Child's Play ... By Play

At sports broadcasting camp, aspiring announcers learn to talk the talk

June 30, 2008|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,Sun reporter

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and their respective teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics lob a few final warmup jumpers. The referees trade dramatic nods. Nearly 20,000 spectators at TD Banknorth Garden get to their feet, jazzed for the opening tipoff.

"Welcome to this NBA Championship Series, perhaps the most anticipated in years," says play-by-play man Zach Parnes. "Let me put things in perspective, folks. ... The Boston Celtics haven't won a championship since I've been on this Earth."

Earnest as he is, by most measures, it's not saying a whole lot.

Zach, a Frederick native, is 11 years old, one of the 50 aspiring announcers between ages 10 and 18 who hit the leafy North Baltimore campus of the College of Notre Dame for a sportscasting camp last week. Zach speaks into a cassette recorder, watching the videotaped action of the previous week's pro basketball championship on a big-screen TV.

"Great voice," says Steve Goldstein, co-director of Scholastic Play-By-Play Network, the Philadelphia company that staged the five-day sports-travaganza, one of seven it will operate in the U.S. this summer. "Do the rest of you guys hear how excited he sounds?"

The campers know that's important. Just the day before, a celebrity guest speaker, ESPN TV reporter Sal Paolantonio, shared with the group his "Sal Pal's 4 P's."

"Prepare; [Be] Personal; Perform; and [Be] Professional," the list on the chalkboard read. Full-color Paolantonio 8-by-10s, autographed in silver ink, littered the classroom.

In a world where many kids grow up on 24-hour-a-day, ESPN-style sports coverage, watching witty broadcasters who are bigger stars and, in some cases, as well-compensated as many of the athletes, celebrity goes a long way, and Scholastic serves up a goodly portion. Ravens defensive tackle Dwan Edwards appeared just after Paolantonio, fielding questions in a mock news conference. "Does Rex Ryan consider you a playmaker?" one 11-year-old asked Edwards, referring to his team's assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. "I certainly hope so," the 315-pounder said.

But the camp's specialty is hands-on experience. Today, Zach's group - the 19 campers younger than 13 - will complete their "calls" of the Lakers-Celtics game (not to mention a touchdown drive from this year's Super Bowl). They will also write and perform scripts for a sports segment; sit in with the aptly nicknamed Paul "Jolly" Jolowitz, a talk-show host at WIP in Philadelphia, for a faux phone-in show; and team to produce a full-fledged sportscast in the campus TV studio.

"Oh, I'm learning a lot," says Bradley Meadows, 9, of Spotsylvania, Va., who chose the option of spending each night in the campus dorms (total fee: $1,025, as compared with $485 for day campers). "I've loved everything about this camp."

That's good news for Goldstein, a former sports marketing major, and his co-director, Jeremy Treatman, a producer of high school sports broadcasts who founded Play By Play in Philadelphia seven years ago. The initial camp, Treatman says, drew about 50 kids. A couple of years later, it had grown to twice that size.

Today, the Scholastic Play-By-Play Network operates camps in seven cities each summer, including Boston, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta. Philadelphia's, set at Villanova University, drew 120 this year, and the company plans to expand into the Los Angeles market soon.

The Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville hosts the last camp this year, Aug. 18-22. The week will include an appearance by ex-Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins defensive back Troy Vincent, a former president of the NFL Players Association.

"These are the kind of kids who scour the box scores, watch the games, study the announcers," Treatman says. "They come up with very interesting stuff."

Sometimes it's typical camp shenanigans. One panicked boy needs help when his tape recorder jams. Another is so focused on announcing he trips over a cooler full of punch.

"You all right, buddy?" Goldstein asks with a sympathetic laugh.

The camp's lone female student - camps are open to boys and girls, though males are usually in the majority - draws disproportionate attention.

"She thinks I'm cool," brags one boy in a Washington Capitals T-shirt.

Many campers are wide-eyed. Inside a radio studio, Jolowitz offers pointers and swaps friendly barbs with Tobias Stokes, 13, of Philadelphia and Zevi Lowenberg, 14, of Pikesville.

"Remember, everybody has an opinion," he tells them. "But 'why' is the key to any talk radio. What's your reasoning?"

He rolls tape, Tobias serving as co-host, and grabs his mic.

"Paul Jolowitz here," he says in a booming voice. "Tobias, if you were the Chicago Bulls, who would you take first in today's NBA draft?"

"Derek Rose," the boy says after a long pause. "The Chicago Bulls offense - it needs somebody to take control."

Zevi, posing as a caller, disagrees, favoring power forward Michael Beasley instead. A debate ensues.

"Good radio," Jolowitz says. He hands both boys their tapes.

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