For many high school basketball players, the Tacoma Dome is the pinnacle goal of the season.
It’s a chance to showcase their skills in front of raucous crowds, on a big stage and in front of live cameras.
As it turns out, the Tacoma Dome can provide the same opportunity for those students behind the camera.
Thanks to a partnership of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and VPS Game Time, the video broadcasting program of Vancouver Public Schools, a group of 15 video production high school students got the opportunity to broadcast games at the 4A and 3A state basketball tournaments last weekend at the Tacoma Dome.
“Honestly, it’s pretty sweet,” Skyview High senior Kaleb Mason said. “It’s a huge place, crazy crowds, crazy games. The games are very active with moving the ball. It’s cool to be able to come out here and direct, shoot from any spot I want to, do replay. Do anything I want to do, and learn it all.
“I jumped right on the opportunity to come up here.”
The idea to have a team of student broadcasters work at the state tournament started with WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman, who had become familiar with the VPS Game Time program operated by TV production supervisor Nick Voll when Hoffman was an administrator with Vancouver Public Schools.
“We’re an education-based association, so we want students doing as much with the association as we can beyond just playing,” Hoffman said. “From my experience with Vancouver schools, I knew Nick had built an amazing program, and they do high-caliber work.”
When Hoffman first reached out to Voll with the idea, Voll was unsure his students could take on that challenge. The pandemic and its at-home schooling had decimated Voll’s program.
“I started working frantically to get enough people and equipment and all the things we would need to actually come up here and do this,” Voll said. “I especially asked for kids who have done stuff with us before, because this is a reward for putting in all the hours to do something really cool. So we got all the kids who typically work with us who were able to come.”
From there, Voll reached out to video production teachers within Vancouver Public Schools. To augment his numbers, he also reached out Jory Randall, digital arts teacher at Union High School.
Those efforts enabled Voll to bring a crew of students from Skyview, Columbia River and Union high schools to the Tacoma Dome.
“I was glad we were able to pull from so many places,” Voll said. “We knew we were going to need a lot of kids. With six games, we’ve got an A squad and a B squad that they can work one game, then take a break.
“Some of the kids here have never done sports before, or they haven’t done it in the way we do it. But it’s been great to see the more experienced kids step up and act as coaches to the other kids.”
Skyview junior Alex Bergeron had worked some football games for VPS Game Time, but it was nothing like the experience at the Tacoma Dome.
“Communication is huge,” Bergerson said. “You have to have really good communication to make sure everyone knows what they are doing.”
Voll added: “Obviously, the scale is so much different. The crowds are huge. It’s super loud here. We’re in the stands with the people. We’re on the court. It just feels like a big deal, and that’s a big part of it.”
In addition to bringing in their own cameras, the VPS Game Time crew also had to set up an on-site control room at the Dome.
“Logistically, we had to bring an entire control room here,” Voll said. “Normally, it’s done in a controlled environment. We have everything set up because we don’t go many places, so all the kids need to do is set up cameras and check microphones. This is more like a professional broadcast in that we have to bring everything in and set it all up on site.”
The students worked the cameras, the control room and replays. The play-by-play was handled by broadcasters from the Eli Sports Network. Hoffman hopes that one day soon, students can take over that portion of the broadcast as well.
He also said a student crew from West Valley High School in Yakima did similar work at the 2A, 1A state tournaments at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
“It’s the players’ state tournament, so why not have it be the production teams’ state tournament?” Hoffman said.
It also was much more for the students.
“This is a great career opportunity for people who are interested in (video production) and it’s a great way to start to get into the field,” Mason said.
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4538, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.