Running the show: Academy students manage stadium AV operations
Running the show: Academy students manage stadium AV operations
Posted on 10/10/2017
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CMP Academy students take a live shot of the crowd at Northwest ISD Stadium

During home football games at Northwest ISD Stadium, it’s easy to see the effort put in by the players and fine arts participants. What isn’t as easy to see is the effort put in by the students running major parts of the event itself, though their work is evident.

Students from Northwest ISD’s Creative Media Production Academy, housed at Northwest High School, operate the videoboard and all related aspects of home games at Northwest ISD Stadium, including the cameras, sound equipment, game-day production and much, much more. Such operation requires specialized skills, which they develop in their broadcast classes.

Jeremy Rawe, academy facilitator, said his students learn skills used by media professionals across the country by working operations at football games. The experience is both fun and provides real-world skills, he said.

“We use a company called Daktronics [for our video board system] that is in over 70 percent of professional stadiums,” he explained. “We’re obviously a much smaller scale at the high school level, but the system we use here is the same kind of system our students would use if they were to be working out in the industry.”

Each home football game, a crew of about a dozen students scurry around the field or in the press box, providing audiences with real-time game information and footage. A few students man cameras on the field, while a few more operate cameras from the press box area. While those students take video, several more sit at stations to provide graphics with game stats – such as scores, ball positions and more – and provide sound ranging from the leveling of an announcer’s voice to referee communication and more.

“It's just a lot of fun to root for our school and learn all these technical aspects of production [at the same time].”

If spectators don’t notice anything but the flow of the game, that’s the point. The operations crew has to operate at lightning-fast speeds to ensure audio and visual updates are nearly instantaneous, to the extent that they don’t even consider there are people working hard to provide the information.

Jenny Santoscoy, a senior who operates audio at football games, said working games for the first time last year started as a challenge but quickly became exciting.

“It’s really nerve-wracking at first, because the audience hears everything I do – so if I mess up, it’s heard everywhere,” she said. “Doing the announcer audio is probably the hardest part, because you never know what his reaction is beforehand – if he’ll be louder or quieter than normal. You have to pay close attention to what’s going on in the game, because if a big play happens, he’s more likely to be louder than normal.”

Working the football games also reinforced her passion to pursue audio as a career, Jenny added.

“I’m really interested in everything audio – the main thing I’m interested in is audio for music – so the stadium is great training,” she said. “I’d like to look into producing music or doing live audio engineering for concerts and things like that.”

The hard work of the academy’s students has paid off in many ways. Last year, the academy earned a prestigious national honor when NHSTV, Northwest High School’s daily show, was named by Student Television Network as the top student-run live show in the Southwest U.S. for the second consecutive year. Students in the program have also gone on to assist in the management at major colleges, such as the University of Oklahoma, and even professional teams.

CMP Academy students also take live shots directly of the field for the video board and TV screens

One of Mr. Rawe’s former students, Emily Erwin, serves as game-day control room support at Heinz Field for the Pittsburgh Steelers and University of Pittsburgh in her job as a control systems specialist intern at Daktronics. Prior to working at Heinz Field, she worked as a big screen production assistant at the University of Oklahoma’s football games and other sporting events. She attributes much of her success to learning key lessons at Northwest.

“The Creative Media Production Academy introduces kids to so many different aspects of media production, and students can leave with experience in many different areas,” she said. “Working Northwest ISD football games introduced me to sports production, and specifically Daktronics equipment. I’m excited to see everything Mr. Rawe and the academy kids are able to do with the new equipment and see where these students take their talents after high school.”

Getting to Ms. Erwin’s level of professional accomplishment takes great effort, something the academy’s current audiovisual students understand. They spend time during class each day preparing for their game-day duties, and they arrive early at the stadium to ensure equipment is ready.

Despite the hard work, the students agreed the experiences they’re gaining are preparing them for life after high school.

“We get as much as we can get done in the classroom, and the rest of the work is done in our free time,” said Roy Alonzo, a senior producer of the game-day crew. “Like Mr. Rawe has told us, pretty much every industry is going to need video at some point. Having this role here just puts that pride in me – it’s just a lot of fun to root for our school and learn all these technical aspects of production.”

This story originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Northwest Navigator magazine.

To learn more about the Creative Media Production Academy as well as other Northwest ISD academies, click here.