In 2012, the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) created the Branch Rickey Mentor Program. Named in honor of 1904 Ohio Wesleyan graduate Branch Rickey, who made history when he became the first professional sports executive to sign a baseball player of color, Jackie Robinson, the program provides a professional shadowing experience that matches NCAC administrators with female and minority students interested in careers in athletics.
“This program means opportunity. It means inclusion,” says Delta Lodge Director of Athletics Natalie Winkelfoos. “This is something that our college emphasizes, and it is great to see so much coming from the athletic department.”
This year, Oberlin’s Branch Rickey mentees are being exposed to invaluable opportunities and are making significant impacts in the department.
With four of the 17 mentees, Oberlin is the most well represented NCAC school in the program. Senior biology and sociology major Lillian Jahan is mentored by associate director of athletics Creg Jantz. Head baseball coach Adrian Abrahamowicz mentors Hannah Christiansen, a senior double-degree student majoring in violin performance in the conservatory and history and French in the college. Senior sociology major Derrick Sant is working with Dan Palmer, head coach of women’s soccer, and junior sociology major Tiffany Henry is mentored by Oberlin’s field hockey head coach Anna Baeth. The students attend administrative meetings, shadow coaches and department officers, plan events, and have the opportunity to focus on a specific project.
“I’ve always been interested in bridging the gap between the Oberlin community and the college, so the focus of my year is community outreach,” says Jahan, who organized October’s Track or Treat event.
At a time when students are starting to plan for life after college, the Branch Rickey program gives insight into careers in collegiate and professional sports. “I’m at a place in my life where I’m trying to decide what to do,” says Jahan. “I know I want to do something involved in sports or athletics, and this program gives me a feel for what I can expect in this type of career.”
Mentees have the freedom to tailor the program to their experience to their interests “I want to apply for a graduate assistantship after Oberlin," says Christiansen. “I thought the Branch Rickey program would be a great opportunity to learn these skills and get an upper hand in the application process. Because I want to coach, I’m focusing my project much more on shadowing experience than administrative duties.”
Most importantly, the Branch Rickey Program gives students the opportunity to be in the professional world as an undergraduate. “This program is about giving students real-life, professional experience,” said Jantz. “You can only learn so much in the classroom and it’s important to get outside of Oberlin as well. I think a lot of people don’t realize that sports is really about business.” Consequently, Jantz has set up shadow days at the Cleveland Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers home offices.
“For the first time in my life, when I met with community members to plan Track or Treat, I didn’t just say ‘Hi, I’m Lillian, I’m an Oberlin student, and I play basketball.’ I was able to say ‘Hi, I’m Lillian, I'm a Branch Rickey athlete, and I’m here to work with you,’” says Jahan. “It was great to be an equal.”