Team Players

May 18, 2019

 

Looking to get more students involved in athletics, Deerfield (Ill.) High School started Team DSI, which serves as a sports information department for the school.

The following article originally appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of Athletic Management.

By Robert Ruiz

Robert Ruiz, CMAA, is the Athletic Director at Deerfield (Ill.) High School. He has served on the Executive Board of the Illinois Athletic Directors Association and can be reached at: RRuiz@dist113.org.

As athletic administrators, we see the benefits of participation in athletics on a daily basis. But we also know that, no matter how many teams we offer, not every student at our school is able to be an athlete. Here at Deerfield (Ill.) High School, we’ve chipped away at that roadblock by starting a program that gets more kids involved in athletics in a different way.

The initiative is called Deerfield Sports Information, aka Team DSI, and was created in 2010. It is somewhat similar to a sports information department at a college or university, but is staffed only by students. Its main objective is to provide students with unique opportunities related to athletics.

We started thanks to the interest of one student, and the group has grown to 35 participants this year. Under my oversight as Athletic Director at Deerfield, DSI members operate game clocks, keep scorebooks, help to stream games online, take photos, serve as public address announcers, post Facebook and Twitter updates, and work on our newsletter.

The students’ learning and growth has been phenomenal to watch. Not only are participants getting hands-on experience in potential careers, they are learning responsibility, communication skills, and how to collaborate.

Our very first DSI member, Jake Porento, who attended Northern Illinois University. “As a DSI participant, I was able to get involved in athletics in a way I never imagined when I first walked into our high school,” he says. “The intangibles, such as building relationships, allowed me to gain invaluable experience that no one else has at my age.”

WHAT WE DO

A large high school with 1,640 students, Deerfield offers 29 sports teams involving approximately 900 unique students annually. The athletic department’s vision is to create a first-class experience that exemplifies our dedication to student involvement. We aspire to demonstrate a commitment to excellence beyond the classroom. We are also committed to finding new ways to get students involved.

Team DSI is supporting these goals in several ways. Initially, most members were not participating in any other activity in or out of school. Some out-of-season athletes have since joined, but the group consists mainly of non-athletes.

The students are getting involved in areas of sports communication that are educational and exciting, while providing practical support to the athletic department. Some of the jobs are those that teachers or parents have done in the past, while others involve new initiatives, such as live streaming games on our website.

Through all the tasks, students are learning to interact with adults, such as coaches, officials, and media personnel, and furthering their verbal communication skills. They are also growing in confidence and self-esteem. For some students, the program is having a direct connection to career and college options.

For example, one of our seniors has grown passionate about broadcasting. “DSI has pointed me towards my career choice,” says Dylan Field, who is now working as a student public address announcer for athletics at Upper Iowa University. “It has helped me discover unknown talents as I learned I am a good announcer. I’ve also met a lot of interesting people and created connections.”

Our most exciting endeavor is producing game broadcasts, which we stream live and on demand. We started off bare bones with one video camera, one laptop, and low-cost video editing software. The students spent about an hour learning how to use the equipment and we produced some very basic broadcasts.

We were eager to add a play-by-play component to the production, so we experimented with headsets and a straight mixer. We progressed to using multiple cameras and a manual shot switcher. This format meant the microphones and cameras were separate—we were switching views and simply hoping the camera shot we chose was the best one, which was not always true.

In order to produce a better product, we needed to add better equipment, so we applied for and secured a grant from our school district’s foundation. With their financing, we purchased a new video camera with a boom mic, headsets with microphone combinations, and a tri-caster. The tri-caster has made the largest impact on our production abilities, as it allows us to hook up four headset/microphone combinations and four cameras. A behind-the-scenes monitor displays all four camera views (or at least up to that many) and with a single touch, the operator can switch views, choosing which angle the audience sees online.

The tri-caster alone cost around $2,000, but it was well worth the investment. It allows up to nine students to be involved in a single production, although we can leave one or more cameras unmanned if we have less DSI members available for a game. Even with only one student camera operator, we are able to provide multiple view productions.

Producing game webcasts allows students to learn how to run cameras, be play-by-play announcers, operate a tri-caster, and provide technical support. In filling these roles, they are doing what professionals do on a TV broadcast. Wearing headsets on or stationed behind a camera, they are having compelling real life experiences.

For sophomore DSI member Caitlin Edelmuth, the work has been eye opening. “The jobs I do help me to understand more deeply the amount of work that is put into making the sports we see on TV come to life,” she says. “Being in DSI has shown me that I am capable of doing things that I never thought I would or could do.”

Some of the other DSI roles are not as glamorous, but have also been embraced by team members. They include public address announcing, operating the clock, doing the book, being a game photographer, and helping to put together our department newsletter.

The athletic administrator on duty for an event oversees Team DSI’s work, offering suggestions large and small. When I am covering a game, I will usually have the contest streaming on my phone so I can see what kind of product we are producing. I’ll let the students know if they need to adjust the zoom or how to enhance the play-by-play calling. Similarly, I will provide feedback to the students involved in other areas.

I can’t say that Team DSI pulls off all its jobs flawlessly. Sometimes we have to scramble to find electric outlets. Other times, a student’s announcing is not 100-percent perfect. And we have had a big learning curve with all the equipment and software. But that’s okay—and expected. Part of the goal is for the students to learn to problem solve and find solutions as a group.

That’s been especially meaningful for junior Justin Burger. “I mostly enjoy the interactions with the other members and troubleshooting together,” he says. “There is always something new and I’m glad that I am getting more than just a basic high school education.”

In order to publicize the program, we created a color brochure that is distributed to freshmen during advisory presentations. In addition, the brochure is given to parents of incoming freshmen and transfer students during activity and orientation nights. We have included invitations to attend DSI meetings in our weekly announcements. And probably the largest publicized arena for us has been our online streamed events. Taking our work onto the Internet has provided a lot of public exposure and given the group momentum.

TRAINING & FEEDBACK

While there is a lot of on-the-job learning, we also provide support for DSI members before they tackle any task. The group meets weekly—every Wednesday afternoon right after school—to define roles, hear speakers, and learn how to use equipment. These meetings also develop student leaders, who have been critical to the team’s success.

Students are trained for jobs by watching video tutorials, practicing during meetings, and working with their peers. For example, when learning to do online streaming, a DSI member will demonstrate his or her skills during a Wednesday afternoon, shadow an experienced student at an actual event, try out skills at an intersquad scrimmage, and then work a lower-level game before tackling a varsity contest.

An alumni of Deerfield who is a certified public broadcast announcer, Scott Marovitz, has been very helpful. He has donated his time to work with and train Team DSI members both before their debuts and on game day.

Located in suburban Chicago, we are fortunate to be in close proximity to many industry experts. During one of our meetings, Bart Fox, an executive producer for ESPN, spoke with students about his career path. He made some nice connections between what he used to do, what our students are currently doing, and how he moved up the ranks. Mr. Fox was also able to provide some critical feedback about our productions.

Another opportunity presented itself last year when Comcast did a live television broadcast of a Deerfield boys’ basketball contest. Our students had dinner with approximately 20 professionals from Comcast and got a tour of the production truck. Then, during the game, the DSI team had the opportunity to watch, ask questions, and listen to the professionals both inside the gym and in their production vehicle.

Along with the meetings and training opportunities, much of a student’s learning happens during a live webcast. It’s not unusual to see me and my students troubleshooting equipment and training on the fly. Luckily, our students are tech-savvy and have no issues using new gadgets.

We push the team to continually learn from its mistakes. As a group, the students view portions of film to provide feedback to each other on the audio and video coverage. It takes years to perfect these types of performances, and we view it as part of the educational process. It’s actually been a blast to work with these students and learn together.

FUTURE PLANS

Team DSI has achieved a level of incredible success on our campus. Students, parents, faculty, and administrators have all expressed excitement regarding the program. People often ask if a game is going to be streamed or who is on the mic. Although the initial learning curve was steep, the payoff has been significant. We’ve even been asked to stream other events, such as our school’s commencement ceremony and national college signing day.

Some former DSI members have gone on to pursue a college degree in broadcasting or journalism, and many are continuing to participate in sports information roles. Others have told me the communication and interpersonal skills they developed have made them more comfortable in many situations, from job interviews to talking to college professors.

“Through DSI, I learned to communicate with adults,” says Jake Porento. “Now in college, it makes talking to unfamiliar faces a breeze.”

Sophomore Tyler Field has also reaped benefits. “Before joining, I did not have the confidence to work a game clock or announce,” he says. “Now I’ve been able to improve my level of expertise while making new friends.”

But we are still in a growth stage, with big plans for the coming years. We are looking to do more with our various social media platforms and branch into event promotion. Another goal is to recruit more female students—there are currently only six female members.

I am also hoping to make Team DSI more of a student-led initiative, possibly creating some type of an executive board to provide members with leadership experiences. We’d also like to think about creating an internship opportunity that would allow students to earn academic credit.

If you are interested in initiating a similar program in your high school, I’d suggest talking to students who might be intrigued by the opportunity and ask for their ideas. You can probably begin with less than $500, and school grants or tapping your booster club are good avenues to try. People are often excited about funding something new. Once it takes off, and the community sees the benefits, consider pursuing budgeted dollars.

At Deerfield, I oversee the group, but for some athletic directors this might be impossible. I have invested a lot of time in the endeavor and have enjoyed it immensely, but I also have an assistant athletic director and an administrative assistant that have made my involvement possible. If you do not have time, maybe there is a teacher, assistant coach, or community member interested in spearheading such an idea. School clubs might also be approached, such as photography, videography, broadcasting, or television groups.

One small, but important, detail is to obtain permission from players and their parents to be photographed and streamed. It is a legal component that needs to be satisfied since most if not all schools have an “opt out” clause. This could be included in your code of conduct or permit card to participate.

With four years of success here at Deerfield, I would encourage other administrators to put this type of program in place. We’ve found Team DSI to be a great vehicle to allow additional students to be involved in athletics.

And for some, the group’s impact could become something they share with others. “DSI has inspired me to become a high school teacher to stay involved with high school students,” says Jake Porento. “Maybe I’ll implement a program like DSI at my future school.”

 

Job Breakdown

The following is a closer look at the work our Team DSI students are involved in.


Position: Public address announcer

Duties: Secure roster and game script, greet coaches and go over pronunciation of names, finalize script

Training: Practice reading script during meetings, learn from NASPAA guest speaker

Equipment: Microphone, binder of scripts

Supervisor: Athletic administrator on duty

Resources: NASPAA member, LTI 625 Management of Game and Event Announcing

Benefits:

• Learning public speaking, communication with adults

• Increased self-esteem and confidence

• Enhancement of the event

 


Position: Clock operator

Duties: Full game engagement, communicate with coaches and officials, understanding of rules/whistles

Training: Demonstration in meetings, practice games, shadowing/training with experienced operator

Equipment: Access to scoreboard panel or remote control

Supervisor: Athletic administrator on duty

Resources: User manuals, experienced operators

Benefits:

• Learning responsibility, communication with adults

• Increased self-esteem and confidence

• One less job for an assistant coach, parent, or administrator

 


Position: Statistician

Duties: Acquire scorebook from coach, enter both team rosters, communicate with officials, record names, meet and greet coaches

Training: Coach trains the group using game video footage for simulated experience, team manager trains/shadows until we have a level of competency

Equipment: Pencils, notepad, scorebook

Supervisor: Athletic administrator on duty

Resources: Coaches, team managers, experienced book keepers

Benefits:

• Learning responsibility, communication with adults

• Increased attention and awareness skills

 

Position: Online streaming

Duties: Knowledge of software, use of software, an understanding of audience needs and expectations

Training: Demonstration in meetings, intersquad games, modified event, shadow at contests

Equipment: Computer, software, Internet connection or Wi-Fi (if streaming live)

Supervisor: Athletic administrator on duty

Resources: Software technical support, experienced streamer

Benefits:

• Learning responsibility, how to understand audience perspective

• Increased self-esteem and confidence

• Ability to offer streamed games online

 


Position: Camera operator

Duties: Capture specific event footage

Training: Demonstration in meetings, on the job

Equipment: Basic video camera

Supervisor: Athletic administrator on duty

Resources: Manuals, online training

Benefits:

• Learning responsibility, how to understand audience perspective

• Increased self-esteem and confidence

• Ability to offer streamed games online

 


Position: Play-by-play announcer

Duties: Obtain rosters, draft game script, describe the event, enhance the viewer’s experience

Training: Demonstration in meetings, on the job, listening to professional broadcasts

Equipment: Headset with microphone

Supervisor: Athletic administrator on duty

Resources: Internet, local personnel

Benefits:

• Learning responsibility, how to understand audience perspective, speaking skills

• Increased self-esteem and confidence

• Enhancement of online streamed games

 

Position: Tricaster operator

Duties: Connect headsets, connect video feeds, adjust game and announcer volume, select best camera views for display

Training: Demonstration in meetings, on the job, watching professional broadcasts

Equipment: Headset, tricaster

Supervisor: Athletic administrator on duty

Resources: User manual, online training, experienced operators

Benefits:

• Learning responsibility, how to understand audience perspective

• Increased self-esteem and confidence

• Ability to offer online streamed games

 


Position: Newsletter editor

Duties: Contact coaches for material, work with athletic director for basic template and requirements, publicize program

Training: Demonstration in meetings

Equipment: Word processor

Supervisor: Athletic director

Resources: Newsletter examples

Benefits:

• Learning responsibility, writing skills, interviewing skills, readership perspective

• Increased self-esteem and confidence

• Ability to offer printed newsletter

 


Position: Still photographer

Duties: Capture action photos from contests

Training: Practice, game day

Equipment: Digital camera

Supervisor: Athletic administrator on duty

Resources: Manual, guest speaker, photography club

Benefits:

• Learning responsibility, photography skills

• Increased self-esteem and confidence

• Ability to offer photo galleries for our awards programs, souvenir programs, newsletters, and digital displays in our athletic wings.

 

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