Their chosen fields

Local program shows sports careers are for non-players, too

October 04, 2006|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun Reporter

Todd Olszewski is the Orioles' team photographer.

Matt Bunch is an aspiring sports broadcaster at the University of Miami.

Sharon O'Leary is an athletic trainer at Towson Sports Medicine.

All attended Kenwood High and graduated from the Sports Science Academy, a magnet program that is quietly building a reputation at the Baltimore County school.

At Kenwood, students explore sports careers in which the equipment isn't a bat or ball, but a roll of tape. Or a microphone. Or a camera.

There are dozens of sports-related occupations that can pay the bills while sating one's fancy for athletics, said Bob Russell, director of the Sports Science Academy. The Kenwood curriculum, begun in 1997, offers introductory classes in everything from coaching to sports marketing, and from physical therapy to sports graphics.

"You don't have to be an athlete to have a passion for sports," Russell said.

Though many of the 144 students in the program do participate in sports, most know their playing days are numbered.

"When I go out to middle schools to recruit [prospects], I ask kids, `Who wants to be the next Ray Lewis?' and all of these hands shoot up," Russell said. "Well, we kind of squash that.

"Some students come to [the SSA] still expecting to play sports in college. But most of them realize they are not as good as they thought they were."

Becoming a pro football player was Matt Gibson's goal - until eighth grade.

"That's when I did a reality check," said Gibson, a junior at Kenwood. Now, he's leaning toward a career as a college sports information director. Last summer, Gibson interned at the University of Delaware, learning how to write news releases and game stories.

"This is a way to still be involved in football," he said. "It's a more attainable dream."

Olszewski, the Orioles' shutterbug, is living his fantasy. At 23, he is the youngest of 30 team photographers in the major leagues, a job that seemed far-fetched when he entered Kenwood nearly a decade ago.

Remember the "See You At The Yard" billboards that blanketed the city last spring? Olszewski took those pictures of Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons, along with 30,000 other baseball photos this season.

"I never thought, nine years after starting high school, that this is where I'd be," Olszewski said. "I grew up here; this is the team that I followed.

"To be able to come to the ballpark every day for my work is a dream."

Academy assist

His father introduced him to photography, Olszewski said. But four years in the Sports Science Academy sharpened his career focus and bolstered his self-confidence. Meanwhile, three knee operations dashed any hopes he had of playing more lacrosse.

"The staff at Kenwood tries to get you thinking early so that you're not a senior wondering, `What am I going to do now?'" he said. "I must have met with [then-SSA director] Jim Wilmot almost every week. They really help to push you along."

Upon graduation in 2001, Olszewski earned an associate's degree in computer graphics/photography at Catonsville Community College and secured an internship with the Orioles. When Jerry Wachter, the club's longtime photographer, died last year of cancer, Olszewski was offered the job.

He hasn't forgotten his roots, returning to speak with students at the school that helped him on his way. Sacrifices are a given, Olszewski tells them.

"I worked six months as an intern for free," he said.

Also, he said, completing the Sports Science Academy program doesn't guarantee a sports-related job.

"A friend of mine who wanted to be a physical therapist wound up in the Marines," Olszewski said.

O'Leary, the trainer, hoped to be a physical therapist when she left Kenwood in 2000 but changed her plans in college. Now, as part of her work at Towson Sports Medicine, she attends athletic events at Maryvale Prep and treats ankle sprains and other injuries.

"I like being around sports all the time," said O'Leary, who played field hockey and lacrosse at Kenwood. "In what other job do you get paid to watch games?"

Bunch, the broadcast hopeful, understands. A college sophomore, he has already covered five Miami baseball games on radio and hopes to report some Hurricanes football this season.

A 2005 graduate of Kenwood, Bunch said his experiences in high school "increased exponentially my chances of being able to go on the mike and do play-by-play big time."

He has wanted to broadcast baseball since age 10, "when I realized I wasn't going to replace Cal Ripken at shortstop. I would lay in bed at night with the lights out during the 1997 playoffs and listen to Jon Miller and Fred Manfra paint pictures of the Orioles-Indians games.

"I thought, if only I could do that, it'd be like being retired for the rest of my life."

When the opportunity arose to study sports communication at Kenwood, he said, "it was a match made in heaven."

His classwork included Advanced Placement English, speech and journalism.

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