BY TYLER BRADFIELD | Graduate Assistant | Ball State Sports Link
How in the hell did I get here?
Let’s rewind the clock by five years. The date is January 31, 2012.
A chilly January Monday hangs over Indiana. Excitement weaves through the state’s capitol and its circle city as the national eye is fixated on Indianapolis. The New England Patriots and New York Giants were about to square off later in the week in Super Bowl XLVI. The first Super Bowl hosted by Indianapolis. The city was a buzz.
It’s also roughly four months from my high school graduation.
As a high school senior battling a mild case of senioritis, I’m standing around gazing up at the empty stadium seats of Lucas Oil Stadium. Stationary, and slightly in a daze, I realize I’m on the very field and turf where six days later the biggest sporting event of the year would be played.
I look up and across from me is Tom Brady, the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots. He is sitting on a podium as cameramen and reporters crowd around the barricade in front to ask the future Hall of Famer questions. I try and squeeze my way to the front, and after about 10 minutes of pushing and shoving through the crowd between questions, I FINALLY was a row back from Tom Brady.
In front of me was an older man in a suit, yet he was bigger than me. He seemed to be in his 60s and had been staked out in the front for the better part of the time I spent budging my way up there. He is the only thing standing between me and the front of the podium. I reach my black handheld recorder out past the man, hit record and brace myself. I’m now leaning into him and subtly fighting for front row positioning.
Brady continues to answer questions as the media members loudly jump in trying to ask the next follow up. At this point, I’m recalling all of those horrendous box-out-drills during basketball practices that without fail led to end of practice sprints. However, this man was far bigger and stronger than any scrawny peer I ever had to box out to avoid down-and-backs.
I can tell the man is somewhat annoyed with me, but we have both avoided eye contact as Brady has answered about four questions since our positioning battle started. Our arms proceed to tangle and we look at each other both a little in disgust, but we were both there for the same reason.
We were both credentialed reporters for Super Bowl Media Day. Both of us after a front row spot to Tom Brady’s podium and both wanted to ask the next question. The only difference, I realized once we drew eye contact, I’m a high school senior aspiring to someday become a sports broadcaster, and he… well… he was Chris Berman
Yes! The Chris Berman! The legendary NFL commentator on ESPN… “How in the hell did I get here?”
I’m a high school senior who should be worried about finding the right words to ask that girl I had been crushing on at school to the senior prom. Instead, I’m standing on the field where the Super Bowl was supposed to be played in less than a week and conjuring up the courage to ask Tom Brady a question about the New York Giants defense all while pissing off Chris Berman. I didn’t belong, or so I felt.
How in the hell did I get here?
I’ve been lucky since that day five years ago to experience that same feeling a handful of times.
What is this all about?
I’m now 22-years-old, a graduate student at Ball State University and the Graduate Assistant of Ball State Sports Link.
Additionally, I handle play-by-play assignments on ESPN3 and work for the Ball State Radio Network as the voice of Ball State women’s basketball.
At this stage in my career, now nine years into it since my first broadcast, I’ve won numerous awards including a professional Emmy, travelled across the country broadcasting games including a MAC Championship and a college football bowl game. I even sat court side during the Duke-Louisville NCAA Tournament game in 2013 where Kevin Ware, well, um… “Kevin Wared” his leg.
I’ve interviewed some of the biggest names and personalities in sports such as Craig Sager, Tom Brady, Coach K, Doris Burke, Paul George just to name a few. I even autographed a few Vans Warped Tour tickets for some fans that thought I was a part of punk rock band one time (if I fail to mention this story, please remind me because it is hilarious). Each of those moments came coupled alongside a “How in the hell did I get here?” moment.
I list none of those out of arrogance or an attempt to brag or boast. In fact, I’m a firm believer accomplishments are more a reflection of your teachers and mentors who invested time and hours into you rather than a reflection of yourself.
But those names, awards and stories above are the foundation for a new blog series entitled “Here we are, Tasmanian Tigers and all” (more to come eventually on the name). Yes, we’ll get to all of those names and stories above including the time I tripped Tracy Wolfson at the NCAA Tournament (I hope to God she doesn’t remember that one).
The goal of this blog series is to share my journey through this industry. I at no point want this to be seen as a “how to broadcast” or “how to do play-by-play” guide.
First of all, I’m a fresh-out of college, 22-year-old, mid major women’s basketball broadcaster. Let’s start by calling a spade, a spade. I’m still in the learning phase and the very bottom of the totem pole in this industry. I’m in no position to be writing a “how to” on anything other than maybe “how to barely skim by a world religions class.” I think I may be able to offer some sound advice there, but then again so could several other classmates of mine.
Secondly, this is a subjective business with a million different ways to achieve the exact same end product of a broadcast going over airwaves.
Instead, this is more just an exchange of stories, interactions, thoughts and ideas about play-by-play. Maybe, for someone younger, searching for a potential career, hearing how I found a career in broadcasting may inspire you to consider a career in broadcasting yourself. Or maybe some of these stories may encourage someone to give play-by-play a try.
For those just starting in the industry at the high school or college level, this can be some insight on what to expect. Maybe? Maybe not?
For those older and far more established within the industry, potentially it’s a relatable flash back. For those on the outside looking in, perhaps it’s a different perspective you’ve never considered or an interesting story?
However you relate, I want to just make it very explicit this is not a “how to.” If you’re after one of those, there are far more credible sources out there.
Yes, I plan on a few of these blogs to dive into concepts, communication theories and play-by-play fundamentals. I certainly want to share knowledge, critiques, and advice passed down to me from far more credible broadcasters. But again this isn’t supposed to be perceived as me telling anyone how to navigate the industry or how the job is done.
Eventually someday down the road (hopefully not anytime soon) I would like to write a book about the industry with my experiences and stories. My father has been in a long process of authoring a book about Christian apologetics. Watching him teach classes over the years on the topic and outline book chapters has slowly developed this idea that someday I would enjoy going through the same process.
Maybe this blog series can provide some rough drafts and a basic framework to a larger piece later on that I can hand to my grandkids and say, “here’s my story.” Also I think every play-by-play person will claim a way to improve your play-by-play is to become a better writer.
If you understand how the words and the language work together in the written form, it will make the impromptu spoken form that much smoother and more digestible when communicated. So it’s also a chance for me to improve my writing skills.
The Journey Begins
So let me begin in this first edition, by answering my original question… “How in the hell did I get here, how did I find a career in this business?”
Well, it is somewhat funny how I found a career in sports broadcasting. I credit my grandparents, a local high school basketball star and my parents. The combination of every successful career, I know.
I grew up in a small town of Pendleton, Indiana of about 4,000 people. Located northeast of Indianapolis, the bedroom community was known for being the home of a prison. Talk about exciting… a prison. However, I love that place and everything about it.
Friday and Saturday nights of the winter were spent in high school gymnasiums watching our local high school team play basketball. That team? The Pendleton Heights Arabians.
Summer nights were spent playing hoops in the driveway with the neighbors and a spotlight illuminating the court just enough to see. All of us idolized the players of Pendleton, and boy did they have some good ones back in those days. Austin Taylor, Keith Atkinson, Jake Lewis, Indiana All-Stars Vaughn Duggins and of course Nick Rogers (who lived down the street and the older brother of my best friend, Rick… more on him eventually as well).
It was in those summer night driveway games we did our best to emulate those players and dreamed of someday suiting up in the Pendleton green and white warm-ups running out of the tunnel on a Friday night with the entire town crammed into a gym on the corner of HWY 67 and 38. I idolized everything about those guys. So much so, that I had the entire team autograph my basketball shoes one year. My mom was so thrilled, I’m sure when I came home with my shoes autographed by a bunch of 17-year-olds.
Neither of my parents grew up with a sports background. My dad being from Iowa was actually more of an outdoorsman who lived for hunting season and days spent on the Mississippi River fishing with my grandpa. There is a part of me who has always wondered whether he is disappointed I never took as strong a liking to the outdoors.
My mom grew up a town over from Pendleton in the heart of high school basketball country. She herself never played sports growing up, and was in fact cut from the high school basketball team when she tried out. It’s probably a good thing she was cut, because I can confidently say that the Highland Lady Scots probably wouldn’t have been very good.
She does however tell some great stories, that I grew to appreciate, about the Anderson basketball sectional and the famed Wigwam from the 1980s. I really appreciated them when I took a class during college over the history of Indiana high school basketball
Reflecting back on my upbringing, I still to this day, have no real explanation as to why I developed a love for sports. It was never once forced upon me, nor something I grew up being taught to love. I played little league baseball for four years growing up, and was fairly good. Made the all-star team, but hated every minute of it.
My mom wouldn’t allow me to swim in the neighbor’s pool during the summer if I had practice or a game that day. Circle more than five days in a summer that baseball leaves open, please. It just isn’t going to happen. So for that reason, I hated it, because I wanted to swim with my friends.
It also probably didn’t help that as an 8-year-old, I developed a bad case of the shingles. Yes, 8-years-old with a bad case of shingles because my all-stars coach was so intense I couldn’t deal with the stress of playing under him for a summer. It so was intense, someone threatened to divorce their husband in our dugout.
Needless to say after that summer, I hung up the bat and my baseball career was over. I resented the sport for so many years never picking up a glove, never attending a single game, never watching any games or anything.
The Passion is Born
A few years later, I was three years into Boy Scouts when my mom signed me up for a youth basketball league. Faced with a dilemma whether to make the weekly scout meeting or basketball practice, I chose to shoot hoops over learning to tie knot and start fires. Again, I wonder now looking back if that started a line of disappointments for my Dad that I’d rather be at a game than on a river fishing or in a field hunting?
In fact, he’ll probably be disappointed when he reads this that I used the words hell and pissing right off the top. He’s always been on me about upholding a positive image, and carrying myself like a strong Christian man. It’s how I was raised.
It was around that time my family started attending every Pendleton basketball game. I had met a heavyset neighbor kid who was a year older than me named Rick. Shortly after meeting him, we became best friends. He lived around the corner. My house was his house, and his house was my house.
Rick’s older brother, Nick, was in my eyes a walking goliath. He was 6-foot-9 and well over 250 pounds. His basketball career was just beginning at Pendleton as the starting center of the Arabians. I knew Nick well, but always saw him as this walking celebrity that happened to be Rick’s older brother. So, my family through my friendship with Rick went to every basketball game, home and away in support.
We loved going as a family. I loved watching Nick play. My little sister, Molly (a ton more about her eventually) was infatuated with the Arabian horse mascot, and it was cheap entertainment for my parents. Some games I would keep stats on my program, other games I would run around with friends.
I loved every minute of those games. Some games my friends and I would start our own cheering block very similar to the student section down toward the front adjacent to theirs.
Attending the high school basketball games on a Friday and Saturday night was the highlight of my week. I can vividly remember Pendleton beating county-rival Frankton at the buzzer of a regular season game and an angry Frankton fan sprinting across the gymnasium floor to take a swing with his fist at the clock operator because he thought he had short-handed Frankton on a few seconds. He would shortly after be escorted out the door by two police and arrested (if anyone knows this man, I would love to meet him, and do an interview with him about that).
Or how about the game when the under-sized Alexandria Tigers double-teamed Nick the entire game to the point he looked like a tenderloin sandwich where the bread was way too small to hold the tenderloin.
I’m pretty confident Pendleton won that game as well, if I can remember correctly.
Bob Lamey & Church
I never grew up watching college basketball games on TV.
In fact, it wasn’t until nearly middle school my family finally started subscribing to cable television. We often watched the Pacers and Colts games, but outside of that we mainly just went to high school basketball games.
I think it was because we didn’t have a team to cheer for at the college level. My mom went to Indiana State for a year and half. But how were we going to watch those games?
My dad graduated from Iowa State with an engineering degree and also received his master’s from there. But, he never attended sporting events in college due to his demanding engineering studies and work hours at the school cafeteria trying to afford his tuition serving bowls of chili.
After Pendleton games my family would sprint out to the car to hear the post game interview on the radio during the drive home with Coach Joe Buck (No, not the FOX Sports broadcaster, different Joe Buck). That was my first exposure to radio broadcasting.
Pendleton students broadcasted the games on the student radio station, 91.7 WEEM (much, much more to come on WEEM in the next blog). I never heard any of the actual play-by-play because we were always at the game, but we always caught the post game interviews. There were some home games where we would pull into the garage and the interview would still be going on since we only lived two miles from the gym. We would stay in the car with the car running until the interview ended. We had to hear what Coach Buck thought of the offense and Nick’s 15 rebounds that night.
On Sunday’s we went to church. Our church was actually across from my mom’s high school in the neighboring city. A good thirty minute drive from home to church, we had a bit of a commute every week. My mom has always been a very outgoing, social, talkative type. So it was common for us to leave church 15, 30, 45 minutes, even an hour after service ended on any given Sunday since she enjoyed standing around talking with family friends.
Church let out around noon. The Colts kicked off at 1 p.m. Several weeks we would have to catch the first few possessions of the game on the radio during the drive home since we were late getting out. Thanks Mom. At the time, nothing frustrated me more than my mom talking after service and causing us to miss the start of the Colts game, but now I think it was a good thing that happened so often.
The Colts broadcaster at the time was Bob Lamey. Still is to this day.
I loved listening to him say, “Marvin goes wide to the right, Reggie comes left. Manning from the gun on second down.” It was as if I could picture the game from what he was saying. It was incredible. I can remember thinking, “this is that man’s job to sit at the game and call it. Wow, that is incredible.”
My grandparents on my mom’s side lived out by our church (or as I referred to them as “Mam and Pap”). During the winter months Mam and Pap moved down to Florida to escape the cold Indiana weather, and would return each year around Easter. They were far bigger Colts fans than we were, and I credit most of our Colts fandom as a family to their faithful following.
One problem, when they went down to Florida, they couldn’t get the Colts games on TV. Most Sundays the local team such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, or Jacksonville Jaguars aired over the top.
So, after church I would call them, sit in front of the television, and broadcast the game to them over the phone as if I was Bob Lamey. I’m sure those had to be just horrible calls with very little description and my verb tensing totally incorrect. I wish somewhere a recording of those existed, but they unfortunately (or fortunately, depends upon your viewpoint) do not exist. But, anyway I just took what I had heard from listening to Bob Lamey on the trips home from church, and figured I can do this too.
Plus, it gave me a chance to talk to Mam and Pap on the phone during the commercial breaks. It was really difficult when the Colts played on Sunday Night Football because the games started so late and it was a school night. Many of those games consisted of me falling asleep on the couch between plays attempting to articulate them back to my grandparents. They were usually out of telephone play-by-play guy by about the second quarter.
Luckily for them the Colts were the only game on TV during Sunday and Monday nights since it was primetime. So therefore they could watch the rest of the game by themselves in peace without their grandson yelling at them through the phone about a bad call the officials made against the Colts. But this became habit for several years.
It was also around that time, my little sister, Molly, began playing youth basketball. Since basketball season was during the winter, my grandparents missed most of our games away in Florida. So during Molly’s game I would call them on my mom’s cell phone, go sit at the top of the bleachers and call my sister’s youth basketball league game to them over the phone. That too was habit for several years and as I ventured into broadcasting, I’m sure those calls got progressively better. But as I got older the less I wanted to do them because I just felt awkward.
Welcome to High School
During those years, I never considered broadcasting as a potential career.
But, those years served as some of the best building blocks and foundations for a future career and I had no idea.
At this stage in my life, I thought I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become an engineer. My strongest subjects growing up were always math and science. I always struggled in English and reading. I was wired to think like my dad with a very analytical brain, which really helped when the idea of prep was introduced to me.
I also loved theme parks, so the idea of studying engineering and physics to eventually become a roller coaster engineer or theme park ride designer seemed very appealing to me. And in all honesty, there are several days I wish I had carried out that dream because it still sounds just as appealing.
That dream however faded away quickly in November of 2008 when I had my first, “How in the hell did I get here” moment in broadcasting.
Just before that fall, I enrolled as a high school freshman into beginning broadcasting at Pendleton Heights High School. It was my Dad’s idea.
Since my report card usually consisted of straight As and one blemishing B in English, he thought enrolling me in radio might be a unique way for me to get better at English and maybe I might enjoy it? Little did he know what that decision would entail at that time.
Allow me to formally introduce to you: WEEM, Chad Smith, Jered Petrey and hands down the worst on-air debut in the history of on-air debuts.
Talk about awkward. That’s where we’ll start next time.
Tyler Bradfield is a play-by-play broadcaster on ESPN3, the Ball State Radio Network, and an Emmy Award Winner. As the graduate assistant of Ball State Sports Link, Tyler will be contributing his “Boradcaster’s Journey” blog special to Chirp City in 2017. Follow @Bradfield323 and @bsusportslink on Twitter.