This weekend I had the chance to go to Salisbury, North Carolina for the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Awards weekend. My main reason for going on the trip was to attend the One Day Ticket to Sportscasting Success seminar put on by Jon Chelesnik of Sportscaster Talent Agency of America (STAA). I was encouraged by a few people if I am going to make the trip then to make a weekend out of it and take in the NSSA Awards weekend events. I was hesitant at first and mostly because of financial reasons. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pay for everything. Eventually I talked myself into it and now, a day after it all ended, I know that it was money well spent. I felt like the last few days were an investment in my career and if I had to do it over again, knowing what I know now, it would have been an easy decision.
Why? For starters, the people I met and had the chance to have a conversation with was worth the price of admission. I struck up conversation with Ian Eagle, who I enjoy listening to on WestwoodOne for Thursday Night Football and watching on Sundays during the NFL season. I spent over an hour with Gene Deckerhoff, who has spent the last 25 years as not only the Voice of the Florida State Seminoles, but also the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I spent time in conversation with the Voice of the Indiana Pacers Mark Boyle, Dave Snell of Bradley, Alan York of Liberty, Jay Sanderson of Montana State and many others.
I asked Mr. Deckerhoff how he manages a major college football game on Saturday and an NFL game on Sunday. It’s simple. His wife helps drive him to and from games so he can also spend time staying on top of preparation for the upcoming week. He has already set up some of his work for the upcoming FSU and Bucs season. And, according to Deckerhoff, Jameis Winston is the model teammate that you would want in the locker room. Is he saying this because he covers the Noles? The look in his eye and the confidence in his words say no.
Let’s start with Saturday at registration where Joyce and company were very welcoming. You may not know much about Salisbury, but they do love this awards weekend and they may be the only town in the country that likes sportswriters and sportscasters. Everyone involved with the program was so welcoming. Saturday night we got on a bus for Hendrick Motorsports in Concord. It was the legacy night event where they honored Stuart Scott and Roone Arledge. A panel talked about these men and told stories. And, yes, the dinner was excellent. I had the chance to check out the Hendrick Motorsports Museum briefly. I’m not a huge NASCAR guy, but when you can check out some stuff of iconic drivers Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kasey Kahne, you do it. Even more cool is if anyone ever asks if I saw the final race of the Triple Crown and where I can say I watched it on a big screen in the Team Center at Hendrick Motorsports. Our bus pulled up and we walked into the building just as the horses were being loaded. Perfect timing.
Sunday Logan Anderson, who I roomed with, and I made the trip to Durham and Chapel Hill. Durham was about 90 minutes away so we went there and walked around the campus. Thanks to a basketball camp we were able to get into Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time. From the outside it looks like a dorm building and the inside isn’t all that big, but it is one of the more iconic gyms in college basketball. The football field was under construction as they work on renovations. After a short stop it was back
in the car and on to Chapel Hill. I guess I never realized how close the two were but 15 minutes later we were on the campus of UNC. The Dean Smith Center was locked so we couldn’t get in. And, believe me, we checked every door. We did, however, get into the baseball stadium, soccer field, football stadium (yes, they do have football), indoor practice facility and field hockey stadium. Pretty much if there was an open gate or door, we were going in. We used up all of our time and hit the road back to Salisbury. An hour and a half later we were back at the hotel changing for the evening BBQ. The BBQ dinner was held at the train station and it was fantastic. From the brisket to the ribs, potatoes to macaroni…..dang, I can’t even describe it without my fat cells doing a happy dance. We ended the evening at the STAA Seminar welcome reception that eventually turned into the after party for all of the NSSA guests. And before you knew it there was a lobby full of sportscasters and sportswriters from college students to Hall of Famers.
Monday was a busy day and the main reason that I attended. Every year Jon Chelesnik of STAA puts on a seminar to help aspiring broadcasters gets tips or advice as they begin their careers. It also helps those in the business make contact with people who could potentially help them down the road. The seminar was headlined by Lesley Visser, a 2015 NSSA Hall of Fame Inductee. She’s the only woman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was interesting to listen to. She gave a lot of tips on interviewing and sideline reporting. Others who spoke were Pete Weber of the Nashville Predators, Jimmy Rayburn of Raycom Sports, Bob Carpenter of the Washington Nationals and Gail Sideman of PUBLISIDE. There was also a critique session that featured Eli Gold (Alabama), Dave Snell (Bradley), Joe D’Ambrosio (UCONN) and Mark Boyle (Indiana pacers). And there was an impromptu session with Alan York (Liberty), Steve Cotton (Marshall) and David Jackson (Appalachian State) to talk about how they prepare spotters charts and how they work with analysts. If you actually listened and took notes you learned how to become really good as a sportscaster. And, for most of them, it came back to two main things – 1. Preparation and 2. Time and Score. That’s really what it boils down to. Monday evening was the awards banquet. No, I wasn’t a winner, but I still went. And many others did as well. I had the chance to sit by Dave Snell and talk to him a little. It truly was a beneficial conversation and I look forward to following up with him. The awards banquet was eye-opening watching the sportscasters and sportswriters of the year for each state receive their award. From guys who cover professional teams and big college to the guys who have been behind the mic at a high school for a long time it was all covered. To watch Hal McCoy, Bill Raftery, Lesley Visser and the late Dick Schapp get inducted into the hall of fame was quite an honor. And to see Mike ‘Doc’ Emerick (Sportscaster) and Tom Verducci (Sportswriter) earn our National Championship was motivating.
Of all the things I went to and the hours in a seminar probably the best thing that I did was attend the after parties. And, no, not only because the beer was free. Many people who have “made it” in our business or who have the job that I and many others aspire to achieve were right there. At our disposal. They were willing to talk to us about their experiences and share advice they felt was necessary to pass along. Some were straight up blunt, “Some of you will make it, most of you won’t”, but honest. Many of them shared contact info and challenged us to stay in touch with them. One professional announcer (name protected) said to me, “I just became a resource to you. Don’t fuck it up. The only way you fuck it up is by not following up.” Fair enough. You, sir, will hear from me. Right now I have a list of 25-30 people that I said I would stay in touch with or I plan on following up with. You just never know where those contacts might lead.
As I reflect on the weekend that was I owe a thanks to many people. I know it was worth it and it will be worth it to return again. You can’t put a price tag on some of the contacts you gain, especially if one day they lead you to bigger things. I know it won’t come without continued work and improvement on my part, but it was a refreshing weekend. I would encourage anyone who has never been to go some year, even if you aren’t a winner. You will meet many people and, who knows, maybe develop a lifelong friendship. If you are a young sportscaster the seminar is worth looking into. Jon Chelesnik is always looking at improving it and he will always have a good product. Additionally, you should check out his website as well and all it has to offer for you.
To the people of Salisbury: Thank you for your welcoming and hospitality. I’ll see you again!