umpiring," he says. He played baseball in high school and at Albright but never forgot his dream of one day becoming a professional umpire. Although he was accepted into law school after graduation, he decided to defer law to attend the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in Florida, one of three schools that train professional umpires.
In order to select the best umpires, students must make it through several cuts. The top 10 students from each school are selected during the first cut. Then the top 30 students go through more training and after a rigorous second cut, the top 12 are allowed to begin umpiring. "My first assignment was in the New York/Pennsylvania rookie league," he says.
Umpires, much like the players, can be "called up or down" between the various levels of professional baseball. Just six years out of umpire school, Hollowell was working for the International Baseball League, the MLB’s minor league. But on August 14, 2000 he was called to Miami to umpire his first MLB game between the Florida Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I was thrilled. It was a dream come true," he says.
to be a good communicator. Dr. Yoder and other professors from Albright
taught me that.”
Umpires have to "be objective when making calls on the field and handle difficult situations that arise," he says. Having to deal with players and coaches who disagree with calls, says Hollowell, is just a part of the job. "I always try to handle the situation professionally, but if it warrants an ejection then I’ll do it. You need to be a good communicator. Dr. Yoder and other professors from Albright taught me that," he says.
Hollowell stresses that, when it comes to the game of baseball, it is up to the umpires to have control at all times.
However, one thing Hollowell could not control was the possible player strike this season. "It was very difficult. The fans were not happy after the last one and I think another one would really hurt the game," he says. Luckily, though, both sides worked it out because, "I would have been out of the job."
Hollowell may not get the accolades or see the paychecks that MLB giants like Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez do, but he knows he’s been blessed with an even bigger fortune. "It is amazing to look back and say I achieved my goal. I love my job even more than I thought I would," he says.
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