The World of Sports Marketing Bids a Virginia Beach Legend Farewell
14 Jan, 2013
After giving the city of Virginia Beach 35 years of service, Buddy Wheeler, a staple in the industry, especially in the world of sports and sports marketing, is retiring from his position as the Coordinator of Sports Marketing for the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. As a force to be reckoned with in the world of sports, Mr. Wheeler is responsible for bringing multiple events, including the Rock-n-Roll ½ Marathon, to the city of Virginia Beach.
Buddy began his career immediately upon graduating from college with the Parks & Recreation Department for the City of Virginia Beach, where he devoted nine of his fourteen years there to therapeutic recreation. During that time, he thoroughly enjoyed working with children with disabilities and coached various wheelchair sports such as basketball, swimming and track and field events. “I affectionately recall those memories as being very rewarding and treasure them to this day,” Buddy stated as he smiled while reminiscing.
In addition to his fond reflections of working with the children, he also met his wife of 33 years, Sharon Wheeler, while working with a wheelchair sports team. Throughout the remaining five years of his career with Parks & Recreation, Buddy served as a coordinator of competitive sports leagues, working with adult and children organizations in various traditional sports such as basketball, football, baseball and soccer.
When Ron Kuhlman, Director of Marketing & Sales for the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau (VBCVB), was looking for a manager for the new Virginia Beach Visitor Center, he thought Buddy Wheeler was the perfect fit. “With his love and knowledge of the city and his years of experience I knew that Buddy would do an excellent job as the manager,” Ron Kuhlman remarked about hiring Buddy as the manager of the new Virginia Beach Visitor Center.
With his Masters degree in Public Administration and years of experience working for and living in the city, Buddy easily stepped into the role of managing the new facility. He enjoyed his new job and all of the tasks and responsibilities that came along with it. During his tenure he was instrumental in instituting computerized and data processing procedures amid what he refers to as “a transitioning time for technology.” Every day was distinctive and unlike the other as processing and electronic devices were becoming more common place and with them came challenges and successes.
In 1999, when the VBCVB restructured and expanded the sales department to include a sports marketing division, Ron knew that Buddy would be an excellent choice to handle the responsibility of running that department. “I was ecstatic about my new role and fully prepared for the task as I often refer to my first 23 years of working with the City of Virginia Beach as an internship for the job as the Director of Sports Marketing for the VBCVB,” Buddy said when asked about his position as director.
The first few years were the most exciting as he labored to learn about and maneuver through the sports marketing industry while handling event management and sales. The department succeeded in bringing many new sporting events to the city including USA Rugby, NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Soccer and the AAU Junior Olympics, a regional event with 10,000 – 15,000 participants.
Buddy considers his finest achievement - and a defining moment for sports in Virginia Beach – to be the securing of the annual Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon in 2001. The planning began in 2000 when they were looking for a new Labor Day event. After much research and negotiation, the event owners decided Virginia Beach was a good fit. With a sold out number of 12,500 registered participants, the inaugural race was a huge success. “No one thought that many people would travel for a half marathon, but we believed in it and that race, which is a huge success to this day, helped define Virginia Beach as a destination for running,” said Buddy.
Buddy has always loved sports and early on, felt discouraged when he realized he would not be a professional coach or athlete. But he considers himself blessed to have had a career that gave him the opportunity to be involved in something he loved and was passionate about. He adored going to work every day and has been inspired by having a career that he truly enjoyed.
Considering Ron Kuhlman his mentor, he is thankful that Ron believed in him and allowed him the opportunity to become the first manager of the visitor center and spearhead the city’s sports marketing division. “Ron taught me about professionalism and true salesmanship and I regard him as my friend and mentor,” Buddy replied when asked who he considers his closest ally in his professional career.
Buddy is now looking forward to a new chapter in his life, which will involve traveling, volunteering in sports and spending more time with his daughters, Kristen and Jennifer, and his wife, who will join him in retirement in September of this year. “Although I loved my job and found it very rewarding, ultimately, work has always been a means to an end - to do everything I can with my family,” Buddy remarked, “and the best part of being retired is the opportunity to spend more quality time with them.”