St. Joseph’s Prep senior John Leuzzi thinks WIP’s Angelo Cataldi is the best sports talk host in the city. His classmate, Ricky Weipz, preferred the Mike & Mike duo of Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg before they were replaced on The Fanatic and ultimately split up.
So it goes for the students at WSJP, St. Joe’s student broadcasting club, who follow sports talkers and the broadcasters who call games as much or more than the players on the field. The teens have spent the past week preparing for their most important broadcast of the season — the PIAA Class 6A state football championship between undefeated St. Joe’s and Harrisburg at HersheyPark Stadium, which they will call Saturday at 6 p.m. on 990 AM WNTP.
The broadcast is a culmination of a season’s worth of work that involves about 20 students taking turns performing the roles involved in calling games on the radio, including pre-game and halftime shows, play-by-play, and analysis. Throughout the season, the students call games on Blog Talk Radio, where they’ve already posted a pre-game show. But Saturday, their broadcast will be zapped across the Delaware Valley thanks to WNTP’s 50,000-watt signal.
While their classmates on the football team look up to NFL stars and Eagles players, the most enthusiastic WSJP students find their fandom devoted to professional broadcasters, ranging from Fox Sports play-by-play announcer Joe Buck to NBC hockey analyst Mike “Doc” Emrick. Even ABC and ESPN NBA play-caller Mike Breen gets some love for the simple, straightforward way he calls shots blocked by superstar LeBron James.
“I think working on a broadcast changes the way I watch sports,” said Weipz. “Now I’m more attentive to what the broadcasters are actually saying. And I keep a running list on my phone of different ways of saying things … I’m always on the lookout for different things I can incorporate into our broadcast.”
Saturday’s broadcast crew will include eight students — Weipz will handle play-by-play responsibilities, while Leuzzi will provide analysis. Junior John Pease will handle sideline reporting duties, and the broadcast will be fed stats by juniors Charlie Murray and Thomas Avington. Junior Tyler Konrad will host pre-game and halftime shows, and two sophomores will handle social media — Dom Richetti on Twitter and Garrett McCloskey on SnapChat.
During a production meeting Thursday, the teens went through the Harrisburg roster to decide whom they would spotlight, determine how to refer to players, and practiced pronouncing names on the team’s roster. The crew decided they would call Harrisburg’s explosive running back Kavon Hope by his name rather than use the his nickname “B-More.” Leuzzi reminded everyone that the nickname for Harrisburg’s suffocating defense was the “Darkside.” And Richetti had some thoughts on Harrisburg’s athletic quarterback, Kane Everson.
“He’s so Mike Vick,” Richetti said of Everson, a senior who will play college football at Army next year. “He’s a lefty, he’s number seven. He’s totally Mike Vick, so you can set him up that way.”
WSJP was created in 2013 by Bill Avington, the school’s director of communications, and two St. Joe’s parents with experience in radio — Rich Henkels and Joe Krause. They had two main goals — let alumni listen to games, and create an outlet for students who might have an interest in broadcasting.
Since then, the responsibilities have expanded beyond football to calling hockey, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, and even the occasional eGame event. And their program has been embraced by coaches at the school and the families who can’t always travel to games. But broadcasters are often forced to also point out negative points about their own team, which has led to a few awkward moments between St. Joe’s classmates.
“One of our color guys said something about the soccer goalie, and then I heard about it from him after the game,” Weipz said. “Otherwise, I get a lot of messages from them saying, ‘Thanks for being there. We appreciate you doing this.’ ”
As the group ended the production meeting and prepared to head to their next class, Leuzzi reminded everyone to dress warmly, because cold weather is forecast for Hershey on Saturday, and space heaters aren’t allowed in the broadcast booth.
“Mr. Krause likes to have those windows in the booth open,” Leuzzi said. “So it’s going to be uncomfortable.”