Nine students in the Grady Sports Media program spent Maymester covering all angles of the 2017 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships May 18-29, 2017, at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Working with the University of Georgia Sports Communications in three-hour shifts, the students served in a variety of roles ranging from gathering quotes for press releases and writing match recaps or feature stories, to creating infographics and videos for social media.
“They’re getting a full glimpse of what it’s like to do media relations for a large sporting event,” said Carlo Finlay, academic adviser for the Sports Media Certificate program, who taught the class for the first time. “I think the students like the fact that every day they come here, they’re on a different assignment. So it’s never boring.”
“This is one of the biggest NCAA Championships in the country, so it’s a lot of work and you couldn’t do it without a huge staff,” said Tray Littlefield, assistant sports communications director for UGA men’s tennis. “The Grady students being here was invaluable for us.”
Much of the students’ work appeared on GeorgiaDogs.com, though many of the quotes they gathered and the stories they wrote also were shared with sports information directors around the country.
The students showed a willingness to help with any task needed, according to Littlefield, even helping clear the courts of rain, which flooded the complex for several days.
“It’s been funny—kind of entertaining—but I now know how to dry off a tennis court,” joked public relations senior Jackie Kinney. Though she knew little about tennis before the championships, Kinney said she learned quickly on the job.
“We actually get immediate, hands-on experience,” she said. “It’s certainly more fun than any other class I could’ve taken.”
Another unique aspect of covering the championships was the access the students had to the athletes, Finlay said. They were able to interview players within minutes of the end of a match, and often had time to delve into a longer line of questioning. This access led to interesting feature stories, such as an article written by Vira Halim about the University of North Carolina’s Blaine “Bo” Boyden that was published in the News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“His mom actually was diagnosed with cancer for the second time this year,” explained Halim, a rising junior. She first learned about Bo’s story and the #BoydenStrong movement while covering tennis in Grady SportsSource. “When Bo clinched the point for UNC in the semis, I was like, wait a minute! So I asked him about that and he was incredible to talk to.”
The Maymester class further solidified her decision to study journalism, Halim said.
“I think we all go through the mid-college crisis…but I think this has been very reaffirming,” she said. “All of us have been able to build relationships with sports information directors from other schools, parents of players, the players themselves. Just to see this level of competition has been amazing, and I think this is my new favorite sport.”
Allie Bailey, a senior and club tennis player at UGA, remembers attending the championships with her dad when she was middle school. She jumped at the chance to cover the event as an aspiring journalist.
“As soon as I heard about this class, I wanted to do it,” Bailey said. “I finished the certificate program last semester, but I wanted to check out what the PR side is like, because I’m usually a journalist.”
Kinney, who hopes to have a career in communications for a professional baseball team one day, will work as a graduate intern for UGA Sports Communications beginning this July. She said she feels well prepared for her future, thanks to the Grady Sports Media program.
“These classes have prepared me most for what I’d like to do,” Kinney said. “Professor [Vicki] Michaelis has been incredible with what she’s taught me—the professionalism and how to carry yourself.”
More information about the Grady Sports Media program is at Gradysportscertificate.wordpress.com.