Garrek Thompson attended the inaugural NCAA Sports and Entertainment Summit.
May 11, 2011
By Eric Trainer, Associate Director of Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Per SEC rules, Garrek Thompson is sitting out the 2011 track & field season after transferring to Tennessee from LSU last August. Just because the junior from Memphis isn't in action on the oval doesn't mean he also has laid aside his desire to compete or hunger to succeed.
Thompson, a junior majoring in communication studies, was among 100 NCAA student-athletes who are pursuing academic degrees related to careers in media, marketing, television, film and music who were invited to attend the inaugural NCAA Sports and Entertainment Summit. The event was held March 4-6 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
The middle distance runner, who finished eighth in the 800 meters at the 2010 SEC Indoor Championships, jumped at the chance to apply for the event, much like he reacts to the starter's pistol at the beginning of a race.
"I found out about it when Dan (Carlson) was still an academic counselor at the Thornton Center," Thompson said. "They sent out a mass e-mail that said `if you're a student-athlete interested in sports entertainment or media, this would be perfect.' It went through all the different things that we'd be doing, like workshops.
"At the time, it was first-come, first-served, so I ran back to Thornton as soon as I got the email to ask what I had to do to apply. I ended up applying for it the same day, and that was that."
The Sports and Entertainment Summit was created to provide NCAA student-athletes with an educational experience that helps them gain a better understanding of the different careers in the sports and entertainment industry. It also lets them know what they need to do as students to position themselves for the future if they plan to enter sports and entertainment fields.
The students were afforded the opportunity to communicate with individuals who are currently working in those occupational areas. The professional interaction was geared toward helping the student-athletes gain a better insight on day-to-day work experiences and expectations following graduation.
While the application and notification processes took longer than Thompson anticipated, the wait only heightened his reaction when the attendees were announced.
"It took about a month," Thompson said. "When I first applied it was first come, first served. Then a lot of people applied, so they e-mailed everybody to send in their resumes.
"About a month passed, and when I found out I got it, I was so excited. I can't even begin to describe how excited I was. I knew if I made connections out there, then it would be that much easier, because I plan on moving out there next year once I graduate. So the more contacts I have out there, the easier life will be."
The summit included speakers from television networks, print media, academia, professional sports, the music and film industries and general business. Session topics included the evolution of social media; steps to gaining success in the sports and entertainment industry; understanding the cinematic arts; and interactive panel sessions.
"For the most part, it was a lot of workshops and panel discussions," Thompson shared. "With 100 people, it was really intimate. Everybody got to know everybody else. One of the things I really liked - it was kind of set up like speed dating. You had five minutes. A bell rang, and the panelists would move from table to table, so you got to sit down with each and every one of them for five minutes and ask them all your questions.
"They had a lot of workshops, and they divided us into groups. I think there were groups for sport marketing, music and entertainment industry, and sports journalism. Depending on which area you wanted to go into, they had individual sessions for that which lasted about an hour and a half. It was really insightful. All the panelists are really well-known, and they're good at what they do. They're pretty high up in the ranks. So actually getting to sit down with them and talk and get them to remember your face and name was really beneficial.
"I wish it was longer. The content was excellent. You got really good insight into the career field you wanted to go into, but I felt like with the amount of stuff they were trying to tell us, it was a lot to absorb in those two days. If it could be just one day longer, that would be awesome."
With his goal of moving to "Tinseltown" in mind, Thompson strategically planted seeds with those he met and tried to make some helpful contacts as he plots his career path.
"Right now, I really want to get into acting," Thompson beamed. "Even in high school, my guidance counselors said, 'it's such an iffy field - either you're going to make it or you're not,' but I have a talent for it.
"Every time I do a project where I have to act, the director tells me I'm really relaxed on camera, and for the most part I am. It's something I really want to do once I graduate. If not that, then plan B would be something along the lines of journalism, or maybe entertainment broadcasting - something along the lines of E!."
The graduate of White Station High School in Memphis isn't just California dreaming about his future as an actor. He's been taking steps to see that goal become a reality.
"I actually started taking theater classes before I transferred to UT," Thompson explained. "Since August I've done one play and three short films. I'm just trying to build up as much experience as possible before I graduate so I'll have some experience under my belt by the time I get out there to California."
In addition to the educational experience, the NCAA student-athletes conducted a "Build a Bicycle" community service project on March 5, where they built 20 bicycles with the help of 100 local youth who participate in programs at the EXPO Center in Los Angeles. The EXPO Center is affiliated with the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. Once completed, the bicycles, in addition to safety helmets, were provided to the EXPO Center to be given to underprivileged youth.
"When we got there, we worked with some kids in the downtown Los Angeles area," Thompson said. We went to build bikes with the kids. That was awesome, too.
"Before we built the bikes, we played games with the kids. There was a big group of them. I really wish we would have done that the first day, because it would have really set a good tone. I had a blast."
Experiences such as the "Build a Bike Project" also served as a time of bonding for the 100 student-athletes from around the country, who may have shared a common sport but hadn't had the opportunity to get to know one another.
"I remembered their faces, but I never knew their names," Thompson said of the people he had encountered prior to the L.A. trip. "Now I definitely know their names. The majority of them were track athletes, so I recognized a lot of faces out there. They were from all over the country - not just the SEC, so it was an experience to meet everybody."
It is clear Thompson has made the most of his redshirt year at UT, adjusting to a new school and team, attending the summit and mapping out his future, both on the track and off.
"Being a student-athlete, you're already going to have really good time management skills, because you're going to have to figure out how to work in practice, get enough sleep, and stay on top of your classes," he said. "Because I'm redshirting this year, it's given me a lot more time to try other things, which has been extremely lucky.
"Next year, I'll have less time because we'll be traveling during the weekends, but there's still enough time to do other things you're interested in besides your sport. You always have at least a couple of hours of down time every day, and I still get eight hours of sleep, and I'm so involved in everything right now. So it all comes down to time management.
"In the Thornton Center, we are reminded how to manage our time wisely and how to stay on top of our classes. So you have resources as a student-athlete and as a college student in general to help you out along the way through your four years. It just comes down to time management."
It appears Garrek Thompson is managing his time at Rocky Top quite well.