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 March 2007 • NIRSA news and information
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Three days in history: A student’s experience of the Emerging Recreational Sports Leaders Conference

NNC Intern Rachael Finley finds inspiration and connection at the ERSL
  • “His-to-ry: n. acts, ideas, or events that will or can shape the course of the future” — Random House Dictionary (

Rachael Finley with Lee Wasson


Kearny Building - Dillard University


CMU Crew

At the 2007 Emerging Recreational Sports Leaders (ERSL) Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, “history” seemed to be the theme throughout the three-day experience (February 8-10). As a presenter, attendee, and participant of the 13th annual ERSL Conference and a guest to the city of New Orleans, I had no idea how much a three-day trip could provide a student experiencing it all for the first time.

My experience began on Thursday, the day prior to the conference. I arrived early in the day and was picked up from the airport by some fellow NIRSA Members from my undergraduate institution, Central Michigan University. As we drove through the city of New Orleans, still seeing the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the community, it was exciting yet chilling to be there. We took advantage of the extra day that we had prior to the conference and toured Xavier University, the ERSL Conference host, and Dillard University, home of the first National Intramural Association meeting. Both schools were alma maters to some of our Association’s founders. What an experience it was to walk the same steps and stand in the same places as people like William Wasson, Armstead A. Pierro, and Annette H. Akins did almost 60 years ago. The tragic Hurricane Katrina history became more real as we stood next to buildings with water lines level with our heads and walked past buildings with boarded windows. Yet the reconstruction and renovation is bringing the enlightening and encouraging atmosphere back to the campuses.

As the warm Louisiana sun greeted me Friday morning, I decided to go for a run around town near our hotel. I ran the streets and passed over sewers and drainage systems and I wondered how they recovered after being overworked for weeks and months after Katrina. I crossed paths with bikers and walkers who were just doing their everyday activities, and all the while I was in amazement that I was running in a place where, at one time, most people had to swim. I was so thankful that the conference was being held in New Orleans, providing this opportunity for a truly comprehensive experience of history.

The conference began shortly after my run and we were greeted with students and professionals from all over the country. The NIRSA energy buzzed through the air as we ate traditional Southern cooking for lunch and made our way to our seats for a welcome from Xavier officials and our keynote speaker, Missy McGuire, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs for Tulane University. The Xavier officials thanked us for making the trip to their university and taking the initiative to develop as leaders in a multicultural society. Missy welcomed us to the city of New Orleans and began our ERSL Conference experience with uplifting words about the importance of recreational sports and being a part of college students’ experience. Mrs. Lee Wasson, widow of our founder William Wasson, and daughter, Marsha Shelton, joined us and helped celebrate NIRSA’s history and the opening of the conference.

The rest of the day was filled with quality educational sessions presented by students and professionals about diversity, student opportunities, mentoring and more. I was even lucky enough to present about this amazing internship experience I’ve had at the NIRSA National Center, and encourage others to apply for the position. Between sessions it was exciting to hear the students and professionals conversing about what they just learned, different issues at their own institutions, and future opportunities at the NIRSA Annual Conference in Minneapolis. The evening concluded with more food and socializing with new, old, and future NIRSA Members.

Saturday, the final day of the conference, was directed towards Student Members and student/professional interaction. After one educational session, the morning proceeded with mock interviews for students, resume and cover letter reviews, “take a student to lunch,” and a black history and NIRSA history trivia contest. The conference concluded with an ERSL Think Tank about the lack of candidates that stand for office in NIRSA and why members should step up and stand. Mrs. Wasson concluded the discussion with powerful words. “Let me tell you why the man himself, my husband, started this Association. It was because of the students, for the students, and only the students. It’s your turn now. Step up and be the next person, no matter your age or rank, and do something for the students.”

The conference came to a close and we helped clean up as everyone said good-bye with “So great to see you...” and “See you in Minneapolis.” My Central Michigan Chippewas and I headed back to the airport to catch our evening flights. Briefly reflecting on our amazing experience, we began to realize what an educational and historic few days we had: 13th ERSL Conference, Dillard University, Xavier University, New Orleans, networking, new contacts, old friends, new information, self-reflection, new visions, and old visions being inspired again.

For three days, I was engulfed by history in many different fashions. The ERSL Conference provided an exciting and quality experience to gain insight into the acts, ideas, and events that have shaped, and will continue to shape, our future.

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