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Shenandoah University, Washington Spirit enter partnership on, off the field

Washington Spirit Shenandoah University
Washington Spirit Managing Partner Steve Baldwin, Spirit players Aubrey Bledsoe, Paige Nielsen, SU President Tracy Fitzsimmons, and players Andi Sullivan and Trinity Rodman. Photo courtesy Shenandoah University.

Shenandoah University is partnering with the Washington Spirit, the professional women’s soccer team in Washington, D.C., to provide free classes to players in exchange for internships, hospitality and promotion.

This kind of partnership is a first for both the Spirit and Shenandoah.

“The opportunity to partner with the Spirit is a true honor,” said Assistant Vice President of Opportunity Development Fritz Polite, Ph.D. “We stress the constructs of merging theory with practice and this symbiotic relationship will create opportunities for internships/practicums and mentoring opportunities. This will also allow us to share our network of multiple sport/entertainment industry partners with the Spirit. This is a perfect match.”

The three-year partnership was finalized at a signing event Thursday at Shenandoah University’s main campus in Winchester. According to the Memorandum of Understanding, Spirit players will be eligible to enroll, tuition-free, in Shenandoah’s graduate and undergraduate courses.

Currently, two students are enrolled at the university: Aubrey Bledsoe and Paige Nielsen. Bledsoe is enrolled in the MBA program and Nielsen is working to receive a graduate certificate in cybersecurity management.

“The longer we play professionally, the longer we are out of the traditional workforce,” Bledsoe said. “It’s hard to acquire other skills because of how strenuous our jobs are. Shenandoah has been great because they offer a hybrid model. I can go take classes in person or online. I’m learning business skills that I can apply to my life now as a professional athlete and that I can use as I transition to life after soccer.”

Shenandoah will also make available its facilities on campus for Spirit scrimmages, practices and games, and will provide opportunities for players to coach on a volunteer basis the university’s women’s and men’s soccer teams in compliance with NCAA guidelines.

In return, the Spirit will provide internship opportunities in physical therapy and athletic training to Shenandoah students, along with internships at international and national events. The Spirit will also work with university leadership in the esports and sport management departments to develop and implement programs for Shenandoah students in the Washington, D.C., area.

“One of the responsibilities we have to our players is to help prepare them for life when their playing careers are completed,” said Spirit Managing Partner Steve Baldwin. “We have developed a breadth of services to support our players, and this new partnership is the crown jewel of our program. Spirit players will be able to pursue graduate and undergraduate degrees across all programs offered by a great university. Additionally, as the NWSL evolves and more players join our club out of high school, we have a program in place that doesn’t require a player to forego their education to pursue their dreams.”

The Spirit will also allow Shenandoah signage to be displayed at its two fields and provide a limited allotment of tickets to the SU community.

Together, the Spirit and Shenandoah will hold a women’s leadership conference at the university (date, time, and speakers to be announced).

“This partnership is a win-win for the Spirit and Shenandoah,” said Athletic Director Bridget Lyons, Ph.D. “The opportunities for interaction with internships, community service, and leadership seminars will benefit all our students and student-athletes.”

The 23-member Spirit team is coached by Richie Burke and owned by Steve Baldwin. Forward Trinity Rodman was the No. 2 pick of the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League draft. Five members of the roster have recent United States Women’s National Team experience.

League play begins in April.

Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons and her husband Knox Singleton recently joined the Spirit ownership group, along with more than 30 other individuals, including Chelsea Clinton, Jenna Bush Hager, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, Estee Portnoy, Briana Scurry, Dominique Dawes, Assia Grazioli-Venier, Razmig Hovaghimian, Matt Hong, Tom Daschle, Claire Shipman, Mary Mochary, Suzanne Niedland and Devin Talbott.


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