by Rob Knox, Towson University Associate Director of Media Relations/CoSIDA First Vice-President
This feature is one of the many profiles CoSIDA is publishing to showcase its diverse membership during 2017 CoSIDA Membership Recognition Week. To see all the feature stories, please click HERE.
Bri Funte: Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association
Assistant Commissioner for Strategic Communication
Hustling and bustling amid the pageantry of celebrity sightings, crisply costumed band members, cheerleaders and dancers in their school colors swaying their hips, shuffling their feet and strutting in the aisles during the annual Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) basketball tournament is Bri Funte.
In her third year as the CIAA's affable director of strategic communication, Funte is a calming presence during the whirlwind of activity of the CIAA weeklong basketball tournament. Funte is focused on making sure the media has what it needs to accurately tell the story of its 12 Division II members of the Historically Black College & Universities (HBCU) conference that stretches from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.
A passionate storyteller, excellent writer and two-time CoSIDA convention attendee, Funte is thriving as one of the industry's talented and young communication professionals.
"The fun parts about the tournament are the all-in mentality, being surrounded by sports, and the platform that we get to create for student-athletes," Funte said. "I am literally living in the arena during tournament week and I get to watch a lot of basketball. I'm a person who loves sleep, but I'm typically in the arena by 7 a.m. and am lucky to be out by 1:00 a.m. In total, I get like four hours of sleep. It's pretty cool to say that I am a part of the success of one of the largest collegiate basketball tournaments in the country."
The CIAA tournament is touted as the third highest attended basketball tournament among all NCAA divisions. It's the quintessential cultural experience offering official events appealing to a diverse demographic of alumni and fans.
The centerpiece of the week are the 22 action-packed basketball games played in two venues in Charlotte during the final week of February. That makes running the tournament a challenge even for the most seasoned athletic communication professionals.
"Preparation for the 2018 CIAA tournament started last March, just after we all recuperated from the 2017 CIAA Tournament," Funte said. "We quite literally plan all year for this championship. The first six months is planning. The second six months is when things get trickier because you're actually beginning to execute your plan. The most challenging part about preparing for the tournament is the race against the clock. A lot of my responsibilities cannot be executed until after Christmas."
The tight deadline led to one of Funte's toughest moments during her first year working at the CIAA. Among her myriad of responsibilities is designing the 100-page program booklet complete with every team's individual headshots and school information.
"My first year, that book was a catastrophe," Funte said. "I had very limited knowledge of the conference at that time, so it was difficult to know what to update or include. In 2017 though, that book was bomb. I took great pride in the quality of that program. My first year, I had no idea what to expect. The 2016 tournament is really just a blur to me and I don't even know how I survived."
Funte's path to the CIAA was paved by stints as the public relations coordinator for the Iowa Barnstormers indoor professional team in Des Moines, internships with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Buena Vista Raceway. She also spent time as an operations intern for the Omaha Lancers Hockey team. Funte is a native of Osage, Iowa and diehard Green Bay Packers fan.
"I had no idea what an HBCU was," Funte said. "I remember checking into my hotel the night before my in-person interview with the CIAA and sitting down to do my research of the organization. It was at that moment that the term 'HBCU' was introduced to me. It was new. So, when I accepted the position with the CIAA, I became the minority. This was different than anything I'd ever experienced before. I can't say that Iowa is very diverse, so it's not even an opportunity that has been presented to me. Guess what? I love it though."
Numerous people have helped Funte along her journey to working in athletic communications. She credits her undergraduate professors Jamii Claiborne, Jerry Johnson, and Beth Lamoureux as well a group of mentors that include Adrian Ferguson, Sherie Gordon, Allie Kolezynski, Suzette McQueen and Romanda Noble-Watson.
Working with CIAA commissioner Jacqie McWilliams has helped Funte grow personally and professionally.
"She encourages us to be innovative and try new things," Funte said of McWilliams. "She doesn't care if we fail, as long as we learn from our mistakes. Jacquie never wants us to feel afraid to do something that other conferences haven't tried before. In actuality, she wants to be the first in everything, so we keep moving pretty quickly.
"This year we are developing a mobile app specific to the basketball tournament. This is new territory for us and because our event is so unique, we've had to do a lot of research to pull everything we need together."
In addition to spending a large amount of time preparing for the CIAA tournament, Funte is part of the national campaign celebrating 125 years of black college football (CIAA member schools Livingstone & Johnson C. Smith played the first game on December 26, 1892). Funte also works game days in the pressbox for the Carolina Panthers, and she just started the first of 10 online classes toward her masters of science degree in communication through Purdue University.
Away from the rigors of work, Funte unwinds by hiking, swimming, white water rafting, camping, roller blading, working out, and going to the park by herself to read on a park bench.
"I love what I do," Funte said. "I want to make my mom proud. . I hope someday she can come to the basketball tournament. I think she'll be surprised by how big the event really is. Hearing her talk about what I'm doing with my career really motivates me. She's my number one supporter."