Washington Spirit and Shenandoah University enter partnership; benefiting both on, and off the field


WINCHESTER, V.a. (WDVM) – The Washington Spirit and Shenandoah University are partnering together, to provide free classes to players on the team, in exchange for internship opportunities, hospitality, and promotion.

“The opportunity to partner with the Spirit is a true honor,” said Assistant Vice President of Opportunity Development Fritz Polite, Ph.D in a press release. “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.”

This three-year partnership was finalized between both parties on Thursday. Washington Spirit players are eligible to enroll in Shenandoah University, tuition free; for undergraduate and graduate courses. Currently, Audrey Bledson, and Paige Nielsen of the Washington Spirit are enrolled; Bledsoe is enrolled in the MBA program, and Nielsen is working on her 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.”

The Washington Spirit will provide internship opportunities in physical therapy and athletic training to Shenandoah students, along with internships at international and national events.

“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.”

In a conversation with President of Shenandoah University, Tracy Fitzsimmon; WDVM Sports Director Allif Karim learned that the conversation between both parties for this partnership started in the fall.

“We had a partner, both the Washington Spirit, and the University; who helped us get together and have these conversations – thought we would be a good match for each other.” said Tracy Fitzsimmons, “The Spirit is looking to grow, and reinvent itself, and is really forward thinking, and this partner thought Shenandoah University, similarly – we are innovative, and creative. We don’t have time to rest, our students need us to be focused, and help them get not just educated, but careers; and so that person connected us.”

As part of the Washington Spirit’s new ownership group; Tracy did clarify that the conversation for the partnership with the University was a completely separate conversation, away from the strides being made as part of the new ownership group.

“Of course, you can imagine that we have to run through our Board of Trustees, and the Chair of our Audit commission as well, to make sure everything was above board, and make sure everyone was clear on what the involvement was.”

As the Washington Spirit look to build its brand, and solidify itself as a premiere athletic club in the country; so did Shenandoah University, by taking this opportunity to partner with a club like the Spirit.

“For Shenandoah, this is so incredibly important.” said Tracy, “We are headquartered in Winchester, Virginia, but we extend from Winchester all the way to Washington, with campuses in Clarke County, Loudoun County, and also in Fairfax. So this was a way of recognizing the reach of the institution. We are a Division III, Old Dominion Athletic Conference player, and we really value the development of the whole person, including through athletics, and through performing arts. And so connecting with the Spirit was a celebrating the athletic side of the institution.”

Watch the full interview with Tracy Fitzsimmons, President of Shenandoah University:

In a follow up interview with the Washington Spirit’s Aubrey Bledsoe, WDVM’s Allif Karim learned some details about the immediate effects right now, for the Spirit players; as they spoke about the partnership.

Watch the full interview below:

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