It takes a winning team to run the show on game day

5 – minute read

FGCU basketball game
Elise George plays emcee, introducing fans at center court during media timeouts.

Two hours before tipoff time and an hour before doors open to Eagles fans, staff and volunteers begin reporting for duty at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Alico Arena. The players bring in the spectators, but it takes a dedicated throng to bring the spectacle. And days and days of planning to make each event happen without a hitch.


This basketball game will be a carefully scripted and choreographed show, from the pregame national anthem to the postgame news conference. In between, student musicians pump up the arena volume during breaks in the action. Cheerleaders and dancers rally the fans with dazzling routines. Audience-engaging activities like baby races and mascot musical chairs at center court entertain the crowd between periods.

All of this and more is coordinated behind the scenes by a deep bench of staffers who handle communications, marketing and fan engagement, facilities and game operations, photography, videography, live-streaming on ESPN+ and social media.


“Everything people see that is not the actual game is something we have our hand in,” says Shane Pellegrine, assistant director of athletics operations. “If it’s their first or if it’s their hundredth time, we want to make sure they have fun with everything that we can control.”

On a Saturday night in February, there was much to coordinate.


Azul the mascot’s birthday celebration would entail games in the auxiliary gym and on-court shenanigans with guest mascots. Major League Baseball star and former Eagle ace Chris Sale and his wife, Brianne, would make a halftime appearance. Milestones like head coach Carl Smesko’s 600th career win would be celebrated.

FGCU basketball game staff
Shane Pellegrine, center, keeps the show flowing while communicating by headset with team members throughout Alico Arena.

By 5 p.m., Pellegrine is already stalking the arena for the 7 p.m. game, riffling through the script he’d been working on since Monday. Nearly 20 pages detail cues for music, video, on-court entertainment, public address announcements, sponsor acknowledgments and more.


Stationed courtside, he will keep the show flowing while communicating with about 10 people on headsets. It’s a role the 2017 FGCU alum has grown into since starting as a volunteer his junior year and transitioning into a full-time position after graduation.

“Oddly enough, the planning up to it is the most stressful,” Pellegrine says. “You did all the preparation. Once the game starts, whatever happens happens.”


In his pregame huddle with a half-dozen student volunteers, he emphasizes the need to stay hydrated through the night and to “flex” if a glitch happens. Usually, only the people wearing headsets know when something goes awry.

FGCU students
Student volunteers Summer Clark and Vance Reuther help keep the crowd engaged.
FGCU photographer
Videographer Maria Allocco does whatever it takes to get a good shot for the game recap and social media.

“When the stars all align, and everything hits exactly how you hoped it would, there’s not much to be said but, ‘Great job tonight, guys — remember this feeling.’ It’s probably like how the team on the court feels if they get a win,” Pellegrine says.


The coaching team bumps fists with him while walking to their seats.


On the other side of the court, Elise George strides from one end of the sideline to the other while talking into her headset. A graduate assistant working toward an MBA, George emcees the game, darting on and off the court to introduce the Fan of the Game singled out from the crowd, the guest mascots celebrating Azul’s birthday and so on. She must do her spiel and usher guests on and off quickly before the action resumes.


“At game time, the adrenaline starts,” she says. “It’s a live show. You have to be flexible and adapt on the spot. I love that it’s so interactive. It’s a fun environment, very energetic.”

One of her student volunteers, sophomore Vance Reuther, is in his second year helping out.


“I like being in the background and knowing what’s happening,” he says. On the other hand, he doesn’t shy away from stepping out to bust some goofy dance moves when called upon.


Working sports events is not all fun and games, though. Unbeknownst to the 2,000 or so fans cheering on the women, there’s a team working on the fly to capture statistics, design graphics, post social media updates and capture photos, video and details for the game recap.

FGCU staff
“At game time, the adrenaline starts,” Elise George says. “It’s a live show.”
FGCU athletics staff
Shane Harvell keeps an eye on the action while compiling stats.

Shane Harvell, assistant director of athletics communications, relishes the nerve-wracking task of “statting” the fast-moving sport.


He tallies shots, calls, records set and other stats as they happen. Outside the action, he coordinates media interviews and postgame conferences. Typically, he arrives at the arena three hours before tipoff and may leave an hour after the game ends.


“It’s definitely a marathon, but if the game is close it feels like a sprint. I can feel the adrenaline from the players, staff and the fans,” says Harvell, who also serves as sports information director for the soccer and golf teams.


As Harvell writes his recap of the night’s 82-69 victory, the PA announcer thanks fans for attending and invites them back for the next game. Steve Miller’s rock classic “Fly Like an Eagle” echoes around the arena.

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