Checking 'em in at Churchill Downs

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Sorrell supervises security at The Derby

By Nick Schrager



She got her start as a band parent, working to raise money for her son’s marching band. That volunteer effort has now turned into a regular gig and a good bit of responsibility on one of the biggest stages in sports.
Wilma Sorrell spends her weekdays working in the Washington County school district as coordinator of the drug free community program for students. A few key weekends a year, however, she works at Churchill Downs in Louisville, making sure VIPs and dignitaries make their way safely in and out of the facility for some of horse racing’s biggest events. Sorrell is clubhouse admissions manager, and she is employed by Brantley Security, a company contracted by Churchill Downs.

“We took our first group to Churchill Downs when the Nelson County Band of Pride went to raise money for the band,” Sorrell said. “It was really interesting.”
Sorrell’s son was in that band, and she was helping him and his fellow band members raise money. She had no idea the experience would lead to something more.
As part of their duties, Sorrell said she and others with the band group were assigned to put bracelets on guests at The Kentucky Derby which indicated the level of access the guests had at the facility. She said they applied bracelets for celebrities like rock star Gene Simmons, and pop star and actress Jennifer Lopez. In 2007, she even saw Queen Elizabeth of England.
The experience is generally a good one, and Sorrell said she enjoys the customer service aspect of her job. Getting to resolve issues and help guests have the best experience possible is what she said drives her back each year.
In her first year at The Derby, Sorrell was there to help her son and the band members, and she had no plans for her days at Churchill to be extended. Then again, it’s hard to turn down some opportunities, and this was one she has taken over and over, and doesn’t regret.
“When my son graduated in 2008, I said I was done, no more fundraising for me,” she said. “They called and asked me to come back to actually work for them, and I told them I wasn’t sure, but they kept calling, and I agreed to come back. I’ve been here for seven years now.”
Sorrell saw the opportunities presented to her son’s band, and she now shares those with other local groups. She said she now helps student groups. St. Catharine College had some students volunteering at The Derby this year, and the Washington County High School football team’s booster club worked at The Breeder’s Cup last year at Churchill Downs.
“It’s a really good opportunity, and I think everyone who does it enjoys it,” she added.
When the races had been run and all of the guests were checked out of the building and on their way home, Sorrell’s day finally came to an end. She put in more than 15 hours each on Friday and Saturday working the Oaks and The Derby, but she had no complaints, and looks forward to doing it again.
“I enjoy it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t go back,” she said. It’s a great time, and if I can keep doing it, I certainly will.”