“Every new beginning comes for some other beginning’s end.” -Semisonic, “Closing Time”
Time flows in such an uneven way. Our days can feel long, weeks can take forever, and staring at a clock seems to slow everything down to a crawl. Yet, in the blink of an eye, whole years can pass and leave us reflecting on what has occurred. That’s how I’m feeling right now with regards to the Championship Series.
Twenty years ago, I got my first taste of what was to be the Championship Series as a student flag football official at The Ohio State University. Since then, every year—whether as a student or a professional—at the regional or national level and from official to the pinnacle position of the Series, I have been involved in this wonderful and premier program. Roughly half of my life has been influenced by the Championship Series, which has developed my professional and personal skills as well as allowed me to meet some of the most fantastic and dedicated people NIRSA has to offer. Many of those individuals have become friends and people I lean on and trust in times of question and need. It has been an experience I would never trade.
Now, twenty years after my first exposure to the phenomenon that is the Championship Series—and after an industrious yet truncated 2019–2020 year as the chair—I am stepping down and passing the torch on to a new group of young leaders. Serving as the chair has been a beautiful and enlightening experience—as well as a tough pill to swallow. You cannot involve yourself in an endeavor for so long without an emotional attachment. I know, though, that writing this article and expressing my thanks and gratitude will make this transition much easier.
The Championship Series has been making efforts to provide more volunteer and leadership opportunities to individuals who are new and/or desiring more experience. Over the last several years, I have seen a number of new and up-and-coming faces in leadership positions. We are certainly not patting ourselves on the back though since we still have much to do to ensure we have better representation in those positions as well.
As newer blood flows into the Series, that also means some individuals who have been with the Series for a good number of years are moving on to different opportunities. As I look around, I see that I am not the young person I once was (to many of you, I was never young). The Championship Series has brought me joy over the last twenty years, and it is absolutely selfish of me to continue to hold onto the Series and deprive others of an opportunity to get involved with it. I have thought about the concept of standing aside to let others lead and learn. It is a necessity in order for young leaders to continue on their path of growth. However, I would like to suggest something one step beyond just standing aside: Standing alongside those new to leadership roles.
Standing aside implies getting out of the way, but doesn’t promise affirmation or support. You simply get out of the way. Standing alongside shows encouragement and acknowledgement. You do not stand in the way alongside someone; instead, you provide unity and the message that their vision and abilities need to be recognized. As I move away from the Series, I will be moving alongside our new leaders and reinforcing the idea that their time to shine is here. I may never be called upon to assist or give advice. I don’t have to be. That’s not an expectation. What I need to do is be there to advocate for those who deserve that opportunity. I hope that everyone can stand along with me as our newest leaders in the Championship Series take on their mantles and begin their journeys. I hope we can continue to support them and future leaders as well.
The thank you laundry list
Wow, there are so many people who have influenced me during my time with the Championship Series. It’s quite an exhaustive list. However, I hear some influential NIRSA folx inside of my head reminding me of my ability to talk…and talk…and talk…. So I will do my best to limit this thank you list to what it needs to be.
Back in the day, Mike Penner, Corey Taylor, and Kenny Hill at The Ohio State University were the ones to get me started on my path through the Championship Series. I was a pretty stubborn person who thought he knew what he needed to make it. Those three helped me learn about the importance of communication, professionalism, and using your right brain here and there. All three had a hand in provided me with the opportunity to officiate at The Ohio State, which set me on the professional path I traverse today. I hope I’ve done them all proud.
I have been blessed to work at institutions that have allowed me to participate in the Championship Series at the regional, national, and executive level. From The Ohio State to Bucknell University to Ithaca College to Boston University and—most recently—to Cornell University, I have received so much support regarding my involvement with the Championship Series from my former and current bosses and colleagues. To all of you, thanks for letting me spread my wings outside of my job description and within the Championship Series. This wouldn’t have been possible without your encouragement.
Along my journey through the Series, I have met so many professionals who have turned into mentors—whether they know it or not. They are the type of people you cannot help but gravitate towards because of their personalities, wisdom, and heart. These are the type of people I want to emulate. The stories, knowledge, and laughter you have passed along are worth more than any price you can think of. If you are new to the Series, and ever get a chance to talk to people such as Mark Williams, Jacob Tingle, Dan Hazlett, Mary O’Mahoney, etc., take that chance! Oh, the things you will learn. Thank you to all of my aware and unaware mentors for being people I can genuinely speak to and gain knowledge from.
Finally, thank you to my family for their love. My partner, Dr. Laura Eierman, is the complete package. She has been the push I have always needed. She has an ability to communicate perspectives I could never see, and has been my biggest supporter. Above all else, when I have bouts of impostor syndrome, she’s the one who grounds me. Thank you for taking this journey alongside me. My son, William Timothy Flickinger (WTF), thanks for reminding me of what is always important: dinosaurs, trains, fruit snacks, and the ability to let go of the little negatives and just move forward. I love you both, always.
I chose “Closing time” as my title for this blog because that song, by Semisonic, has a double meaning. Singer Dan Wilson wrote this song that is not wholly about leaving a bar; he wrote it about being born and coming into the world, focusing particularly on his daughter, Coco. To our little girl coming in July, I know who I want to take me home. I cannot wait to meet you!
Lean on “we”
The Championship Series is such an intricate and complex endeavor to navigate—especially if you’re unfamiliar with its inner workings. It can be intimidating, and I was lucky to have such caring and instructive mentors like Kurt Klier, Brooke Turner, Oscee Wheatfall, and Randall Ford. They were all there for questions and to lead by example. The beauty of my time with the Championship Series is that I have been able to observe their respective leadership styles and pick up critical and constructive ways to handle tough situations and to engage our participants and stakeholders. To have such a diverse and experienced pool of legends to watch and learn from is every blossoming leader’s dream. I have been able to live this dream, and I thank them for that. I have learned so much from you all—more than you will ever know—and I thank you for the opportunity to absorb knowledge from the best.
No one can tackle these kind of leadership roles alone, and this year’s exec team have been blessed with two colleagues who are the epitome of professionalism and character: Vice Chair Marty Dempsey and 2nd Vice Chair Ashley Lax were the absolute heart and soul of our exec team this past year. Marty and Ashley have worked diligently with our sports and operation work team chairs and teams to ensure that the Championship Series is ever moving forward.
The talent and passion these two have displayed on a daily and weekly basis always leaves me in awe. This, however, is second only to their dedication and integrity with regards to the Championship Series and all it encompasses. Their ability to inspire and think forward with the Series 2.0 priorities in mind leaves me with no doubt in terms of the Series’ bright future. The addition of Jonathan Johnston to the exec team this year is exciting, especially with the experience and heart he carries. These three individuals are the reason we have had so much success this year within the Series. They’re also the reason we will have continued success moving forward. Thank you for inspiring me and others within and outside of the Championship Series.
Valerie McCutchan and Nicole Jackson are also part of our exec team as members from NIRSA HQ. Val is one of the architects of the Championship Series which began its current iteration back in 2006. Since then her name has been synonymous with the Series. Her love and guidance have been interwoven into this program, and you can feel it when you work with the Championship Series. She has been an advocate for change and progress in the Series, and always provides a calm perspective and history of the Series through the eyes of NIRSA and the Series’ participants both past and present.
Nicole is a tremendous worker and has learned the ins and outs of the Series since joining the team a few years ago. Her energy and perspective have been invaluable, and her presence at events as a leader have been nothing short of spectacular. She keeps the Series organized and moving in the right direction, going above and beyond what is required to keep us progressing. Thank you both so much for your patience and friendship as well as for your mentorship as I moved through the Series. You are wonderful people who should be held in the highest regard.
Oh, and Val…thanks for putting up with my jokes. You’re a great sport, too. 😊
Our work team chairs have been pushing the boundaries and advancing the needle on the Championship Series to reach new heights and make improve where necessary and wanted. The breadth of knowledge, ability, and collaboration was amazing to watch unfold and develop over the last year, and they deserve to be proud of the work they have accomplished as well as of the groundwork they have laid for future endeavors and opportunities. I want to thank the following chairs for their dedication and achievements this past year:
- Assessment – Antonio Gonzalez – University of South Florida
- Brand Management – DJ Doss – Kennesaw State University
- Basketball – Jeff Logsdon – University of Cincinnati
- Club Basketball – Joshua Dietrich – Kent State University
- Flag Football – Jarrode Davis – Ohio State University
- Flag Football – Brooke Cochran – University of Florida
- Pro/Student Development – Abby Van Note – University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Soccer – Jon Janis – University of Houston
- Standards – Kelli Rockwell – Georgia Tech
- Tennis – Gary Cahen – University of Central Florida
- Unified – Amanda Alpert – University of Mississippi
Kelli, Jeff, and Gary will be wrapping up their time with the Series, and I want to especially thank them for the last two years. Your contributions will be remembered and felt as the Series continues to advance. I also want to welcome Dex Shorter (basketball), Danny Feitel (standards), Dave Peters (tennis), and Matthew Dunigan (club basketball) as incoming chairs and vice chairs to the Series. I cannot wait to see how your energy and ideas will further progress the Series! Thank you to new, leaving, and standing chairs for being remarkable people and colleagues.
Thank you to the NIRSA Services Corporation for its continued support of the Championship Series. The working relationship we have with the Services Corporation has been fantastic, and their continued vision for the Championship Series as an important facet of NIRSA has been refreshing. I especially want to thank Stephanie McAlpine, this past year’s President of the Service Corporation, for her continued communication and encouragement. She has been an important advocate and amazing leader, and I leave the Series knowing that she and Services Corporation will be cheerleading the Series.
Thank you to each and every work team member who has sacrificed their own time to assist with advancing the Series and working with our chairs to make our events and programs possible. Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers at regional and national Series tournaments for giving your time to make sure we put on a premier experience for our student athletes. Thank you to our student officials for taking the time to learn and perfect a new craft—and for wanting to hone that craft at our events to become even better and to bring their newfound knowledge back to their campuses. Thank you to the numerous administrators at campuses who realize how important the Championship Series is with regards to student and professional development, and who have encouraged participants, officials, and professionals to attend and expand their skills.
Finally, a huge THANK YOU! to our participants. We love you all, and we miss you right now. We do what we do in the Championship Series for you. We love watching you play and learn and grow within the Series. We love seeing how healthy and positive competition can develop opportunities for team bonding, leadership skills, and a deeper adoration for sport. The joy we will all feel when we come together again under the Series’ umbrella will be overwhelming and we cannot wait for that moment.
I hope you see a pattern here. The Championship Series is not about one person. It relies on the vim and vigor of all those involved. Every person is necessary in order for the Series to be successful—every professional, student, participant, work team member, administrator, parent, and supporter. Now, more than ever, we need to come together and ensure that the Championship Series is there for everyone. It will take your continued involvement to make that happen. I’m not worried, though, because if I have learned one thing, it’s this:
People are what make the Championship Series special, and I have had the distinct honor and humbling privilege of experiencing this reality for twenty years.
Thank you, one and all, for the phenomenal experience.