Squirrel Hoops on ESPNU

Rah! Rah! Rah! Zis-Boom-Bah!
The Squirrel Queen had a unique experience on Thursday night. I got to assist an ESPNU crew during a college basketball game at Tennessee-Martin.
Great atmosphere, great game, great experience.
Got a call from my buddy Jo-Lo, the UT Martin Sports Information Director, Monday asking if I was available to work Thursday night. I’d already picked the Skyhawks’ games as my games to work that night on my schedule for the week. A local young woman plays on the Tennessee Tech team and that was Martin’s opponent for the night, so I figured it was the old two-birds-with-one-stone scenario.
What a day Thursday was. Folks where I work decided they wanted to rearrange offices on short notice, moving my entire work area to another floor in the building. Had to get into the office early to pack up my messy, organized so only I know where it belongs and what it is stuff and help move it upstairs. Then try to put away what I could that day. Trouble was, I lost an entire bookshelf in the move, absconded by my coworkers for their new area. Then, the shelves in my new space are rickety and must be braced, so I can’t put anything on them until they get reinforced. Still waiting on that.
Hectic, stressful start to a long day.
Then I have to be at Jo-Lo’s 45 minutes before the already-moved-up tipoff time of the women’s game. Rush home, run through shower, run back to Martin.
At the gym, everyone is squirreling around trying to make everything perfect for the ESPNU folks. Always want to make a great impression to a national TV audience, especially when you’re a small town and a small university not used to being in that glaring spotlight. Rained all day, so admin folks were worried the crowd might be slimmer than expected. Just one more added stress for them.
My first assignment was to key in stats for the box score in the women’s game. My inaugural attempt at that. It took me a while to get the hang of it. Oh, wait, I’ll admit I never did get comfortable, but I got through it, thanks to Travis, one of Joe-Lo’s student staff, a veteran of the stat crew. Mighty Kudos to Trav.
As soon as the final horn sounded, Jo-Lo nabbed me and introduced me to the ESPNU staff. I was told my job would be to sit next to the on-air talent and feed them stats. I’d also be wearing a headset that was hooked into the truck parked outside where the director and the rest of his crew would work. I’d feed stats to them so they could use them as on-screen graphic info.
There was about an hour wait between the women’s and the men’s games as the men’s tipoff had been pushed back in order to accomodate ESPN’s schedule.
I got to go into the truck for a few minutes to talk to the crew there. It was a treat to get a gander at all the equipment and monitors and the hectic pace they put themselves through even in the pregame.
I settled in next to the on-air talent, watched them study their hand-written notes and rosters and listened to them rehearse and tape their game intros.
The gym was electric and filled to near capacity. The student body came out in full-throated force. Loud and clad in orange and blue, the students stayed on their feet and screamed from the time they walked into the gym to the final horn. Nowadays, everyone wants to be on TV and, according to Warhol, this was their shot at 15 minutes of fame. They grabbed the “fame” stopwatch and never let it go. It should be that way at every home game.
It was interesting to hear the ESPN crew fret over lighting. The Skyhawks are always introduced in the pregame in near darkness, that’s a problem for a media that needs bright lights in order to bring their product to the viewing audience.
Oddly enough, the tipoff of Tennessee-Martin’s game wasn’t broadcast since the earlier game on ESPNU was still under way and the score was close enough they wouldn’t cut away from it. So much of the Skyhawk pregame fanfare was only enjoyed by those in the gym. Only the ESPNU people knew it wasn’t being beamed into living rooms around the nation.
Time for the game to start, I’m a bit nervous, anxious to provide the on-air talent what they need. I’ve got a monitor in front of me that is supposed to provide a running total of player and team stats. My job was to write down pertinent info and hand it over to the talent, while using my headset to tell the guys in the truck what they wanted to know and answer any questions they might have about on-court action and players.
Trouble was, when the game started, my stat monitor didn’t. As a sports writer, I’m used to keeping up with some stats as the game goes along but I was a bit out of my comfort zone.
The game was fast-paced and exciting with plenty of high-octane offense, a perfect contest to be televised.
Finally, I snagged a UTM staff member and let her know the monitor wasn’t working. It seemed like it was about halfway through the first half before we got it up and running. Once the stat screen came up it made my job much easier. I finally got a rhythm.
From there, it was a breeze. The Skyhawks got not only a big Ohio Valley Conference win, they got a great experience.
And so did the Squirrel Queen.
So, if you happened to TIVO the game, look for me on the sideline. I’m the one in the headset and the yellow shirt right next to the on-air talent.


One response to “Squirrel Hoops on ESPNU

  1. That is pretty awesome. I had no idea how hectic that day was for you. Hats off to you, rodent quenn. Watch out sports fans, she’s making her way to the cream of the crop and to be quite honest, I could not think of a more deserving person.

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