Behind the scenes of Pitt SID’s


Photos via Pitt Athletics

(From left) Assistant director for media relations R.J. Sepich, media relations assistant Matt Keenan and Casey Bonk, assistant director of media relations for volleyball, gymnastics and softball.

By Stephen Thompson, For the Pitt News

Over the weekend, Pitt women’s volleyball set a program record when it entered the top 10 after beating Kennesaw State, Dayton and No. 12 Washington in the Panther Challenge. Most people found out via social media from the team’s official Twitter page — the results were posted within seconds.

Casey Bonk, Pitt’s assistant director of media relations, was the face behind the tweets. It’s part of her job as a sports information director, or SID, for Pitt Athletics.

“Social media is run by all the SIDs here at Pitt,” she said. “I run softball, volleyball and gymnastics. So we’re always on call for that. We go to practices, we spend as much time as we can with our teams and we do as much as we can to promote them to the public.”

Bonk earned her current job soon after graduating from Pitt in 2014, but it was the culmination of many years’ experience as a student employee. She knew she wanted to work in sports media, so she interned in Pitt’s media relations department as an undergraduate from her sophomore to her senior years. This experience not only helped Bonk get hired, but also made the transition from intern to full-time employee relatively seamless.

“The transition was also very easy because the people I was working for here prepared me very well,” Bonk said. “As an undergrad intern, we were just thrown into the fire. And they put us on a lot of duties and gave us a lot of things and that’s, in this field, what you have to be able to move forward, so I was very grateful for that because I was very well prepared heading into the full-time position.”

SIDs act as team-specific media liaisons, statistics managers, beat writers and team promoters. It’s a busy job, Bonk says, considering how frequently Pitt sports teams travel for competition.

“The travel was probably the biggest part [to adjust to], having to prepare myself either every weekend or every other weekend to get on the road,” Bonk said.

When the volleyball team goes on the road for conference play, it plays in two different locations in a weekend. For a typical weekend, it leaves Thursday, plays Friday, travels on Saturday for a second game on Sunday and returns to Pittsburgh that night. It’s a lot to pack into a four-day trip, but Bonk’s game-day duties end up being lighter.

Back on Pitt’s campus, Bonk and her assistants handle the score-keeping, statistics and other game-day responsibilities, but her only responsibility on the road is keeping up on social media.

“Home tournaments are definitely different and they’re a little bit more hectic. You’re constantly doing things,” Bonk said. “We run six matches in a weekend because these opposing teams will play neutral [site] games … we have to be at every game.”

But one can come to embrace the long hours, as in the case of media relations assistant Matt Keenan. Keenan graduated from Slippery Rock University this past spring, where he earned a degree in sports marketing. His time at Slippery Rock included four years interning in the Slippery Rock athletic communications department. As far as work ethic goes, Keenan has it — and he needs it to keep up in this fast-moving field.

“When I first got to Pitt … I worked as much as I could,” Keenan said. “I worked a lot of office hours and any event I could, and I think people here saw that I was taking that interest, taking that initiative, and I think that’s why I got the opportunity to travel with teams and host events and why I have my current opportunity.”

Between running social media and preparing student athletes for home and away game-days, the SIDs stay busy, but Bonk says seeing it all come together makes it worth it.

“The reason we do what we do is to be able to help them win and to help them succeed on and off the field,” Bonk said. “We can do so much for them from an athletic standpoint, but in the end they all graduate and go out into the real world and have their own lives. In the end, if we can help them in more ways than just putting something out on social media … that’s what we’re here for.”

R.J. Sepich is no exception. Sepich is an assistant director for media relations who works primarily with the football, swimming and diving teams.

During the fall, Sepich’s job revolves around the football team. He travels with the team, runs workshops to help the players handle interviews and acts as a middleman between the media and the players. Sepich has worked closely with recent Pitt stars and current NFL players like Nate Peterman, Matt Galambos and James Conner.

Pitt Athletics has always been a part of Sepich’s life. He’s a native of Butler County and his parents and grandparents, who Sepich says facilitated his love for Pitt at an early age, have been regulars at Panther football and basketball games since the ‘60s.

“Outsiders and friends and family think it’s really cool [to know these players], but eventually you learn that they’re honestly just normal people trying to chase their dreams,” Sepich said. “James Conner is someone who always comes around the building and shakes my hand, asks me how I’m doing.”

Like Bonk, Keenan emphasized the importance of getting your foot in the door as soon as possible, adding a piece of advice for those who might want to follow his path.

“The biggest thing I’d say is get in as early as you can because that can give you more time to learn as a student while there’s still not as much pressure on you,” Keenan said.

Keenan and the other SIDs take a tremendous amount of pride in their work — and they feel each others’ successes.

“My favorite part of the job is promoting our school, promoting our brand, promoting our athletes, coaches … making sure they get the attention they deserve,” he said. “Whenever you see a story you put out or a post you put out gain a lot traction, it’s great to see because it means that people are paying attention to what you’re doing and what Pitt is doing.”

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