They want to make it look as good as they can.
They want it to look professional.
They want to make it special for their classmates, the athletes they are covering, and for the viewers.
At home on TV, the viewer might see and hear a couple of adults, one likely a teacher, giving the play-by-play and commentary.
Behind the scenes at Fort Sports, students work the cameras, the graphics, the replay machine. A student directs The Show.
While Fort Vancouver High School athletics have been on a cable access channel for years, now there is really no room for error. The TV games have gone live on Comcast Channel 29 the past three basketball seasons.
In the fall, Fort Sports broadcast both games of a doubleheader football contests at Kiggins Bowl: The Fort Vancouver game and the other game featuring a Vancouver Public Schools team.
“I think it’s a lot for a high school and for high school students to do,” senior Riley Johnson said.
Johnson is the point guard of the crew, the quarterback, the director calling the shots from the mobile control room. Through the years, he has done every job within the production, which gives him the knowledge to run the show.
“I know what it should look like,” he said.
He also knows that to make it look right, all on the crew need to be doing their jobs, on the same page.
In the intensity of live TV, there are times when patience runs thin.
“Does he yell at people? Oh yes,” said senior Jalen Ross, who works graphics on some nights, a camera on other nights. “His biggest question is ‘What are you doing?’ “
Equipment is substituted for names, so there is less confusion on the headsets.
“I tell him, ‘My name is Miguel. Not Camera 1,” said Miguel Gutierrez, a junior who runs the main game camera. “Once the show starts, you’re a camera.”
Johnson sounds like a boss who is focused.
“I don’t have time to tell you what you’re doing right,” Johnson explained. “I have time to tell you what you need to fix.”
Typically, for broadcasts that air at 7 p.m., the crew starts working at 3:30 p.m. There, they get out all the equipment and set up the mobile control room — an old bus that was renovated to hold all the buttons, gadgets, and monitors needed for a broadcast. They have to make sure all the cables are laid out where they need to be, and then they test. They test everything. Before the game, there is one final meeting with the personnel on the cameras.
From home, it might seem easy. Just point the lens toward the action. It is not, though. The people on the cameras must know who the head coaches are, who the top players are, to zoom in for close-ups on demand, for example.
Johnson, Ross, and Gutierrez all enjoy sports. It helps to know about sports to cover sports, but it is not a requirement.
Andrew Bepler, a junior who runs replay, does not follow sports. Same with Preston Mobley, a junior who runs graphics.
“It’s not the rules (of the game) so much, it’s the action,” Bepler said. “When I see the ball go through the hoop, I start to rewind.”
It is his job to be ready with that replay if the director needs it.
Mobley said his job is fun, even if he does not follow sports. But as the guy who runs graphics, he needs to pay attention.
“The first time you do a game, you have no idea,” Mobley said. “After a few times, you start to get it.”
That’s big for the viewers, too.
“Without graphics, you don’t know the score,” Ross explained.
Leading this group is Andy Berhow, a video production teacher at Fort Vancouver and the executive producer of the live broadcasts.
“We’re not NFL Films. This is a learning unit,” Berhow said.
Yet, Berhow and the more experienced students will not settle for a sub-par product. The games are re-aired from time to time on cable, plus the production team shows the games during lunch at school. So even though the student crew is working during the live broadcasts, they do see how they fared.
Berhow said there are a lot of self-critical moments during a broadcast, but for the most part, “You find it looks better than you thought.”
“You can’t beat yourself up,” Bepler said, if there are any mistakes.
Those are going to happen. But this student crew learns from its miscues.
“The whole set-up of Fort Sports is very intimidating. You get used to it. It’s just a lot to take in,” Mobley said.
Besides football and boys and girls basketball, Fort Sports has broadcast volleyball, girls soccer and bowling. The crew has yet to run a live broadcast of a spring sport, but that is a possibility this year. It’s just tough to allocate the time on the channel when weather could shut down a baseball or softball game.
The Evergreen School District Video Services Department also broadcasts games, using students on its crews. Evergreen just went to live broadcasts two weeks ago.
Berhow has had several former students work broadcasts in college. Some have even found their careers in TV. Lucas Minter, a 2012 graduate from Fort Vancouver, volunteers and still works with the Fort Sports crew.
Johnson, the director, said he is not sure he wants to continue with this beyond high school, but he appreciates the “experience in the real world” he is getting at Fort Vancouver.
Fort Sports scheduled 13 live events this winter. There are four remaining. Anywhere from five to eight students work each broadcast.
It looks good. It looks professional. And for the athletes, it is special.
There are no ratings for the broadcasts, but Berhow said the feedback he has received has been positive.
“Anyone who has seen it is very impressed,” he said.