AN OLYMPIC BOOST: Dick’s Sporting Goods helps employees who are athletic hopefuls
PITTSBURGH -- Getting to the Olympics takes more than grit -- though plenty of determination is needed.It takes time and money to fund all that travel, gear, food and time in the gym, which can make it tricky to hold down a job.That's where Dick'...
PITTSBURGH - Getting to the Olympics takes more than grit - though plenty of determination is needed.
It takes time and money to fund all that travel, gear, food and time in the gym, which can make it tricky to hold down a job.
That’s where Dick’s Sporting Goods comes in.
The retailer, headquartered in suburban Pittsburgh, worked out a deal to hire Olympic and Paralympic athletes at its nearly 650 stores across the country - giving them the flexibility to keep training while still maintaining a job that pays the bills.
The partnership between the company and U.S. Olympic Committee means your questions about hockey gear could be answered by an athlete who won the gold medal in Sochi, Russia, at the 2014 Paralympic Games.
“I light up when people come in to ask about hockey,” said Dan McCoy, 22, a winger for the 2014 U.S. sled hockey team.
McCoy works in the team sports department at a Dick’s in suburban Pittsburgh. He was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which means that his spine didn’t develop properly in utero and he is paralyzed from the legs down.
He’s been playing sled hockey since he was 5 years old, and is one of the original members of The Mighty Penguins Sled Hockey organization, which provides sled hockey opportunities to disabled players. He made the U.S. Development sled hockey team when he was 14 and the U.S. men’s team when he was 16. He has been on six U.S. men’s teams. He’ll be representing on the U.S. Development team this year.
“Until now, it’s been a struggle to find a job and fit in training and travel,” said McCoy, who started working at the store in December - just in time for the Christmas rush. “Having the opportunity pop up when it did helped offset the training costs. Here, they understand that I’m an athlete first and they want to support that.
“A number of athletes I’ve talked to have employers who didn’t understand that and let them go because of scheduling conflicts.”
When he’s not on the ice or in the store, McCoy is probably hitting the books. He’s on track to graduate in 2017 from the University of Pittsburgh where he’s studying communications. Then he’s pursuing a master’s in sports medicine.
Dick’s announced the deal with the USOC in 2015, which allows the company to serve as the first official sporting goods retail sponsor to the USOC and Team USA for the 2016 summer games in Brazil. Dick’s partnership with the USOC includes sporting goods equipment donations to the U.S. Olympic Training Centers. Dick’s also is offering sponsorships and equipment to several athletes.
Dick’s gets the right to use the Olympic rings in its marketing, a coup other companies like McDonald’s have used to capitalize on the games.
The Contenders Program supports 200 Team USA hopefuls across 36 Olympic and Paralympic sports in 106 stores in 34 states, according to the company, aiming to provide a competitive wage and a flexible work schedule to accommodate an intense training schedule, while also allowing them to travel for competitions.
Dick’s isn’t alone in offering jobs to Olympic hopefuls. Home Depot had a similar program. In 2006, the home improvement retailer employed more than 200 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls. It said 33 employees qualified for the Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
In 2009, Home Depot ended the program to cut costs.
Dick’s is employing both summer and winter Olympic hopefuls, said Maureen Hester, community marketing manager.
“Being in the sporting industry, it’s a natural fit for them to work in our stores,” Hester said.
Of the athletes working at Dick’s locations, 18 Paralympians and seven Olympians as of the end of July had qualified for this year’s Summer Games in Rio.
Take, for instance, Darrell Hill, who works at Dick’s in State College, the home of Penn State University.
Hill, 22, qualified for the shot put. He heard about the Contenders program last summer when he made the U.S. team for the Pan-American Games in Toronto.
“They give you a duffle bag with USOC gear, and there was a pamphlet in there about the program. I’m from Pennsylvania, so I know what Dick’s is,” said Hill. “I knew my financial situation, and I needed a job.” He began working in the team sports department in September, after he graduated from Penn State, where he studied rehabilitation and human services.
“It’s been an awesome experience here because being an athlete - and growing up I played a ton of different sports - if people have questions, like ‘My 7-year-old son needs gloves and knee pads.’ I can give them insight because I went through all those stages,” he said.
Hill said he was always an avid athlete - he played football until his junior year of high school. Then the track coach asked him to join a meet where he tried shot put for the first time.
“He asked me if I would help them out, saying ‘You just throw a ball and hang out with us.’”
And something clicked.
“I went to the meet the next weekend and I stuck around,” said Hill, who started to teach himself by watching YouTube videos because the school didn’t have a shot put coach.
Within two years, he became the top-ranked shot putter in Pennsylvania and seventh-ranked nationally. At Penn State he became a three-time All-American, a three-time Big Ten Champion, and a 2015 NCAA Runner-Up. At the NCAA Championships, he tied for the national title, but was awarded second place because the other competitor had a better second distance.
“The Contender’s program is literally life changing for some people,” Hill said. “With the right support, you can take an athlete one year out of college to the games.”