Year of the Dragon: Co-op Slam Dunk

According to the Chinese zodiac, January 23, 2012, marked the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. In honor of the dragon, we'll be posting about dragons this year, including origins and history, myths, and real dragons — Drexel Dragons.

Here's a story about a student on co-op who found his wings, or at least his ability to bounce.

Business Suit by Day, Tracksuit by Night

Part of what makes Drexel one of the top universities in the world is the co-op program. Drexel Co-op gives students an opportunity to gain experience in professional settings and to try out multiple occupations in their intended career fields. The purpose of this is not only to build résumés, but also to help students figure out their interests and talents and how they can be applied in the real world. If you're putting in the work for a degree, you should know how the degree is going to work for you later.

This rings true for Marketing major and senior Anthony Ragno. Ragno says that his first co-op experience helped him find himself and his second was a desk job that taught him that he'd rather be more hands-on. As a native Philadelphian and avid local sports fan, he could not have been more excited to land his third co-op: working in the Live Events Department for the Philadelphia 76ers.

"I literally got the luckiest co-op you could've possibly gotten," Ragno told us when we caught up with him at the Wells Fargo Center the afternoon of the 76ers' last home game before the play-offs. From a business and marketing perspective, Ragno learned exactly what he wanted: the ins and outs of a professional televised athletic organization and how everything comes together. He went in expecting a streamlined operation, but instead of the hammered deadlines of the typical marketing world, Ragno quickly found that this was more of what he described as "structured chaos." He never knew exactly what activities each day would entail, but he always showed up in a suit.

In addition to learning to anticipate the needs of Live Events in terms of communication and props during events and games, he also had the opportunity to write some of the commentary, questions, and stats that made up the commentators' banter during the season, as well as questions for the basketball players in their pre-recorded interviews about their favorite candies, cartoons, and videogames. Ragno loved that he was constantly on the move and that he got to see the work he put into the events come to life. While his co-op officially ended at the end of March, Ragno is still showing up to help out with events and to play his part in the Sixers Flight Squad. Yup, the Flight Squad.

The Sixers Flight Squad, formerly known as the "dunk team," changed its name and expanded from four members to nine in the beginning of 2012 to better provide entertainment through acrobatic stunts and full-court routines at home games during the break between the third and fourth quarters. With trampoline dunks, breakdancing, gymnastics, and t-shirt launching, their job is to pump up the audience. And who wouldn't cheer for a free t-shirt? (You can watch videos of a few of their performances on the Sixers Flight Squad website.)

As a child, Ragno had been mesmerized by the dunk team. Now, working with Live Events, he was responsible for many aspects of the Center's preparation before the games — including the set-up and safety of the trampolines and landing mats for the Flight Squad. When he heard that they were looking for new members, he asked if he could join. The try-out was rigorous, but at the end they gave him a t-shirt cannon, and he was in. What started off as part of his co-op duties led Ragno to living out one of his childhood dreams.

During the season he acted as the organizational brain within the Flight Squad, prepping and coordinating to ensure that things ran smoothly for everyone else before and throughout the games. Then Ragno would change his suit to take to the court dunking off of trampolines and shooting t-shirts to screaming fans. Since people actually call to complain about where t-shirts land, everything has to be thought about ahead of time, and someone has to do the grunt work — like individually wrapping 200 t-shirts.

Ragno never would have believed before what he's doing now, but after three co-ops and working with other interns, he has some advice for how students can get the most out of their co-op jobs: Show up with an open mind and never say "No" to something because you don't know how to do it — Google it. Push yourself — even in the little tasks — to do the best with every opportunity that you're given. Raise the bar.

Ragno is currently adjusting to being back in classes and he's looking forward to graduation. He hopes that his continued volunteer involvement with the 76ers will some day lead to a job opportunity. He's also already preparing for the next basketball season. The new Flight Squad was more popular than expected, and Ragno expects the try-outs for next year will be very competitive. He's already training so he can step up his game.

May 7, 2012

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