The Sports Machine: The Greatest Month!

October in my opinion is the greatest month of the year!

For a sports fan, it does not get better. Major League Baseball is wrapping up. College football is in full swing. The NFL makes every TV in America a magnet. The NBA and NHL are starting to come to the forefront of our minds. And, of course, high school football is starting to get interesting as the playoffs loom and basketball is just around the corner. It is a great thing that October has 31 days so we can enjoy every moment of this sports bliss but with all of these things going on, you have to have your ducks in a row to survive.

The last game of regular season football in Georgia is November 4th. After that, 5 weeks of playoff action. For us, only 4 because the last week is played in the (soon to be demolished) Georgia Dome and is produced by Georgia Public Broadcasting. The playoffs are an entirely different breed of broadcasts for us. Of the three teams we serve, usually One or Two make it into the playoffs. The demand for high quality footage from the coaches goes through the roof and the complexity of the broadcasts areas do as well. It seems that every team increases the number of cameras they needed and they are more demanding for space. That said, my motto is the same. Get their first, stay with your gear, and you will be ok. Play nice but cover your needs.

One of the more fun things that we get to do during the playoffs is shoot for teams that we don’t have a relationship with. The NFHS Network and GHSA will often hire us to shoot games outside of our normal coverage. This is ALWAYS a blast. New venue, new challenges, and no need to worry about coaching footage! That means, we can try to do a broadcast with just the viewers in mind. The challenge though is that we are now an outsider and we are having to play in someone else’s sandbox. I have been in some interesting situations while filming playoff games. One year, we were in the pressbox at Mercer University and it was great, except that in order to get ANY game/crowd noise, I had to scale the pressbox glass to hang a microphone out of the ventilation crack at the top. It was a pain in the butt but it worked! I have also had the opposite situation where I am on a pressbox with 30 other people, 20 cameras, and literally just enough room to poke my camera between the two opposing team coaches to get the shot. (I had to kill the audio on that broadcast because of the nature of the coaches’ language and the fact that if you wanted to scout the team, all you would have to do is watch our show. High school football playoffs are the greatest but you have to work through some odd circumstances.

During the playoffs, you should make extremely certain that all of your ducks are in a row, especially if you are going to a venue you have never been to before. Make sure that your cameras have power cables as well as fresh batteries and don’t forget to check the dreaded tripod quick release plate - I was burned by that several years ago but I had tape to tape the $2,500 camera to a tripod leaning toward the edge of a pressbox over a crowd of rowdy fans….

As football starts to wrap up, it’s time to think basketball. Producing basketball is a breeze in my opinion, especially when seen in the context of being inside, dry, and warm! We will produce over 150 basketball games this season and 90% of them will be single camera shoots. They are just easier.

The key to shooting basketball is to get the camera as high as possible and to fight to have the camera sitting on the midcourt line. (The easiest way to do that: Be the first in the gym). As for shooting the game, I tell my guys to keep the ball in the back third of the shot until the entire end line is in the shot. At that point, the hardest part for student shooters is to continue to watch via the viewfinder. There are no shot clocks in Georgia high school basketball so there are possessions that seem to take more time than traversing the Oregon Trail. Often as the game slows down, the shooter falls asleep at the wheel and will begin to watch the game around the camera. This also happens when the game gets exciting… and is a VERY tough conversation to have after the game when we missed the key play for highlights or the coach missed the play for his coaching needs. The conversation is tough for me to deliver to the student as well as explain to the coach and/or player.

Our single camera shoots are currently a shooter and a graphics operator. Occasionally, I have students that want to do play by play for basketball but for the most part, they want to go to the games. Basketball is the most popular sport among my students. The graphics operator uses the templates in Playon! Producer on the NFHS Network to keep score, quarters, and time. They also fire spots during time outs and between quarters. There are a lot more tools that we could use but for the most part I want to make sure they get the basics.

For the coaches, we upload each quarter of the game. Our cameras roll the entire quarter through time outs, etc. Timeouts seem like a waste of time but there have been many times that a coach has thanked me for shooting through a time out because a player was not paying attention during the timeout and failed to execute later.

The equipment for basketball is simple for single cam shoots:
- Canon Vixia HF R700
- 64 gB memory card (covers both boys and girls games)
- Fluid head tripod
- Mini HDMI to HDMI cable
- Startech USB3HDCAP
- Laptop with Playon! Sports’s Producer software
- 100 foot stinger (some of the gyms were built by people who had no plan for anyone to ever need power.)
- Surge protector
- 2 rolls of painter’s tape (easy to apply and remove when you have to run power across a walkway)
- Cinebags Camera backpack

My students love basketball. If given 5 minutes in class, the computer quickly bounces to hoops highlights or mixtapes. The good of that is that they all know basketball. The bad is that they all think they can do play by play. Play by play is not for everyone. This is something that I have to tell a lot of my students. Between mimicing the overhyped PA announcers from the And1 Tour and total fear speaking, students struggle with play by play. I make my students practice at least 3 games before I put them on the air live. This gives them an opportunity to get a feel for the game, practice doing play by play and taking stats at the same time, as well as start to find their own voice.

In my opinion, the key to basketball play by play lies in finding the tempo of the game and making sure to present the right content for the right format. Calling a game for radio is completely different from calling on for video. A lot of times my students feel they need to talk the entire time and never come up for air for a video broadcast - this is when I tell them through the intercom to let the game breath. Students have to find the balance between excitement created by the game and creating excitement about the game. The former is always the goal. The game should create the excitement on the air. If you feel the need to yell a catchphase after every layup, we are going to have a long hard meeting during halftime.

Tips for students doing play by play:
1) Do your prep. Learn the names of the players so well that seeing their jersey is enough for you to call their name.
2) Find different ways to say the same things. Basketball is basically a cycle. A guard brings the ball down, moves it around, a shot is taken and one of two things happen - it goes in or it is rebounded and the cycle continues)
3) Relax. Let the game build the excitement. If the game is not exciting, don’t force it.
4) Look for trends. Is one team starting to build momentum? Is one team struggling to get the ball down low.
5) Let the game breathe. Basketball is a rather noisy game so it is ok for you to take a breath if nothing is happening.

Next month, Basketball gets into gear, Football Playoffs, and how to handle holiday breaks and tournaments.TomWhiteHeadshot 175


Tom White is a video production teacher at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. GA. Tom is also the director of the Sports Broadcast Institute, which is One of Five Georgia Governor’s Innovation in Education award winning programs and the NFHS Network Best Overall Program. The Sports Broadcast Institute works to  produce live broadcasts, newscasts, sports documentaries and more for the Three schools, Rockdale Co, Salem, and Heritage High schools, that the career academy serves. Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.