This has been a year of 10 year anniversaries for me and WIWU-TV. 10 years at IWU and the TV station last summer, 10 years of the Crossroads newsmagazine last October, and 10 years now of covering the NAIA National Championship tournaments.
It was 2006 and the IWU women’s team was going back to the NAIA tournament, several years into what is now a 14 year run. I said to our TV staff, “Why don’t we go and see if there’s some stuff we can cover out there?” We really didn’t know what that meant. I had experience as a news reporter and had been to one other NAIA tournament so I thought we could shoot a few game stories for TV. The rest, we just kind of made up as we went.
We started with 1 minute, 30 second updates, video packages we put on TV during commercial breaks of our regular programming. Then we shot highlights and photos for the WIWU-TV website during the games. No game telecasts then, just whatever we could feed back via the Internet and that took all night on our hotel’s wi-fi connection (it was 2006, a lifetime ago Internet-wise, although hotel wi-fi is still just as slow)
I remember that first L-O-O-N-G drive to Sioux City, arriving just in time to attend the tournament’s opening banquet. I first met IWU Head Women’s Coach Steve Brooks that night, asking him for an interview after the banquet. I also remember his soundbite, “We keep talking about, Let’s do today (don’t worry about how many games we advanced last year or how deep of a run we can make this year). It was a better variation of the old sports cliche’, “play one game at a time,” and it stuck.
From those humble beginnings – myself and one student, Ryan Dunigan – we stepped it up the next year with two TV coverage “teams” and this time we had to figure out how to be two places at once because the men’s program under Coach Greg Tonagel was competing at the national level in just his second year.
I learned to navigate Branson, Missouri’s traffic that year, how to produce our new coaches show “Wildcat Week” in some…uh…interesting locations, and that you can get from Branson to Sioux City in less than a day, if it means a chance to watch one of your teams stay through the weekend and compete in the national championship game. By the way, the women won it all that year, and again in 2013. WIWU-TV was there, both times, and again in 2014 when the men owned the court in Branson.
How many professors or communication students get a court side seat at their university’s national championship? We tell our students covering these teams may be the hardest week of their semester – and most of them usually give up Spring Break to be here. But covering the excellence of these programs is also a privilege and it’s now one of our signature WIWU-TV events.
Here we are, 10 years later. Our TV coverage team now includes 10-15 staff and students. The games air live on television and we produce our own pre-game and halftime shows live from the arena and put a new Wildcat Week together every day.
We document almost every step the athletes take in and around the tournament adding Facebook, Twitter, iPhones and 4K cameras. And, we still take photos and do those 1 min, 30 second updates. It’s a big(ger) deal, a huge commitment and most of us can’t remember this thing called “Spring Break,” just like the student athletes we cover.
There’s something about excellence on the court that makes you raise your game to match it. And it’s more than basketball. Both of these programs keep going back to the national tournaments because of their character – a commitment to quality that is their service to God. All teams have gifted athletes. These IWU teams have purpose. That inspires us to keep coming back for long drives, long edit sessions, long nights and hoping for a long run, because winning means staying and playing.
So, thanks for the memories and the privilege, Wildcats. We know you’re not done yet, but don’t get caught looking back on past accomplishments. These games await…LET’S DO TODAY!