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Welcome to the Jungle

Featured Photo from Welcome to the Jungle

Longwood’s Dionna Hurt makes history as the new general manager of the Orlando Predators

The last time Dionna Hurt graced the pages of Lake Mary Life magazine, she was on the cover of the July/August 2008 issue, holding her award-winning Bananas Foster Cream Pie, which earned her the Best in Show award at that year’s Great American Pie Festival.

Dionna is still baking award-winning pies, but times have certainly changed for the Longwood resident. This past October, Dionna made history when she was named general manager of the Orlando Predators of the National Arena League, making her the only female GM in professional football and one of only two black general managers in the sport, along with Chris Grier of the Miami Dolphins.

So, now, here she is, once again gracing the pages of our magazine, but this time it’s not a homemade pie she’s holding, it’s a good, old-fashioned football.

“I never imagined this being my life,” Dionna says. “Listen, I was a housewife, and I’ve worked my way up to running a football team. I hope I can encourage other young women – young black women, young Spanish women, what have you – that you can do whatever you want to do. You’re not pigeonholed into this cookie-cutter of what you have to be. You can do whatever you set your mind to do.”

Dionna’s transformation from pie-baking homemaker to decision-making general manager began shortly after her divorce in 2013. She began doing consulting work for a retirement-plan company, and about a month later, she was promoted to vice president of marketing. In 2015, she enrolled in college, and on December 11, 2019, Dionna earned a degree in business information management.

It was while she was finishing up her degree that Dionna stumbled upon an opportunity to work for the Orlando Predators. She was at a Heart Health event, sponsored by the Predators, and decided to approach the team’s directors of social media and marketing.

“I asked if they would be open to having a consultant,” Dionna says. “Then I met with the then-owner and told him, ‘I have some great ideas. If you like them, maybe I can help you.’ And that’s how I started doing part-time marketing work for the Predators.”

Years before she earned her degree, Dionna gained valuable marketing experience as a volunteer, putting together everything from cheerleading car washes to huge galas and charity events. She began working with the Predators in February 2019 as they prepared to make a comeback after a three-year hiatus. The team was founded in 1991, advanced to the playoffs 19 seasons in a row (1992-2011), and was Arena Bowl champion in 1998 and 2000.

The 2019 season started in April, and at one point, a member of the team’s executive staff was unavailable for a game. Dionna found herself stepping up to the plate to fill in the gaps.

“I handled everything at the last minute,” Dionna says. “I made sure we had a DJ and someone to sing the national anthem. I took care of credentials and made sure the team doctor was happy. I just made it happen.”

The Predators came under new leadership this past summer, and new team owner Nate Starling and new league commissioner Chris Siegfried met with Dionna to discuss her ideas. On October 14, 2019, Dionna was named the team’s new general manager.

“I think they were looking for a fresh face with new ideas,” Dionna says. “They felt like it was cutting-edge to put a woman in the position.”

Even though pie baking made her famous (Dionna has been featured on the Travel Channel show Best In Food, and she is currently working on both a cookbook, Dionna’s Pies, and a website), she is no newcomer to sports. Both of her daughters – Christianna, now 25, and Victoria, 22 – were competitive cheerleaders, and growing up in southern New Jersey, Dionna was a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan (she is also mom to son William, 14).

“So I am very familiar with football, and I was very familiar with the Predators, as a fan,” Dionna says. “This was an opportunity for me to get into something I love anyway and to expand my knowledge of everything. But my first thought was, wow, can I do this? It’s more than just marketing – it’s football operations, budgets, accounting, insurances, contract negotiations. The whole enchilada!”

After just a few months on the job, Dionna is excited about the changes that are in store for the upcoming season. Her first priority is to make sure everyone in Central Florida knows that the Predators are back. She is also excited about getting the team involved in charitable causes, particularly children’s foundations like Make-A-Wish and Give Kids The World.

The first Predators home game is on May 9 at the Amway Center, and plans are in the works for several fun theme nights, including a Military Night on July 3 and a Pride Night in June to remember victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

“When I was a spectator, I was just enjoying the show,” Dionna says. “As general manager, I’m making sure everyone in the stands gets a good show. Because if they get a good show, then I’ve done my job!”

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