‘RIT SportsZone’ achieves milestone

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Submitted by Ken Huth

Reporter Michelle Nicholson interviews Buffalo Sabres center Derek Roy last February for an RIT SportsZone segment.

A line of excited hockey fans—waiting—snakes its way across the Ritter Arena lobby. With a video camera mounted on his shoulder, third-year film and animation student Kent Weaver pans the scene—cover video for use in an RIT SportsZone feature on hockey star Derek Roy.

As the special guest at RIT hockey’s Buffalo Sabres Night event, Roy is severely delayed by a traffic jam on the New York State Thruway. When he finally arrives, autograph seekers take priority, so an opportunity for Weaver and RIT SportsZone reporter Michelle Nicholson to interview the Sabres’ center is far from certain. But after more than a half hour of greeting fans, Roy kindly agrees to talk.

“We finally got an opportunity to start the interview,” recalls Weaver, “and then the camera goes dead.”

Quickly, Weaver scrambles to replace the battery, salvaging their story from impending disaster. “Thankfully, it all turned out great,” he says.

Weaver and Nicholson, a graduating MBA student, experience the exciting—and sometimes complicated—reality of television production through their participation in RIT SportsZone. They are among 80 students who serve as the driving force behind the weekly half-hour show that showcases the university’s athletic programs and related activities on campus.

RIT SportsZone celebrated the production of its 70th episode last month. James Watters, RIT’s senior vice president of finance and administration, describes the show’s creation as “one of the more interesting things I’ve done during my time here.”

The idea for a locally broadcast program was included in a pitch made by Watters to Sean Bratches, executive vice president of sales and marketing at ESPN and a 1984 graduate of the E. Philip Saunders College of Business. Bratches agreed to a formal partnership between the sports programming network and RIT, and RIT SportsZone became one of the resulting initiatives.

Since its debut in 2003, RIT students have shared responsibility for all aspects of the program, including talent, video production, graphic design and marketing. “Talk about experiential learning,” states Watters. “These folks are getting it.”

Mark Fragale, RIT SportsZone producer and director, says the show and its focus on RIT athletics is a source of pride for the campus community, but he agrees the primary impact of the program comes from what’s happening behind the camera.

“The show employs students from every one of RIT’s colleges, working in a variety of different disciplines,” explains Fragale. “There are students who have gone on to work at ESPN and in a lot of other related fields.”

Weaver, who serves as the student executive producer of RIT SportsZone, looks forward to pursuing a career in TV sports production. The former youth hockey player believes his experience at RIT has helped him find a niche.

“Hockey is still a passion of mine, and sports production allows me to continue that passion in a different way.”

RIT SportsZone can be seen at 6 p.m. Fridays on the Time Warner Sports Network, channel 26; Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. on ESPN2, channel 25; and throughout the week on cable access channel 4.