We officially launched the Sports Broadcast Institute at the Rockdale Career Academy in the Fall of 2015.
As I prepared to launch the program, I scoured the internet for collegiate sports broadcasting courses. I stole every syllabus I could get my hands on. I was very excited to see that the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism started their sports media certificate a year prior. This told me there were opportunities for my students at the next level without having to go too far from home. Our campus is 1 hour and 3 minutes away from the UGA Campus, more on how we know that later, but for most of my students it is a world away.
There is an attitude among a large number of our students that UGA is too elite for them therefore, the students don’t think they can do anything there. This is a byproduct of
trying to encourage the students to push themselves to be better by giving them the information about the school in relation to the number of students that apply along with the grades, test scores, etc from those that get accepted. When I started the program, I made sure to tell the students they were getting a leg up on others that wanted to get into the school and the sports media program.
The relationship with Vicki Michaelis the director of the program at UGA started innocently enough. All of my sports broadcast students have to complete a capstone project and as a part of that the students have to find and work with a mentor. One of my students found a mentor with the UGA basketball team. While my student working at basketball game, she met Vicki and talked up our program. Two weeks later, Vicki, sportscaster Bob Neal, and academic advisor, Carlo Findlay were in my class talking about their program and experiences.
Not long after the initial meeting, Vicki and crew came back to talk about an idea for a partnership. The idea was to use my students and our productions to give their students opportunities to broadcast football games. Our program produces hundreds of live broadcasts each year and in the last year worked to build more advanced shows so it was a natural fit.
As we began to plan, It seemed to get better each time we talked. We went from doing a couple of games to doing every game from September until the end of the season as well as the class meeting in my classroom each week prior to going to the game. This was a great bonus for me as I got to mooch off the guest speakers and lessons to bring back to my classroom. The first meeting was interesting for me listening to the students debate on the exact amount of time it took to get to the school. There was a very exciting buzz among the students that completely energized me.
My thought was that this would be a great opportunity for my students and the teams we work with to get additional exposure to more professional broadcasts. I was also excited to see what we could actually do when given the opportunity to grow our broadcasts. I initially was not prepared for how far and fast we would grow our broadcasts. When you expand from simply a couple of cameras, a couple of mics, and a crew of about 8 producing a game to 3 wired cameras, 1 wireless camera, 3 headset mics, a wireless field mic, and 2 wireless mics for studio talent, a pregame show, a halftime show, a postgame show all with replays from the game, produced packages, and a crew of about 35, there are A LOT of growing pains. There were several times in the first couple of weeks that Miles Moraitis, the executive producer from UGA, got “the look” as we worked through the kinks of the situation.
The hardest part of the entire situation was trying to guess what problems we are going to experience and how to beat them to the punch. The other problem was that each week of the first 4 we were at a different location with completely different work areas. We serve Three schools and their pressboxes are as different as possible. One school has a huge pressbox with AC (remember it’s Georgia in September 90+ degree temps), another is essentially a really long desk with a vertical ladder to the roof, and the third is a huge open air pressbox with just enough room for you to sit and do a job but not move so each week, we were trying to figure out what was going to work on the fly. While we have done dozens of events in each, we have never done anything like we were attempting. We had a plan each week but you know how that goes. There were many times I wondered if I bit off more than I could chew.
The problem with doing major live broadcasts each week for me is that I don’t have a ton of time to setup and test ideas to solve problems... that teaching habit gets in the way! That leaves the day of or during the broadcast to make things happen. That caused several problems including issues with comms, bad audio, lost camera shots, missed cues, etc. For the most part, the problems were not something the audience would notice or the problem was something just made our jobs more difficult. We tried a ton of different things to make the broadcasts as professional as possible in every way but had to overcome different setups and the ever looming deadlines to achieve that goal.
This partnership was meant to show my students opportunities that exist at the next level and how to push our broadcasts to that level but the biggest win from this entire partnership has been the fact that my students learned to keep pushing through the problems during a live broadcast. One of my students asked me after a broadcast how I know how to do fix all of the issues during a broadcast. My response was “I don’t know how to fix them, I just keep trying until it is fixed.” This lesson is going to take my students much farther than they could ever imagine.
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.