Lights, camera, action

High school students learn TV production at Castle Challenge

Sycamore High School freshman Emani Brinkman works Feb. 7 in the NIU Convocation Center video production control room.

Sycamore High School freshman Emani Brinkman works Feb. 7
in the NIU Convocation Center video production control room.

Emani Brinkman can’t exactly say what prompted her to attend an informational meeting about Sycamore High School’s SpartanTV broadcasting club.

“I just went,” the 14-year-old freshman says. “I started doing graphics for the basketball games, and it was really cool and fun.”

Given that same opportunity Feb. 7 inside the NIU Convocation Center for the “Castle Challenge” game between the high school basketball teams of Sycamore and DeKalb, however, Brinkman thinks she might have found her life’s calling.

Brinkman was one of four Sycamore High School teens and two from DeKalb who helped to “produce” the game under the watchful – yet minimal – eyes of NIU Media Services employees and student-workers.

“We got to use the cameras. We got a tour of the backstage and the control room. We got to ask questions of the NIU students and the people who work there,” she says. “I was ecstatic. It was really a big privilege. We got to see first-hand what they do back stage, and that was a blessing.”

Last week’s game was just the latest step in a budding relationship between NIU Media Services and local high schools.

Patrick Gorman, video producer for the Convocation Center, initially reached out to DeKalb High School in the fall regarding the football edition of the Castle Challenge at Huskie Stadium.

Sycamore High School student Jordyn Shultz (right) works at the broadcast table alongside DeKalb High School student Owen Smith.

Sycamore High School student Jordyn Shultz (right) works at the broadcast table alongside DeKalb High School student Owen Smith.

With the realization that Sycamore was the home team for the basketball matchup, Gorman made a call to David Olson, the SpartanTV adviser and the school’s production and events manager.

“There are more TV programs in the high schools now, and our students are coming in with a pretty good idea of what they’re doing and what they want to do,” says Gorman, who remembers only “some dad with a video camera on top of the bleachers” at his high school’s football games.

“We’re even getting phone calls now from students who are seniors at other high schools who want to work for us,” he says. “The message is getting out there that we have this equipment and these opportunities available.”

Students in the Feb. 7 “intern” crew rotated through several stations, including operating the cameras and pushing buttons and sliding faders on the control room board, after their crash-course introduction.

“We said, ‘This is your camera. This is how it operates. This is your zoom. This is your focus. Now get on here and do it,’ ” Gorman says.

Olson, whose background is in technical theater, said his students were eager for that chance.

NIU’s Patrick Gorman (left) explains Convocation Center control room operations to Emani Brinkman and DeKalb High School student Matt Petersen.

NIU’s Patrick Gorman (left) explains Convocation Center control room operations
to Emani Brinkman (center) and DeKalb High School student Matt Petersen.

“These four jumped at the opportunity to come work on a giant production with equipment they probably would never see otherwise. Right now we use a standard laptop and a $100 personal camcorder,” he said. “They loved it, and they came back to school Monday and told all of the other kids, ‘You should’ve joined us.’ They were very excited.”

His group’s journey into live game production also included a glimpse at the teamwork and the teaching-and-learning aspect.

NIU Media Services intern Jason Horn directed the Feb. 7 game – “He was in the chair, calling the shots, directing his peers. Not many students get an opportunity like that,” Gorman says – as part of the division’s mission to prepare future generations. Student photographers also worked that night to capture still images of all the hoops action.

That instructional goal is actually what’s at the root of the high school partnerships, says Jay Orbik, director of Media Services.

“This was an important step in the process we began a couple of years ago,” Orbik says. “We agreed to waive production changes for the Castle Challenge football and basketball games in order to give our NIU Media Services students a chance to work on the most complex equipment we have, with minimal full-time supervision. This is critical to their success.”

DHS student Owen Smith operates the video camera under the supervision of NIU Media Services student worker Wesley Lynch.

DHS student Owen Smith operates the video camera under the supervision
of NIU Media Services student worker Wesley Lynch.

By Orbik’s count, only three of his full-time employees were on duty that night.

“The rest were our NIU students and high school students, working and training together. The students, working together, actually ran the whole show. This was one of the proudest moments I can remember in my 26-plus years here,” he says. “We are planning to reach out further into the local high school communities as we move forward with other high school events such as IHSA basketball regional championships as well as the IHSA football championships.”

For now, this experiment has proven a triumphant venture into NIU President Doug Baker’s pillar of “Student Career Success.”

“My impression is that the high school students found this exciting and interesting,” Gorman says, “and it was eye-opening for me. They really didn’t know what they were walking into, and once they saw what we were doing and how we were working as team, you could see the ‘wow’ factor in their eyes.”

Brinkman would agree.

“I asked questions about careers and majors,” she says. “Now I’m considering communication as my major.”

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