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Bluffton native Garcia making grade at Super Bowl

Ordinarily, having to attend a three-hour college class on Super Bowl Sunday might be a nightmare for a sports fan.

But don't cry for Bluffton native Henry Garcia. His class will let out in time to watch the game -- in person.

Garcia is one of 10 Lynn University sports management students taking part in the "Super Bowl Experience," a three-credit class that goes behind the scenes of the big game.

The course was the brainchild of Ted Curtis, a professor at the Boca Raton, Fla., school who first used the concept at the 2007 NCAA Final Four in Atlanta and has since extended the idea to the Super Bowl, ESPN's XGames and the Major League Baseball winter meetings.

"We wanted to think of a way for students to get real-life experience in the sports business," Curtis said.

Then came the tricky part -- getting access. Except it didn't turn out to be tricky at all.

"We asked," Curtis said. "We just asked, and the response was incredible. Nobody else had ever bothered to ask."

The next thing Curtis knew, he was taking students behind the scenes of some of the biggest sporting events in the world, getting them first-hand experience he could never teach from a textbook.

"People in this business recognize that what we're doing is preparing the next generation of sports executives," Curtis said. "They know how hard it is behind the scenes, so they're more than willing to take our students and show them the ropes."

In the course of five days in North Texas, sports executives at the Cotton Bowl, American Airlines Center and Southern Methodist University have given the class an inside look at their operations, and now the students have turned their focus toward the Super Bowl.

They spent Friday night working at the NFL Alumni Association's Player of the Year dinner, doing everything from setting up tables to rolling out the red carpet.

For their grand finale, they'll hold a three-hour class during pre-game warm-ups at Cowboys Stadium, during which they'll get a close look at some of the security and risk-management concerns that go into putting on one of the world's biggest sporting events.

"They're going to basically investigate every inch of Cowboys Stadium over the course of three hours and analyze everything from the way they authenticate tickets to the manner in which they keep the building secure before the game and during the game to any risk-management after the game," Curtis said. "It's going to be a pretty remarkable three hours."

And the remarkable end to an eye-opening week -- one that has confirmed for Garcia that he has chosen the right career path.

"The experience of seeing how a stadium is run or how you have to set up for these events -- you can't learn that in a classroom," Garcia said. "It is a lot of work. When we were at the Cotton Bowl, the stadium manager was telling us about how he works 90-hour work weeks. But sports is what I want to do with my life."

And now he has some real-world experience, thanks to the Super Bowl Experience.