Don’t make Ms. Blackwell mad. That’s the No. 1 rule when working for CR Sports, Columbia River High School’s Emmy-award winning broadcast team headed by film and video teacher Janine Blackwell.
“It is a job,” Blackwell said. “When they don’t treat it like a job, I get frustrated.”
That’s rarely the case, though. The all-student crew is one of the best in the country. They won a regional student Emmy last season for a live-game broadcast and were nominated for a national award because of the high standards they set.
“You need a higher education experience to make an easier life for yourself,” she said. “But they could go get a job anywhere (after this program).”
CR Sports is one of several local broadcast teams that bring fans live game action on a weekly basis. Vancouver and Evergreen Public Schools both have student-led broadcast teams, as does Battle Ground School District. The student-driven sports multimedia trend extends to Prairie High School, too, where senior Hugh Foster delves into “hype videos” for fans to follow on social media.
While student broadcast crews have existed in the area for the better part of two decades, it has hit new levels in the past several years. VPS Game Time added the entire district to its coverage eight years ago. CR Sports has given kids class credit and started broadcasting on more platforms in the past five years. All broadcasts can be found on YouTube or on Comcast channels 27, 28 and 29.
The commonality between all the groups is their impact on the community.
“Parents are thrilled to see kids on TV,” said Nick Voll, Vancouver Public Schools’ TV production supervisor. “They now have a keepsake to be around for a long time.”
It’s game time
When Voll, 41, entered his current role with the district 10 years ago, VPS GameTime was known as Fort Sports and had been broadcasting Trapper games since 2001. In two years, he expanded the crew’s coverage area to include all four high school sports programs in the district. On game nights, each broadcast features four to five student camera operators on site and four students manning audio, replay and graphics from the studio.
About 20 students participate in the program, seven of which are official interns that get high school and college credit through Clark. The remaining kids are volunteers.
“Since it’s student-led, we have more insight on it,” said Skyview senior Jesus Resendiz-Eyler. “I think it’s great for all the students. We’re all on the same level just trying to learn and get better.”
Following each broadcast, the adult supervisor back in the studio will give feedback on the production to the student director, and replay, audio and graphics operators.
“Toward the end of the year, they get really good, really dialed in,” Voll said. “As far as I can tell this is the closet thing a non-professional can get to working in a professional environment.”
While VPS GameTime’s broadcasts typically feature adults as the play-by-play and color commentators, Columbia River High School senior Jordan Ryan has carved out a role as a regular.
“Usually kids, when they do announcing they have no real perspective for a voice of their own yet; they’re still figuring out who they are,” Voll said. “When I heard Jordan on CR Sports, I couldn’t believe it was a kid.”
Ryan started announcing football three years ago with CR Sports. She hasn’t stopped.
“I did not do very well, but it was so fun, so engaging,” Ryan said. “I wanted to do it again and I wanted to get better.”
Ryan splits time between CR Sports and VPS GameTime. She can do play-by-play or color. In the fall, she’ll call as many as three games a week. In the winter, that’s a hard ask. Ryan is also a star basketball player for the Chieftains.
“You just sign up for a bunch of things and you figure it out,” she said. “It’s a big time commitment, but I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t worth it.”
While Ryan prefers writing and directing films, something she does as part of her film class, broadcasting is still a possibility for a future career.
“If I ended up doing it the rest of my life, I’d be very happy,” she said. “I’m kind of hooked.”
When Columbia River allowed students to get credit for working with CR Sports, requirements came with it: primarily, a 90-hour per semester target. It’s no easy task for students who have a full class load on top of it.
The crew, which uses nine people per shoot, works six hours each game night. They try to broadcast twice a week.
“Sometimes it can be difficult on days we do shoots,” River senior Jaelyn Gaylor said. “Sometimes I’d only be home for an hour from the beginning of the school day until 9 at night. … We just have to balance time and make wise choices.”
Gaylor has thrived as a director this year, manning the booth set up in the Columbia River weight room that overlooks Hoover Gymnasium. It’s her third year in the program.
“Working with a whole team and amazing group of people and doing multiple different jobs really got me interested,” said Gaylor, who has delved into video production since middle school. “Once you get up here, you realize there’s so many different things that makes it possible to run the shoot.”
All students in the program are required to know every position: director, replay, graphics and camera. They are also required to set up and tear down. Graduates from the program are working in TV production around the country.
Blackwell, who started the program 23 years ago, grins ear to ear when talking of the success stories that have stemmed from CR Sports. The community, too, has welcomed the group with open arms.
“I love it when the River community and the extended community think they’re professionals,” Blackwell said. “It’s the biggest compliment when the community thinks they’re watching professional work and notice when things don’t look great or sound great.”
Hugh is a hit
At Prairie High School, teams get a different style of multimedia. Falcons senior Hugh Foster has become quite the popular figure with the videos he puts out on Twitter and Instagram.
While watching the Women’s College World Series two years ago, he saw a stat that caught his eye. It showed that since ESPN began airing softball’s pinnacle event, team Twitter accounts have grown rapidly.
“I saw those were getting thousands of views and helping promote some of the less-watched sports,” Foster said.
His father, Jason, is a audio and video instructor at Battle Ground High School, so Foster had access to equipment. He just didn’t know where to start.
He switched his DSLR camera to video mode and shot footage at a Prairie football game in fall 2018.
“I used the wrong lens and it turned out really bad,” Foster said. “I didn’t even publish it. I was too scared.”
He continued taking pictures at boys and girls basketball games and eventually got the nerve to try another video. After the Prairie girls basketball team’s regional game last season, he posted a short video on Twitter.
“It ended up getting like 1,600 views or something. It was crazy,” Foster said. “I expected maybe 300 people would see it. That sort of sling-shotted all this.”
Foster’s videos caught on especially so during the past football season. Over the summer, he started to get a feeling the football team was going to have an historic year. He made a video from a scrimmage and it got upward of 1,000 views, prompting a visit from coach Mike Peck.
“I was scared. I was like ‘Was I allowed to record that?’ ” Foster explained. Rather, Peck wanted to voice how impressed he was with the work and that he had access to whatever he needed from the team. Foster continued with the team throughout the fall, recording workouts, practices and speeches to put together “hype videos” for the team. He spends up to 20 hours a week filming and editing videos for many of the teams from Prairie and Battle Ground.
“People ask why I do it. There isn’t a reason. I like it,” Foster said. “The goal is to make a video to promote the next game and get people to come out.”
Foster is self-taught. He’ll get tips and tricks from his father, but he’s learning as he goes. It’s moments like the football team’s season-ending banquet when he sees the overwhelming positive response from players and coaches that he knows he’s doing something right.
“It’s fun being the bridge between athletes and fans,” said Foster, who can be found on Twitter @hughfoster_24. “I try to do what’s going to show off the school the most.”