After years of broadcasting football games on the radio, The Westminster Schools wanted to expand its media options. The next natural step was video, which led to the creation of WCAT TV seven years ago. Broadcast over the internet, the station launched with two cameras and the goal of following just home football games.
After the first broadcast, the coverage ramped up with five cameras covering every home and away game. By the end of its initial year, the station had covered more than 125 events.
Since then, the station has steadily increased its professionalism level, so much so that it recently earned an Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Science’s Southeast Chapter for the best overall school broadcast that is part of the National Federation of High Schools Network with more than 1,500 members in 48 states.
This wasn’t the first honor for WCAT TV and the approximately 55 students it takes to run the station.
“This was our first overall school broadcast award, but since we started, we’ve picked up eight awards in different categories and about six or seven honorable mentions,” said Daniel Searl, the station’s faculty advisor. “This is all done with a core group of about 15 to 20 students, with another 35 or more from across the school and a few alumni who help out.”
And the students put on the broadcasts without hours of behind-the-scenes training.
“This is considered an extracurricular; there is not a class associated with WCAT,” said Searl. “Students put in the time by their own by choice. They learn on the job. They learn how to be on camera by being in front of the camera. I tell them it will be kind of awkward, but they’ll be better next time. There’s a lot of screaming and laughing at first, but for many of them, it becomes a varsity sport.”
Senior Bennett Porson started working with the station after his sophomore year with no expectations of what he’d learn, and he is now the director. Last fall, he was part of the Westminster coterie that traveled to Ireland where the varsity football team opened its 2016 season.
“I didn’t know what I’d get out of it until I was in it,” said the Buckhead resident who is headed to the journalism program at UGA in the fall. “But I was always into sports and sitting on the couch watching the Dawgs play. I never thought of working with or covering sports, but I’ve found I have a passion for this side of things.”
Junior Ryan Costley has been part of the station’s crew for three years. “I started helping out in any way I could,” he said. “One winter, I was one of three people who showed up to work a basketball game, and Mr. Searl just put me in headphones. This past year, I’ve had my biggest role in calling live sports. “It’s definitely something I want to stay with.”
One part of the program that has not improved drastically is its equipment. “For the first four or five years, the station was boxes of stuff squeezed into my office that we trucked to the gym or assembly space,” said Searl. “A few years ago, we finally got our own space, but it’s still not a truly outfitted studio. We just make do with what we’ve got.”
To qualify for the Emmy recognition, schools had to cover home and away games for more than five different sports and to go above and beyond in overall quality.
“The students have developed the station into a major sports broadcast with six to seven cameras and replay,” said Searl. “Most of time, the students step up and deliver at a high level.”
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