Steve Schendt’s graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside’s Master of Science in Sport Management online program was the culmination of a lifetime engaged in sports. Earning the degree also confirmed one of his core beliefs, that the games we play can have an impact well beyond the realm of competition.
“So many life lessons can come from sports,” he said, such as “determination, discipline, tenacity, all of which is just hard work.”
Schendt’s road to a master’s degree required all of the above.
When he walked the stage to accept his diploma that December 2022, with a 4.0 GPA, he knew he had earned that moment. It was more than a win – it was an accomplishment that embodied his ability to overcome challenges and achieve success.
Turning Adversity Into Opportunity
Growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, Schendt participated in martial arts, basketball, cross-training and competitive swimming, among other sports. Although he excelled as an athlete, he struggled academically and didn’t know why.
“I did all my homework in high school. I worked very hard with that,” he remembered. “No matter how much I studied, it just wasn’t sinking in.”
Schendt learned years later that a missed diagnosis was part of the issue, one that also caused some instructors to miss his potential. He says as early as fifth grade, a teacher told his parents that ‘not everyone’s meant to go to college,’ suggesting they should lower their expectations. They didn’t. Instead, they had faith in him.
While Schendt wasn’t aware of his teacher’s opinion at the time, he had already learned through his love of sports that being underestimated is an opportunity.
“When someone says ‘you’re not good enough,’ … ‘you’re not going to be able to do this,’ I will go into another level,” he said. “Just to prove people wrong.”
Schendt worked hard to level up academically and by the time he graduated from Janesville Craig High School in 2006, he had decided on a physical education and coaching career. He went on to swim for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh team while earning his Bachelor of Science in Physical Education.
During his freshman year of college, the source of his learning difficulties also became clear: He was diagnosed with ADHD. This new knowledge fueled his desire to succeed even more.
A Passion for Sports and Service
After graduating with his bachelor’s in 2011, Schendt taught P.E. at an alternative high school in Milwaukee. He also coached swimming at other high schools in the area, in addition to the local YMCA and a handful of swim clubs. Eventually, he followed his passion for sports into community service.
In 2017, Schendt moved north to become Aquatics Manager for the Salvation Army of Greater Green Bay. However, a new challenge lay ahead. By early 2020, COVID-19 restrictions had a devastating impact on in-person sports and activities. Not being able to coach or offer programs in the same way, or play games and enjoy live sports in person, was disheartening.
“I’d worked so hard for my job, and certain things were just kind of taken away. Not from leadership by any means, but just from something we couldn’t control,” he said.
“That was very difficult,” he remembered. “Especially with a lot of the senior population … they really thrived on not just the physical, but the social [aspect] of being in our facility.”
As the pandemic evolved and activities resumed, Schendt began to think more about where he wanted his career to lead. He’d considered a master’s degree previously when teaching in Milwaukee but couldn’t decide on a program. While his management experience had given him some exposure to the business side of athletics, such as facility operations, he wanted to keep growing his knowledge.
In 2021, he enrolled in the online sports management master’s program at UW-Parkside, where he could study and still work full time. With a busy schedule that also included coaching and family time, the program’s flexibility was a great fit for his needs. “I was able to do this from the comfort of my home,” he said, “from two-and-a-half hours away.”
While completing his degree, Schendt was promoted to leadership. He now serves as the Director of Programs for the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, a community recreational facility in Green Bay.
A Playbook for Success
Schendt feels he got everything he wanted from his online program at UW-Parkside, as well as what he needed. “It’s made me more well-rounded at a level that I really strive for,” he said. “It is such a strong program.”
“Every class was a different experience and was wonderful in its own way,” he noted, but a few courses stood out. Sports Law helped Schendt analyze the risks and safety issues for large events, and Sports Research and Analysis Methodology expanded his capacity for data-driven decision-making.
Revenue Generation and Sales in Sports Organizations also helped him build skills that were directly applicable to his job duties at the Salvation Army, giving him additional confidence as a leader.
Schendt credits much of his growth and advancement to UW-Parkside’s professors, and their investment in helping online students shine.
“Since class sizes were small, all the professors were so supportive,” he said. “I would have almost weekly one-on-ones with each of them.”
After graduation, he wrote a long letter to each of his instructors, thanking them individually for their knowledge and support. He says that’s how much the program meant to him. “I was just really grateful for it. I would do it again in a heartbeat,” he added.
Schendt is considering earning his doctorate in the future, but for now he’s happy to reflect on all he’s accomplished so far. He encourages others thinking about an online master’s in sports management to go forward boldly, as he did, and make it happen.
“It’s never too late to bet on yourself,” he advised, “and education is such a great way of doing that.”
Learn more about UW-Parkside’s online Master of Science in Sport Management program.