Jon Mark Beilue: Gerber: Intrigued by the administrative side of sports

Gerber: ‘Intrigued by the administrative side of sports’


Rylan GerberRylan Gerber loves sports. At 6-foot-2, he was a three-sport standout athlete at Dumas High School – quarterback in football, guard in basketball, pitcher and outfielder in baseball. Set to go to Texas Tech after graduation in 2013, he opted for West Texas A&M when then-basketball coach Rick Cooper had a walk-on spot for him with the Buffs.

Rylan Gerber also loves being organized. He lets out a small laugh when he said he’s OCD. He likes things in a certain order and a certain way. No detail is too small to overlook.

So what’s a guy to do when he loves sports and loves the structure of organization? If he’s Gerber, he pursues a master’s degree from WT in sports management.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind, that I’d like to go to grad school,” he said. “Just the administrative side of sports has always intrigued me for some reason.”

Gerber is set to graduate in December with a master’s in sports management. He’s taking two classes online – sports psychology and the legal aspect of sports – and preparing with WT assistant professor of sports and exercise sciences Dr. Trisha Brown for his capstone presentation.

But he’s also part of a long-running internship partnership between WT and the Amarillo ISD athletic department. He will intern until May with AISD athletic director Brad Thiessen and his assistants, Dr. Justin Hefley and Andrea Fluhman.

“He’s very conscientious,” said Thiessen of Gerber. “He’s always here – sometimes when we don’t necessarily need him here. He’s always asking if there’s something he can do.  He wants to learn. A kid like that, you want him on your staff, on your side. He won’t have any trouble finding a staff that wants him.”

Sports management is a growing degree field in universities. It didn’t even exist in the 1980s and only made an appearance in the 1990s. Some universities offer it as an undergraduate degree, but at WT, it’s within the graduate program.

“The field is growing rapidly,” said Brown, estimating there’s 35 in the sports management program at WT. “Sports management really covers a large spectrum. You have some who want to be athletic directors, or work in sports marketing and compliance in college. There’s positions within professional teams, and some want to manage fitness and wellness programs. It’s versatile.”

Ask Gerber what he wants to do eventually after he earns his master’s from WT, and it’s an open field. A dream job would be working in a professional sports organization. An athletic director in a large school district – which usually requires coaching experience first – or in college administration is appealing.

“It would be great to do any of those three – that’s the road I’m thinking,” he said. “The professional one, that’s really hit and miss. There’s not that many positions open, and it’s really about who you know. I’m trying to keep as wide a net as I can open for as many opportunities as I can get.”

Even as a walk-on, Gerber remained with the Buff basketball program all four years, including last season’s 33-4 record and a berth in the Division II national semifinals. He also graduated before his basketball eligibility was finished, getting his sport and exercise science degree in 3 ½ years.

“At WT, because it’s a smaller university, I got to know the professors really well,” Gerber said. “It’s nice to be able to network and see them around campus all the time.

“The classes, they’re going to be smaller class sizes, so there’s a lot of discussion and you’re always going to get your questions answered.”

Rick Haasl, assistant dean for the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, started the internship program with Amarillo ISD when he was physical education instructor in 2005.  Since then, there have been about 15 in the sports management program who have interned there.

The first was Dan Sherwood, currently the head football coach at Caprock High School. Thiessen said nearly every intern has been hired by the AISD. Gerber would almost certainly be the latest, but it’s uncertain if that’s the immediate direction he will choose. What is certain is how both he and AISD are benefiting from the arrangement.

For the school district, he’s able to take some of the duties off the plate of assistants Justin Hefley and Andrea Fluhman, a 2002 WT graduate. For Gerber, it’s an opportunity to learn and absorb.

“I’m not doing all that much on an administrative level,” he said, “but I get to see how Justin (Hefley) and Coach Thiessen operate. That’s my biggest takeaway is to see how they deal with issues that come up, like dealing with parents.

“Security and traffic control at the football games is big. I didn’t have any idea how much went into that. I just like to pick their brains as much as I can.”

And when that time comes to step into whatever field sports management leads, Gerber seems as equipped as a 24-year-old can be.

“He’s got great social skills,” said Brown, wife of WT basketball coach Tom Brown.  “Sometimes you have to refine that when you’re 20-something, but he’s wonderful that way. He asks for help when he needs it, but he has a drive to get things done.”

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