Graduates of Temple University’s Executive Master of Science in Sport Business (EMSSB) often do know where their next partnership or great idea might come from. The program at the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) offers mid-career sport professionals exceptional leadership and management skills—and also an alumni network of top executives from across the industry. Two pros are using this network as they build their careers in new and unexpected directions.
Erica Vanstone ’19 came to STHM in the midst of rising through the ranks of a rapidly growing sport at the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). After building its media presence and becoming a derby player, she ultimately assumed a leadership role. During COVID she was transitioning to CEO of the WFTDA’s for-profit subsidiary, which offers accident insurance for skaters—all while mainstreaming the emerging sport of park roller skating. “I’ve been using all the lessons I learned at Temple and in roller derby to build a new sport,” she says.
During this time, Sherman Neal II ’20 emerged from his EMSSB experience and was coaching football at Murray State University. In the wake of a distinguished career in the Marine Corps, he was also putting his law degree to use, advocating for social justice issues that came to the forefront nationwide in 2020.
In spring 2021, Neal and Vanstone made a connection through STHM that was pivotal for both: they met at a virtual alumni brainstorming session hosted by John Allgood, academic director of the EMSSB Program. Having graduated in consecutive years, Vanstone and Neal never had a class together, but they soon discovered their value to one another. “John’s introductions highlighted who we were as people,” Neal says. “That proved to be the most valuable alumni networking experience I’ve ever had.”
While on the call, Neal began researching roller derby and was impressed by how the sport embodies the values of equity and diversity. For her part, Vanstone was struck by Neal’s social justice advocacy in his community in Kentucky. “We were both laser-focused on the importance of where sports and social justice converge,” she says. Several conversations would follow.
Neal had recognized that working closely with more women executives would diversify his perspective. The timing was good—Vanstone was looking to add someone with deep experience in traditional sports to the board of her new for-profit subsidiary. The two EMSSB grads would see how connecting across very different worlds of sport can yield solutions to common problems.
“In roller derby, we’re often so nontraditional that we feel we have to reinvent the wheel,” Vanstone says. “Sherman is incredibly smart and insightful—as well as passionate and compassionate. He offers insights into the frameworks of how the NCAA and colleges and universities can either succeed or fail in some of the same issues.”
Within months, Neal would leave his coaching position for Washington State University as coordinator of Strategic Initiatives, a role that would demand a far more inclusive view of sports. His responsibilities expanded from one team of 85 players to 500 student athletes on 17 different teams. “I’ve borrowed a lot from Erica’s data-driven strategy,” says Neal. “Witnessing her at the helm of a diverse international organization has made me a better leader.”
Vanstone and Neal demonstrate how the EMSSB network creates truly impactful professional alliances. Again and again, STHM has provided what they needed on their career trajectory, to define and implement a vision, whether in the mainstream or at the cutting edge of sports.