In spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. While life as most knew it was put on hold, so were major league sports, including the NBA. The 2020 NBA playoffs were in flux. The league had suspended play in March and was trying to recover what it could of the 2019–2020 season.
League leaders met with officials at Walt Disney World to develop a fix. The two sides determined the solution would be to create the now well-known NBA-Disney Bubble. The games took place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and the teams were housed in on-site Disney hotels. The Bubble allowed the league to host its playoffs—sans fans—while protecting the 22 teams and Disney Cast Members involved.
O’Neill alum Zachary McClure (BSCJ’16) was at Disney’s Yacht Club resort during the playoffs, serving on Disney’s security detail.
“We had six NBA teams staying at that property,” he recalls. “We provided access control and credential checks, made sure reporters didn’t get into private areas, and helped ensure the teams were following health rules, among other things.”
McClure says everyone inside the Bubble wore Magic Bands—smart bracelets that typically store Disney guest information. But rather than tracking reservations, these Magic Bands tracked each person’s daily COVID check-ins to make sure they followed procedures.
Access into and out of the Bubble was very limited and tightly controlled.
“We had to be the eyes for Disney and for the NBA so we could maintain the bubble,” he says. “No one was allowed in or out, without following certain protocols, including COVID testing. They really wanted to maintain the integrity of the bubble.”
COVID was still relatively new at the time, and the research and guidance were ever-evolving.
“It was very chaotic the first couple of weeks,” he admits. “They had been planning for months, but there were still things we had to iron out as we went along. We had to be flexible and adapt to new situations as they developed.”
McClure says those are skills he honed during his time with O’Neill. That’s also where he developed the relationship-building skills that were critical to his work with Disney. His team worked to not only make sure everyone was following the rules but also that their experience was enjoyable.
“At the end of the day, the people in the Bubble were still our guests and we needed to treat them as such,” he says.
McClure was accustomed to Disney’s unique combination of guest service and security. He had worked with the NFL when it hosted its Pro Bowl at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, one of many major on-property sporting events. He also worked within Disney’s theme parks, making sure guests were comfortable, safe, and could find help if they needed it.
But in late 2020, McClure and his wife decided they needed a change. The uncertainty COVID-19 had brought to both the tourism industry and to families spurred them to make the move back to Indiana.
“We thought we should move back to focus more on our family and change gears for a little bit,” he says. “We wanted to wait it out here at home and see how COVID would play out.”
McClure says being open to changing gears is a lesson he learned long ago. To him, it’s about seeing the unexpected places your life can take you.
“Someone in my life once told me that no matter what the opportunity is, take it—you never know where that opportunity will go,” he says. “I’ve really held that near to my heart.”
His life is a testimony to that approach. When McClure started at O’Neill, he planned to join law enforcement. That plan later shifted, and he instead took a position with a court reporting agency in Indiana. That led to a similar opportunity in Florida which positioned him for his job with Disney.
Having changed gears again, he’s now working with students as an instructional assistant in Carmel Clay Schools. He gets to work one-on-one with students who have behavioral needs or require additional support throughout the day.
“It’s been really neat to go from a public safety mindset with high stakes and high stress to a different set of incredibly important stakes and stresses,” he says. “It’s worked my brain in new and exciting ways.”
McClure stresses that adaptability has been key to making the most out of his O’Neill degree. He says the change that led him into K-12 education opened an opportunity for him to make a difference in a way he could never have anticipated when he first decided to major in making a difference.
“We have to understand that sometimes the difference we’re making may seem small, but in the long run it’s a lot bigger than you can even imagine,” he says. “You have to figure out what makes you happy and what you think will make a difference. If you don’t see that you’re making a difference, maybe it’s time to change what you’re doing.”