Notre Dame undergraduates are uniquely well-rounded and Philadelphia, PA native Caroline Pla is no exception. The first-year student fell in love with sports as a kid and now she explores athletics and academics at Notre Dame, where she currently intends to prepare for a career in sports marketing.
Pla’s love of sports began when she was little. When her older brother (she has two sisters as well) started playing football, Pla was only three, but she wanted to join him. At age five she did. She played football with a few different leagues growing up and loved the physical activity and bonding with her teammates. Pla also played basketball and ran track.
At the end of her sixth-grade year, Pla was informed that the Catholic diocesan league she played in had a rule stating that girls were not actually allowed to play football. This was news to her. With the help of her parents and the support of her teammates, Pla asked the league to allow her to play the following year, but was told no again and again. But Pla wasn't ready to give up the sport she loved.
Pla and her mom created a petition asking the league to allow girls to play and they invited everyone they knew to sign it. A local news network picked up the story, which in turn was picked up by Good Morning America.
Following this, Pla was invited on The Ellen Show, where host Ellen Degeneres interviewed her and signed and showcased her petition. The support made a difference. In the end, the league responded to Pla’s petition, allowing her and other girls to play football the following year. Pla had stood up for the right for girls to play the sport she loved and gotten back on the field.
It goes without saying that a love of the game runs deep for Pla. As a kid, she also thought she might like a career in sports broadcasting. “Originally, going through elementary school and middle school, I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I think I saw the ladies on TV and wanted to be like them,” she says. But as she got older and took more classes that reflected her interests in high school, Pla says she learned that there was a business side to sports.
“I realized that there are opportunities to work with sports beyond the games themselves. The sports industry has a whole business perspective that piques my interest. So that is why I want to pursue marketing. And I want to work someday with a sports organization on a marketing team,” says Pla.
Pla looks forward to taking her first marketing courses through the Mendoza College of Business, but in the meantime she’s indulging her love of sports through extracurriculars. During her first semester, she played flag football with her residence hall, Pasquerilla West, and she joined club basketball.
She was also hired by the Fighting Irish football team as a student worker in the recruiting office. Her responsibilities include guiding football recruits through various events on home game days, giving tours of campus, and forming connections with recruits and their families.
“This job is not only incredibly fun since I get to work behind the scenes of our world renowned football program, but it is rewarding to make connections with potential players and their families, enhancing their experiences at Notre Dame,” says ‘Pla. “While I was hesitant about giving up the typical student game day, I do not regret it at all because I get the coolest game day experience with this job.” If a student is interested in this kind of work, Pla recommends just reaching out and applying because, she says, “this job has been one of the best parts of my time here so far.”
In addition to her work, Pla says that learning about the University’s partnership with various brands has also been helpful. This exposure to the business side of athletics has given her some initial perspective on what her future career in sports marketing could look like.
On the academic side, she’s taking care of some requirements and loves all her classes. The class that most surprised her, however, was her University Seminar. The literature course, called One’s Life Story, was taught by former University president Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C.
Each Sunday night, Pla and her fellow first-year students would gather in a classroom in DeBartolo Hall to discuss the biography or autobiography they had read the previous week. On two occasions, the author of the book visited, giving students a unique opportunity to ask questions and gain insights into the authors’ stories.
The course structure led to many interesting discussions about prejudice around the world, various religions, and the significance of each individual’s story, among other topics.
“It is the coolest class I’ve ever taken,” says Pla. “It’s a really diverse group of us. I think there’s 18 students in the class and we’re from all over the world. We all have different backgrounds, different stories.” In addition to discussing the books, the students share their own stories and ”[I]t’s really a unique experience,” says Pla.
She's looking forward to the unique experiences her next semester of classes may bring.
For a student who fell in love with Notre Dame after a trip to see a football game in the sixth grade, living and learning on campus feels like a dream come true. Pla worked hard to get here and she’s determined to make the most of her Notre Dame education both inside and outside of the classroom.
Watch the video above to hear more from Caroline Pla ’23 and learn about academics at Notre Dame here.