Catching Up with Alex Flanagan

Lancer alumna Alexandra Wystrach Flanagan ‘89 recently answered questions about her experience as a Lancer and how her time at Salpointe impacted her life and career. After graduating from Salpointe and the University of Arizona, Alex worked as a sports broadcaster with the NFL Network and NBC for over 25 years, covering the 2009 Super Bowl, five Olympic Games and countless professional and college football games. Her job required time management, independence and flexibility, skills that Alex attributes to her time at Salpointe and growing up on a ranch. 

Alex and her five siblings (Andrea '86, Audrey '86, Amie '93, Mark '98 and Mike '98) grew up on a cattle ranch in Sonoita, AZ, where their parents still own and run The Steak Out Restaurant. She remembers having a different upbringing than other students at Salpointe. Ranch living was isolating, but the Wystrach kids had each other and kept busy helping out at the restaurant and on the ranch.

Alex, who had skipped ahead in elementary school and started high school at age twelve, came from a very small middle school and knew almost no one at Salpointe beyond her two older sisters. She quickly became involved, despite the challenges of living so far away. Alex was a member of Student Council and was on the pom team for three years before playing basketball her senior year where her real exposure to the world of sports began.

Alex was inducted into Salpointe’s Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame in 2017 and is now Senior Vice President, Partner and Head of Women’s Growth at the Familie Sports Marketing and Talent Agency in Cardiff by the Sea, California.

Please enjoy Lancer Life’s conversation with Alex Flanagan:

Lancer Life: Tell us a bit about your life as a Lancer.
Alex: Because I was often on campus late in the evenings and lived an hour away, I relied on my friends and their families to take care of me at times. I stayed overnight at their houses after practice rather than driving all the way home. These experiences created a feeling of community and gave me a strong sense of independence.

People embraced our family and that was a really special part of the community for me. So many people treated me as if I was their own child. I had my family in Sonoita and I also had all these Salpointe families that looked out for me. I have a lot of fond memories.

High school in the ‘80s was so different than high school today. Not having cell phones meant making plans to meet up in advance. If you couldn’t find the spot where everyone was gathering, you just never found them or you’d drive around town trying to find people if you thought you were in the vicinity. Even simple things like my typing classes have proved useful and my kids often comment on how fast I can type.

Lancer Life: How has Salpointe impacted your life and career?
Alex: Salpointe is such an important part of who I am and who I became. The amazing community helped to develop my character and prepare me for college and beyond.

Our parents put a lot of trust in us to go to Salpointe and we were wise beyond our years because of it. We were pretty capable kids and learned early on how to take care of ourselves.

Because we didn’t know anyone, we had the chance to recreate ourselves. In hindsight, it did take a lot of courage for us to come into Tucson and go to a brand new school. We had to be independent, have a thick skin and just figure it out. Those skills have really served me today.

Growing up with that independence, we never questioned that we could do something. One of the reasons my brothers, sisters and I have been successful in our careers is because we’ve gone for it without really worrying about the fact that we might not be successful or about what people might think. Make sure they’re things you’re passionate about, that you want to put the work effort into, and be okay with failing too. Failing is a big part of success.

I really value my Salpointe education. The passion of the teachers rubbed off on me. I appreciate that I had the opportunity to learn in a really positive environment like Salpointe.

Such an important part of high school is the actual experience of it. As important as the education is, the experience is equally important. Figuring out who you are and what you don’t want to do is as important as figuring out what you do want to do. The opportunities you’re afforded in high school through extracurricular activities or classes, where you learn even basic skills, are really important. It can spark something in you. I love the idea of being able to try some things in high school and see if they spark a passion for you. If I could go back and do it again, knowing what I know now, I wish I’d done a little bit more journalism, content creation or other creative classes. High school is definitely the time to do it.

The unique thing about high school is that you’ll go off to college and travel around the world, but you’ll always have these people you were with for four years in the town you grew up in, in a place that’s very familiar to you. To be able to come back to that is really special. Throughout your life, you’ll lean on that and find yourself circling back to those people. The friendships from high school are lifelong and enduring even if they don’t endure immediately. You move on from people but you always have this great commonality of Salpointe that really is a deep connection.

Lancer Life: What was your career like as a sports broadcaster?
Alex: There were not that many women in broadcasting when I started in that field. Most times, I was the only woman in the room. It was hard to find people like me. In the beginning, it was about not wanting to stand out or bring extra attention to myself. Then I had to work really hard to try and prove myself. It came down to work ethic, proving that I was able to do the job and having a thick skin.

Another great life skill that came from sports broadcasting is that you have to be able to move on pretty quickly. In any of our lives, when we mess up or make mistakes, we can’t dwell on them. We just have to move on to the next thing. Sports teaches you that a lot. Do your best but then you have to move on to the next thing and learn from it. You don’t have time to dwell on any mistakes.

Ask yourself, what about a job do you like? What is authentic to you? For me, what I loved about sports broadcasting was information. I’m really curious, I love drawing stories out of people, I enjoyed figuring out how I could put the pieces together that would then tell their story. It wasn’t about being on TV. I wanted to tell people stories. Figuring out which part of a job you enjoy will really help you determine which path you should go down.

Lancer Life: What advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Alex: If you’re looking to get into my field of sports media, don’t just think about the sideline role. Think about being the producer or director. Explore all those different avenues. Push yourself to go beyond what you see as being normal.

Start exploring early. Look beyond the role you see on TV. It’s easy to see the people on TV and aspire to be them, but there are hundreds of people involved in putting on a college football broadcast. Explore how those other jobs might match your personality. When you see me on TV, there are 20 plus people behind me who got me on TV. That’s what is really cool to me. Working in a sports broadcast job is the ultimate team sport.

I think a lot of people are drawn to work in sports because they want to go to a football game and be on the sideline and it looks so fun. It is, but that’s a tiny portion of the job you’re doing. Think about what part of the job in sports do you think you can authentically contribute to.

Lancer Life: Thank you, Alex, for sharing your story with the Salpointe community and congratulations on your great success! 

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