ON THE SIDELINES

Mary Kate Hamilton
07/01/20

Before you get too far, I want to warn you: I am not an athlete. I am not an athlete, but I’ve spent the last four years pouring over statistics, watching film, attending press conferences and interviewing coaches and athletes. In college, I got paid to talk about some of the most exciting games from the best seat in the house – the sidelines. As a sideline reporter for the Big Ten Network through a partnership with the network and Big Ten schools, I’ve had the honor of covering basketball games in Assembly Hall, the NCAA soccer tournament and dozens of different sports and games in between. I’ve had internships that allowed me to cover the Indianapolis 500, the Pacers and the Colts. I was even booked to fly to Atlanta this year to intern at the Final Four for CBS before March Madness was cancelled. And while I’m not an athlete, during my time as a sports broadcaster I’ve learned that there are a few things we all have in common, whether you are an athlete, a broadcaster or a fan. 

Growing up in the Washington Township school district, I did the morning announcements in elementary school, middle school and high school. I always felt comfortable speaking in front of large groups and loved reading and writing. By the time I had to start thinking about applying to colleges, I knew I wanted to major in Journalism. I loved how glamorous broadcasting always seemed, but I also loved the idea of sharing peoples’ stories. Indiana University Bloomington had just built a brand-new Media School with a state-of-the-art broadcast studio and professors who were determined to strengthen their broadcast program. After a visit to the Media School and with the help of a generous scholarship, I was headed to Bloomington in the Fall of 2016. 

Anxious to get in front of the camera, I attended a Media School Activity Fair one of my first days on campus, where I was introduced to the Big Ten Network Student U. I was a barely above average competitive swimmer growing up and watched sports casually with my brothers and dad, but I never pictured myself as a sports reporter. The professor in charge convinced me that if nothing else, it was a good opportunity to practice my live reporting skills and get more comfortable in front of the camera. It was paid, and I decided I had nothing to lose.

 
 

My very first assignment was a field hockey game in my first semester of college. A common misconception about sideline reporters is that they read off a script on a screen or are told what to say. In reality, the prep work includes extensive research on the sport itself and each player on both teams. You have to know the storylines of each team, the coaching staff, their record, their star players, the series history between the teams, what the implications of a win or a loss would be, and so much more in order to craft what you are going to say. Before my first broadcast I spent days researching field hockey. I practiced my sideline hits alone in my dorm room over and over again until they were memorized. 

When I got to the game, it was nothing like the environment of my quiet dorm. Music was blasting, the crowd was cheering, and I had directors, producers, and the play-by-play announcer and color commentator talking in my earpiece. My nerves made it nearly impossible to focus, and I had extreme stage fright at the possibility that someone may be tuning in at home. When it was time for me to do my first sideline hit and my cameraman pointed to me indicating that I was live, I completely forgot everything I planned to say. I stumbled over my words, forgot the names of players I had rehearsed hundreds of times, and fumbled through the entire broadcast. I was mortified. I called my mom afterwards crying. I told her I would never report on another game. I decided that perhaps choosing to do broadcast had been a mistake, and I even contemplated changing majors to English rather than Journalism.

After some encouragement not to give up from my friends and family, I found a passion for sports broadcasting. Four years later, I’ve reported on more than 40 games for BTN+, their subscription based streaming service, and had around a dozen games rebroadcasted on the national Big Ten Network. I was on the sidelines for Archie Miller’s first ever game as head coach for IU Men’s Basketball, Bob Knight’s first public appearance back at IU, and a stressful victory for IU Men’s Soccer won in penalty kicks to send them to the College Cup, to name some of my favorites. The atmosphere of reporting on the sidelines of a live sporting event is unlike anything else. It’s challenging and exhilarating, and there is no better feeling than going live and nailing a sideline hit. My friends would send me Snapchat videos watching me on TV in their living room. I was named the top collegiate female sportscaster in the country. I had the time of my life broadcasting in college and have had the opportunity to broadcast on levels I could have only dreamed of when I was anchoring for NC News. But all athletes, broadcasters and fans know that sports are not selfish. Sports are about so much more than yourself.

 
 
 

For those of you who don’t know, I lost my father to COVID-19 back in March. As I reflect on some of my favorite memories with him, so many of them revolve around sports broadcasting and sports in general. Him driving me back to Bloomington over Winter Break for a basketball game and me practicing my sideline hits in the car the entire ride. Him sitting in the cold as I covered a frigid early-spring extra innings softball game. Him taking me to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the crack of dawn to cover the Indy 500 and picking up a couple donuts from Long’s Bakery on the way. Him asking me how Andrew Luck’s shoulder looks during Colts Training Camp (we know how that story ends). Going even further back, he would cheer me on at a big swim meet or try to fix my golf grip as a kid. These moments stick out to me for a reason.

Athletes: How many car rides do you remember with your parents heading to a tournament or a game as a child? Fans: How many memories do you have sitting on the couch with your family or friends and cheering on your favorite team? At their core, sports are about so much more than winning or losing. They’re about bonding with your parents, your siblings, your coaches, your teammates and your friends. Sports bring people together. I think that is why we do what we do. When I broadcast, I’m worried about what I’m saying, how I’m saying it, how I look… the list could go on. But really, I’m hoping to bring people together, at least for a moment. I’m hoping to allow people, if only for a few hours, to forget about their own troubles. And at the end of the day, whether I have a good broadcast or a bad broadcast, I know that none of that matters to the people who love me. I am grateful for the experiences broadcasting has brought me, the accolades I’ve received and the people I have met along the way. But above all, I’m grateful for the little moments. The moments that bring us together. I think that anyone who loves sports knows that those are the moments that count.

 
 
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