During homecoming weekend in October, Red Hawk Sports Network (RHSN) students collaborated with School of Communication and Media faculty, the Broadcast Media Operations team and the University’s athletics department on a bold, new project designed to mirror ESPN’s College GameDay, one of the most popular and longest-running live sports shows in the history of television.
The Homecoming GameDay program featured interviews with coaches and players, pre-packaged stories, live pre-and post-game analysis, and even a story with President Koppell on whether the athletics program would consider changing divisions. Those segments and many others that covered multiple sports were livestreamed from Sprague Field on YouTube, providing an invaluable learning experience for RHSN students and an incredible sense of pride for everyone involved.
Planning for any live broadcast is a massive undertaking, especially for a production that is several hours long. Whether they were live on camera, editing pre-packaged stories or part of the production team, RHSN students learned things they previously had only talked about in class or could have imagined while watching similar live events. Using new equipment and software, building a stage and problem solving numerous technical challenges were part of an unforgettable day.
“For one of our class assignments we would be directing, and Professor (Vernard) Gantt would take the script away from us or he would tell us the camera was out,” said Television and Digital Media major Jason Naccarella. “I remember thinking “this is never going to happen,” and sure enough, here comes the first live shot, and there are issues.”
“I’m a live production junkie,” said Professor Stacy Gitlin who assisted with the production of the show. “I love the atmosphere and the behind-the-scenes yelling and teamwork that the viewers don’t see, and that nobody working on a production knows what’s going to happen next. The students did a great job. I loved their teamwork and resiliency.”
While there was ample preparation and rehearsals, live broadcasts are unpredictable. “We are doing a segment with (women’s volleyball) Coach Stawinski and his wife arrived on set with their daughter,” said senior Television and Digital Media major Alex Grabiec. “I was asked, ‘Alex, do you want the baby on stage?’ What, am I going say no to a baby?”
There were light moments like that and others that were intense like camera batteries dying and the threat of bad weather. “Last year or even when I started at Montclair I could not have imagined doing something like this,” said Journalism major Jess Liptzin who was part of the on-air team. “It was challenging, but so much fun. I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
These and other hands-on experiences are part of the fabric of the sports communication and other programs at the School of Communication and Media. “There are other great schools that have sports media programs that also have D-1 athletic programs, but I don’t think students are getting these kinds of opportunities at other places,” said Professor Kelly Whiteside who leads the Sports Communication program. “We have a great partnership with our athletic department, and they give our students free reign to be creative and try different things.”
“What we accomplished I would put up against anything that’s out there from a student production perspective. It speaks to the dedication of the students and the opportunities that we are ready to give the next generation of students,” said Dr. Stephen Andon of the Sports Communication program.
That next opportunity is Saturday, February 12 with a second live “GameDay” broadcast from Panzer Athletic Center for the regular season finales for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The livestream on the Red Hawk Sports Network YouTube channel runs from 12:20 p.m. and will end at approximately 7 p.m. with post-game coverage of the women’s game. The RHSN team for the Show is Director/Executive Producer Alex Grabiec, Assistant/Technical Director/Game Camera Operator Jason Naccarella, Host/Producer Jon Kociban, Host/Producer Jess Liptzin, Stage Manager Meghan O’Neill, Camera Operator Vinny Introna, Camera Operator Oscar Venegas, Runner Tommy Bavaro, Runner Charlie Pierce and Runner George Spertos.