Revisiting past BIG Initiative Award winners: Chris Stathos and Haiya Kofler

To celebrate the release of applications for the 2017 BIG Initiative Award, the Michigan Sport Business Conference team caught up with past winners. Each recipient has followed a unique path since being honored at the MSBC and has a wealth of valuable advice to share with up-and-coming sport industry professionals. Their journeys, insights and advice will be shared over the next few weeks. 

Chris Stathos, BIG ‘13

Chris will enter his fourth season with the Kansas City Chiefs’​ partnership activation team this year. In this capacity, Chris leads the strategy on the implementation of millions of dollars of corporate partnership business. Chris is an avid supporter of internships and mentorship, having been shaped by both when he was trying to enter the sports industry.

Haiya Kofler, BIG ‘16

Haiya Kofler is pursuing a major in Rhetoric with Honors, a concentration in Contemporary American Political and Legal Discourse, and a minor in Dance Performance, at UC Berkeley. She moved by herself at 13 to pursue ski racing in an effort to find a healthy outlet for domestic abuse, and has been an adrenaline junkie and physical education advocate ever since. After becoming close with Janet Evans through coaching her kids in skiing, Haiya interned with the Los Angeles Bid for the 2024 Olympic/Paralympic Games and can currently be seen at every Cal football and basketball game as the second woman ever to take over the athletic program’s emcee mic.

How has winning the BIG Initiative impacted your journey to where you are today?

STATHOS: I think, more than anything, it has given me an appreciation for the industry and how everyone starts at the same place—with a desire to work where sports meets business. The rest is up to you to shape and mold.

KOFLER: Well for starters, winning the BIG Initiative has convinced me to apply to UMich for grad school whether that be for Sport Management, Kinesiology, Law or all three if I can. I will always be a California Golden Bear through and through, but the energy in the Big House was INSANE! In addition, winning the BIG Initiative has impacted my journey to where I am today because I do want to improve society using the power of sports, and the BIG Initiative Award has affirmed that it is possible. Before grad school, I plan to apply to the Peace Corps focusing on either physical education for at-risk youth or empowerment/leadership education for adolescent girls (or a mixture of both), in an effort to hopefully study and create a cultural impact of health and education at a grassroots level. Most standard education systems hinder true learning as students are confined to chairs for multiple hours under the fallacious ideology of a divided mind and body. Education, i.e. that which teaches students how to question rather than recite, is more important now than ever amidst accelerating technologies and divided political states, and lies in the restructuring of syllabi to join our mental realities with our physical ones.

What is the most valuable aspect of the BIG Initiative/MSBC experience to you?

STATHOS: Being in the same room with so many like-minded students is what MSBC delivers better than anyone else.
KOFLER: The most valuable aspect of the BIG Initiative/MSBC is really just the tangibility of its network. The Michigan alumni, as well as working professionals in attendance, truly are there to connect and help better the next generation of sports leaders — and that’s something that I think stems from the strength of UMich pride, a little midwestern charm and a whole lot of passion for sports.
If you could provide this year’s BIG applicants and recipients with one piece of advice, what would it be?

STATHOS: Now is the time to figure out what you’re passionate about. Explore different opportunities within the industry now rather than working in the same types of organizations. This will not only give you an idea of what you want to do but provide valuable diverse experiences when it comes time to enter your first job after college.

KOFLER: If I could provide this year’s BIG applicants and recipients with one piece of advice, it would be to critically examine your attraction to sports. Yeah, everyone likes soccer or wonders what it would be like to be a general manager. Now it’s time to ask, what did sports offer to you that you otherwise would not have? And, with such, what do you have to offer to sports that it currently lacks? Then, can you transfer your idea/skill/gift into something that’s marketable for the progression of society as a whole whether that be physically, socially, intellectually or simply to better the entertainment experience?

And lastly, if you could have coffee with anyone in the sports industry, living or deceased, who would it be and why?

STATHOS: I’ve always been a big fan of Derrick Hall with the Arizona Diamondbacks. I once emailed Derrick out of the blue just to express my admiration for his personal story as well as his professional work, and he emailed me back in 19 minutes. The CEO of a Major League Baseball franchise did not see my email as intrusive but rather an opportunity to interact with someone who was at a point in his career where he had once been.

KOFLER: Just one? Jeez… there are so many! But, I think that I would narrow it down to 1) Mikaela Shiffrin for sheer athletic prowess and then 2) Ringland and Cullen from their experience with PeacePlayers for their courage in seizing an opportunity for others’ benefit.

Thanks to Chris Stathos and Haiya Kofler for sharing their experiences. Conversations with past BIG Initiative Award winners will continue to be released over the next few weeks. For more information on the BIG Initiative Award and what it is, click here. To apply for the BIG Initiative Award, click here.

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