MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
Here's an addition to the long list of specialty summer camps for kids, sportscaster camp. It's run by a group called the Scholastic Play-by-Play Network. The camp gives would-be sportscasters weeklong stints behind the microphone and in front of the camera. Reporter Sean Cole of member station WBUR went to a session in Boston.
SEAN COLE reporting:
At the moment, when you tune into sports news in Boston...
(Soundbite of WEEI broadcast)
Unidentified Announcer: Sports Radio WEEI, 20/20 sports flash.
COLE: ...this is one of the voices you hear.
(Soundbite of WEEI broadcast)
Unidentified Man #1: The Red Sox had last night off; they'll play Kansas City tonight at Fenway Park. Tim Wakefield opposes Runelvys Hernandez. We'll have it at 6:25 here on Sports Radio WEEI.
COLE: But in 20 years, it's possible that you'll be hearing this voice, although it'll probably be a little bit lower.
Unidentified Camper #1: The Red Sox are most likely to trade Kevin Millar or Mark Bellhorn because they have not been prod--pro--Oh.
Unidentified Man #2: That's OK.
Unidentified Camper #1: They have not been producing runs and RBIs.
COLE: This is one of 73 campers at the Scholastic Play-by-Play Network's Boston summer session. One by one, they walk up to the front of a college basement lecture hall with no air conditioning and practice their reports. Their ages range from nine to 18: all boys except for four, all white; except for one. But what unites the campers is a borderline unnatural love of sports and the innate ability to say ESPN in that funny way.
GUY RACKEY(ph) (Scholastic Play-by-Play Network Camper): I'm Guy Rackey, ESPN.
Unidentified Man #3: Look at the camera, smile. Look around, smile. Good job. Let's do it one more time. Just go a little bit slower. That's an excellent report.
COLE: Jeremy Treatman is the owner of Scholastic Play-by-Play. When he's not coaching kids on their camera technique, he's promoting high school sporting events and calling games himself in Philadelphia, where his company's based. As a result, he's learned to talk really fast.
Mr. JEREMY TREATMAN (Owner, Scholastic Play-by-Play): I got on TV for the first time when I was 28 and it was a fluke. I had already pretty much given up, so I thought if I tried--made a camp for kids and for people who really wanted to do this and who really want to try that they should have 10,000 times the opportunities that I had of getting in.
DAN MALE (Scholastic Play-by-Play Network Camper): The Red Sox are desperately needing a closer. With the Phillies still in contention, Billy Wagner seems to be off the trade market. With the trade deadline coming soon, we'll see what happens. From Fenway Park, live, Dan Male, ESPN.
COLE: The kids also pretend that they're on this ESPN debate show called "Pardon the Interruption," sort of the sports equivalent of "Crossfire." One of the camp counselors gives them topics.
Unidentified Woman: All right, let's talk about NFL sleeper teams.
Unidentified Camper #2: The Cincinnati Bengals.
Unidentified Camper #3: Yeah, the Bengals.
Unidentified Camper #4: They're not--they're not really a sleeper team.
Unidentified Camper #2: They definitely--Are you kidding me? They have Chad Johnson, Carson Palmer, they just drafted Jason Pollock. How can you not like this team?
Unidentified Camper #3: David Pollock.
Unidentified Camper #4: That's David Pollock.
Unidentified Camper #5: I would say...
Unidentified Camper #3: They need...
Mr. TREATMAN: We bring in a lot, lot of speakers, too, a lot of people in the industry for them to meet. And so they can--you know, they can ask the questions they need to ask from the people who have the jobs that they want to have down the line.
Unidentified Camper #6: Does it kind of make you wonder--like, is media now really more about politics than it was, say, 10 years ago?
Unidentified Man #4: Is media now more political than it was 10 years ago? I think everything is more political than it was 10 years ago, but...
COLE: Ten years ago when the boy who asked this question was two years old. There's a real out-of-the-mouths-of-babes quality to a lot of the campers. Their knowledge of sports is extreme; their fanaticism is more extreme. The kid who asked the political question has a sports blog that's so popular now that he's being followed around by the "Today" show. There's a nine-year-old camper named Yoni Monat(ph) with the Red Sox logo painted on his yarmulke.
YONI MONAT (Scholastic Play-by-Play Network Camper): See, I don't want to be a player so I want to be a broadcaster.
COLE: Why don't you want to be a player?
MONAT: What if I get hit by a pitch?
COLE: Well, that's true. But I mean, you could get hit by a car. Like, life is uncertain.
MONAT: Yeah, but at least there's an OK possibility.
COLE: The thing is most of the kids do want to be professional players; they just know the odds are against it. Or like Miles Heager(ph), who just turned 15, it's physically not an option.
MILES HEAGER (Scholastic Play-by-Play Network Camper): I hurt my knee a few years ago, and, like, I might need surg--and I'm not a great athlete, really, anyway. So I said to myself, `I have people skills. I can talk. I know the game.' It was all in me, and I wanted to do it.
Mr. TREATMAN: Well, if the kids admitted that, then I have to admit that, too. Of course, that's a big part of why a lot of people become sportscasters.
COLE: Again, Jeremy Treatman.
Mr. TREATMAN: We all want to be athletes. We all want to be star baseball players. Unfortunately, we can't. We're not all Manny Ramirez. We're not the guys on the Sox. So if we're not them, let's announce them.
COLE: Plus, announcing the players, being on radio and TV, has a glitzy draw of its own. Caleb Seltzer(ph), for example, a camper with the greatest radio name in the world, says he's been waiting half his life--so since he was seven--to join the ranks of his idols.
CALEB SELTZER (Scholastic Play-by-Play Network Camper): Like, just to hear Joe Castiglione's voice every night on the Red Sox, or Grandy(ph) on the Celtics, those are my idols. And I want to be the Joe Castiglione, the big man. You want to be the guy that's going to let everyone know what's going to happen.
COLE: Caleb is in such a rush to get into the business that he's doing a weeklong play-by-play of the play-by-play camp. He interviews other campers on a handheld tape recorder as the whole group heads to one very fortunate McDonald's for lunch.
SELTZER: This is the first time this camp has been in this area. What does this mean to you knowing that this is your opportunity to, like, live what you want to fulfill in your career before you even start it?
Unidentified Camper #7: It's amazing.
COLE: Caleb continues with his interview at the McDonald's; I continue with mine. A 16-year-old named Desmond Stewart(ph) sits by himself waiting for someone to put a burger in front of him. I ask him how often he thinks about sports, to which he responds: `How often do men think about sex?'
DESMOND STEWART (Scholastic Play-by-Play Network Camper): Every 14 seconds, I think about sex. Every 13 seconds, I think about sports. So, you know...
COLE: You're getting this dreamy look in your eyes.
STEWART: It's the feeling that you get when you're playing the sport, watching the sport, reading about the sport, just studying it and...
COLE: And talking about it?
STEWART: Talking about it, especially. You know, I could sit there and talk sports with somebody all night.
COLE: And evidently all day.
Unidentified Camper #8: McNabb back, high! Lewis touchdown! Greg Lewis! Lewis gets the touchdown!
COLE: This is probably the only camp where your mouth gets more exercise than the rest of you. At one point, the kids are told to watch a tape of this year's Super Bowl and call the plays into a microcassette recorder, which answers the age-old question: What is the sound of an insane number of sportscasters all doing play-by-play at the same time?
(Soundbite of play-by-play exercise)
Unidentified Camper #9: Deion Branch!
Unidentified Camper #10: Now they've gotta go along for Greg Lewis right here. They need a touchdown, and Greg Lewis can do that right now.
COLE: Throughout most of the Super Bowl exercise, Jeremy Treatman and Miles Heager stand in the back of the room doing tag-team commentary. And even though this game ended six months ago and everybody knows what's going to happen, the thrill of it, the reason they're all here in the first place, is the same, or at least it sounds that way.
(Soundbite of play-by-play exercise)
Unidentified Camper #11: Get ready, everybody!
Unidentified Camper #8: Could this be a dynasty? McNabb, back, high! Lewis touchdown! Greg Lewis! Lewis gets the touchdown!
COLE: For NPR News, I'm Sean Cole in Boston.
Unidentified Camper #8: McNabb high and deep. This game is four, and they're right back in it; 1:48 left.
Unidentified Camper #10: Great throw. Great catch. That was McNabb's best throw of the day. A post pattern, Greg Lewis didn't miss it. I'd love to see the replay again.
BLOCK: I'm Melissa Block. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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