The Campus Rail Jam 2013! (Interview)

Believe you can and you’re halfway there. -Theodore Roosevelt

Hi all,

I recently spoke with the Ski and Snowboard club leaders Mike Lillis and Mac Dillman, as well as Ted Winkworth of the Lifestyles Center, who helped coordinate the event. Here’s what they had to say about this year’s celebration of all things winter sports:


What all was involved in putting the Rail Jam together? In other words, as a club, what steps did you have to take with the school administration and with outside people and organizations in order to set up such a big event?

Mike: The Rail Jam is a huge event and took months of planning.  As Mac said the majority of the approval process took place last year so this year was a little easier.  We just had to confirm with all the same College Officials and departments that we were putting the Rail jam on again and taking the same steps as last year.  This year we had to deal with a couple of new Officials so it was a little difficult getting them on the same page as us.  Once we were approved by campus we went straight to planning the day out.  Getting everything prepared and ready to go.  We worked closely with LifeStyles, WYNO, Red Bull and of course the Ski Club.  We really coordinated everything right down to the pinpoint.  Our club worked very closely together and we jumped through every obstacle together.  Mac’s answer really covers a lot of what we had to do.  Dealing with the school, insurance, clubs, money, grounds and much more.

Mac: Most of the approval process really took place last year. It was one struggle after the next. First we had to really determine who we should be asking permission from, and we could never seem to end up in the right person’s office. It was as if nobody wanted to give the thumbs up to the event in case something went wrong. Finally we landed at Campus Life, and after many meetings with the director of campus life and the Student Association Director of Finance, we came up with a long list of things we had to do before we could throw the event (and we were running short on time). S.A. didn’t want to let us have the event on their insurance policy, so we had to purchase a one-day event insurance policy from an outside agency, which we did not have money for. We networked with WNYO and they ended up paying for the insurance and also providing the music for the event. We had to buy and make all of the rails and boxes ourselves, which was expensive and also another challenge to coordinate with the technology department on that. We had to pay for a U.P. officer to attend the event for “crowd control”, and we had to have SAVAC on standby in case something went wrong. The other major coordination effort was with grounds crew. Last year we were affected by one of the lowest snow seasons on record, so it was very challenging to find enough snow. Fortunately grounds grew helped us move snow around campus, put it in the pile where we wanted it, and helped us shape it. We absolutely could not have done it this year or last year without them. We also relied heavily on the Lifestyles Center for on-campus promotion. This year we did things in the same way, but we didn’t have to go through such a painstaking approval process. We still had to follow all the same steps, but this time we knew what to do, so it was much less stressful. We were able to put more attention into things like promotion and the kind of frills that made this years Jam better than last years. The most challenging part this year was probably just coordinating with people who were new to the event and did not know the extent to which their organization helped out last year. We split up the duties very evenly this year which took a lot of weight off of everyones shoulders and made a lot more possible.

Ted, what did you and lifestyles contribute to the Rail Jam, as opposed to the Ski and Snowboard Club guys?

Ted: We really just helped to make sure the rails were taken care of, we helped with painting them to make sure it all looked good. We helped with logistics stuff, we were really more in the background this year. Last year we helped [ski and snowboard club] navigate the system, and now that they know what is going on they can take control, which I like.

 What challenges or difficulties did you face this year in putting this on?

Mike: As always challenges are always waiting around every corner.  I would say that one of the harder things this year was taking over for Mac.  Mac devoted his life to this event last year and ran everything really well.  With him student teaching everyday we really had to coordinate with him and try to find time for all of us to meet and set things up.  The event just really takes a lot of time and planning.  Trying to work with people who don’t really understand your idea really makes things harder.  Also our school has processes which can make things really difficult when trying to put events on.  We ran into a couple of major problems with insurance this year but we were able to work everything out.  The event flowed really smoothly and without the grounds crew and our hard working officers this event wouldn’t of been possible.

Mac: The challenges this year were more about trying to coordinate with one another through all of our busy schedules. Last year it was usually me who was sitting in the meetings, writing up the documents, and coordinating with different groups. But this year we split up those responsibilities so we were always having to talk with each other and meet to make sure we were on the same page, and with me gone every day student teaching and the other officers on their own busy schedules that got to be a challenge. 

Ted: Honestly, this year felt so easy; it was completely stress free. When it was all done, I was waiting for that feeling of “thank god it’s over”, and I realized it wasn’t coming, because I was never at any point feeling that things were out of control, that things weren’t going like they were supposed to. And especially after last year – there were political hurdles, there were insurance problems, and once all that was solved we needed snow – this year all that stuff was taken care of. It was really cool!

 What recommendations or advice would you make to other students and organizations wanting to set up large events like this?

Mike: Just go for it.  Try to team up with other organizations and really use your connections to get things done.  Ski Club has such a large member base that we are constantly networking to coordinate and get things done.  This was a huge help when trying to promote the event and get the word out.  But like I said before, just go for it.  Make it happen and don’t take no for an answer.  We planned this event for three years before we finally got approval.  We worked harder and harder each year at it and really lifted it off the ground.  Anything is possible and with some dedication and hard work a person can achieve anything.  To think that just an idea starting with 4 officers turned into such a large event.  The coordination and the turnout was amazing.

Mac: Dig your heels in then you meet resistance, and jump through whatever hoops you have to. You will develop yourself so much as a group leader and an individual. Learning how to work within the college system is an incredibly useful skill to have. For all the work we put in, it is absolutely worth every second of it to see the results. Do what you have to do to bring the things you love to the rest of this college community. 

Ted: Don’t give up on it! I think that for this one, the biggest hurdle was that people didn’t understand what it was, and now that people know what it is, I think that it is going to be something that happens every year that is going to be celebrated. If the ski club had given up after being shot down the first time, it never would’ve happened, so that persistence is huge.

Plans for next year and for future events?

Mike: We want to go bigger and better every year.  More people, more clubs more features.  We want this event to be a hit across campus.  We want everyone to be talking about it and see what an amazing event this is.  We really need the school to realize the impact our club has on this campus and try to work with us to make things easier.  According to admissions, our club is the most popular trending club across campus.  We have the largest active member base over any organization and pay the most out of pocket expenses.  We put on one of a kind events and do a lot of the work on our own since the school doesn’t give us the largest budget.  I want our club to be recognized across other campuses and I want them to be like wow, look what they just did!

Mac: With a solid foundation and a couple of successful events under our belt, now we are stretching out each year to see what else we can bring to this event. A few ideas we are bouncing around are trying to expand the competition to include riders from other schools, bigger and better prizes, vendors and board shops and ski mtns representing at tables, possibly even doing the event at night with lights. These are all just ideas in the air right now, but with the right drive we could definitely try to bring them in the mix.

Ted: I think that we want to try and make it bigger and more challenging next year, have more features. There’s been talk with the ski club about trying to do a big air or aerial trick competition, which I think they would do out at Fallbrook, but we’ll see what they end up doing with that. We definitely want more people out there and we want to make it a big event.


Well, looks like we’ve got plenty of great stuff to look forward to in the future from these guys! Oh and one more thing… In case you missed it, they even did a Harlem Shake!





About the Author

Hey there! My name is Mark and I am a Cognitive Science major at the State University of New York at Oswego. My main interests are Computer Science and Philosophy. I love thinking about thinking, and I am very interested in social media. I also love thinking about art, including movies, music and video games!
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