From left, producer/director John Bushman, videographer… (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
Kenwood soccer player Angelique Abel felt a little panicked as she sat down for her first television interview last month.
In a Kenwood classroom turned makeshift TV studio to shoot the October edition of "High School Sports Scene," the Bluebirds senior sat under the bright lights facing Towson sophomore Sydney Callahan, who was just as nervous preparing to conduct her first interview.
As the camera rolled, however, both girls settled into a comfortable exchange. With Callahan's prompting, Abel talked easily about her experiences as a three-sport athlete and how playing sports has enriched her life.
"I thought it was pretty cool," Abel said afterward, "because you don't get to hear a lot about high school sports on TV. On this show, you get to see other athletes and hear about what they go through. When you hear their stories, you can really relate to the other athletes."
For 26 years, "High School Sports Scene" has played a dual role: promoting Baltimore County interscholastic sports while providing students a behind-the-scenes education in broadcast journalism.
The longest-running program on the Baltimore County Public Schools' Education Channel, its appeal is easy to understand, according to Randy Dase. The Towson High teacher and coach came up with the idea for a sports show and has hosted the "Coach's Corner" interview segment since the show debuted.
"First of all, people love high school sports," Dase said. "Everybody went to high school, and people watch because they can relate to their high school days. When the show first started, I could go anywhere and people would come up to me and say, 'Aren't you that guy on "High School Sports Scene?"' I still get that."
A half-hour presentation, the show features a different county athletics program each month -- getting to 24 jurisdictions over a three-year period -- with interviews and game action complemented by snazzy graphics and jazzy music.
"The show really keeps things in perspective where you're giving all student-athletes an opportunity and all programs across the county an opportunity regardless of whether they're state champions or just out there for the fun of the sport," said Ron Belinko, coordinator of athletics for the county schools, who has appeared on the show all 26 seasons.
A few years after "High School Sports Scene" debuted in 1984, ESPN's "Scholastic Sports America" featured the program as the only one of its kind in the nation. Dase said there might be others by now, but none in Maryland.
Rebecca Laubner, a Towson senior and veteran student reporter, said: "I think sometimes high school athletes are overlooked [on TV] because they're not professional and they're not paid to play. These athletes could go on to play professionally or they could be lawyers or whatever. It's interesting to see how much potential they have and where they're starting out."
This month, the show features Abel and football player Aaron Ridgeway as the Outstanding Female and Male Athletes, as well as a segment with Kyle Chaillou and Taylor Beam, who attended the national and local student leadership conferences, respectively, last summer. Each episode also includes "Tips From the Training Room" with Milford Mill athletic trainer Kristi Sirolli.
Over the years, the program has evolved into a much more hands-on experience for students who want to learn the behind-the-scenes process with producer John Bushman, who works for the Education Channel and took over "Sports Scene" in 1997.
Students write, conduct interviews and host much of the program, which is filmed on location and in the Education Channel studio at Carver A&T. Videographer Craig Crawley's game footage spices up the interview segments narrated by the student reporter who conducted the interview.
Under Bushman's tutelage, the show has been honored nationally with a 2004 CINE Golden Eagle award and a 2007 Aurora Gold award, as well as being a 2002 Telly finalist.
"The whole idea of 'High School Sports Scene' is promoting the interscholastic athletic program and the school system, but it's also looking at the athletes as student athletes," Bushman said. "We really look at the educational component and how the lessons that are learned in athletics fit in with the lessons that are learned in the classroom. It's the whole-child education."
That goes for behind the scenes, too. Eight students from Towson High work on the show each school year. Some are athletes, including seniors Laubner, who plays soccer, and Marisa Daeschner, who plays softball, but others are just interested in improving their writing skills or their composure in front of a camera.
"Honestly, I'm not the biggest sports fan," Callahan said with a laugh. "But I really like being on camera and I like talking to people, so I thought, 'Sports? I guess I can make an exception.' I thought this is something that I would enjoy doing. I'm really glad I did it. It's fun and I got a new perspective about sports."