A little before noon on Oct. 25, 14 Robbinsville High School students left school early, and headed to the school’s football field.
There, they joined a professor and a handful of students from Mercer County Community College to begin the grueling 7-hour preparation process for a live sports broadcast.
That night, they broadcasted the Robbinsville-Lawrence football game, and everything had to be assembled from scratch. They had to clean mounds of dead ants from the press box table, lay cables, set up the live truck, test shots, audio and more.
“We just laughed so hard when we were cleaning the press box,” Robbinsville High junior Frank Cettina said. “So many ants. It was gross, but super funny and I really enjoyed spending time with my friends doing something I loved.”
During set-up, students grabbed pizza and discussed future plans in production with their professor, Hamilton resident Steve Voorhees. By 7:30 p.m., the students took to the screens to produce a full sports game, led by director Ashlyn Moreen, a Hamilton resident and MCCC student.
The production included graphics, instant replay, sideline reporters and announcers. Although they couldn’t broadcast the game live due to poor wifi connection, the team ran the game as if it was live and posted it later to MCTV YouTube channel.
“Some of the highlights of my experience that night was getting the chance to watch the game from the sidelines with a camera on my shoulder, filming my fellow classmates play football,” Robbinsville High senior Owen Kuhn said. “I also enjoyed laughing with my friends in the studio truck every now and then at Professor Levy’s amazing commentary with some jokes here and there during the game.”
Classmate Jordyn David added, “Some of my other classmates were really nervous before kickoff, but I was really excited. My favorite part was being a tech director for the first half.”
The production is a product of a partnership between Mercer County Community College and Robbinsville High School. Three years ago, the institutions created a dual program for students interested in film, TV and new media. As part of the students’ multi-camera class, they get to produce one live event in the community. This year, it was the Oct. 25 Robbinsville-Lawrence football game.
“It started at a high school breakfast we had for counselors here at Mercer,” Voorhees said. At the end of the presentation, Robbinsville High counselor Laurie Rotondo went up to Voorhees and threw her hat into the ring. The rest is history.
This year, the 14 RHS students bus over to MCCC four days a week to take college-level production and film classes. They actually began classes at MCCC a few weeks before their RHS classmates in the fall.
On Monday and Wednesday, the students take screenwriting. Thursday and Friday, they are in multi-camera production. They have Tuesdays off, where their fourth block turns into a study hall. In January, with the new semester, the students will take two new classes: single camera production and a cinematography history class.
Before the final bell rings, the students are on a bus back to RHS so they can participate in extracircular activities. The students eat their lunches around noon on the yellow school bus they take over to the college.
“I went into college liking science and thinking I was going into computer science,” Cettina said. “But I went to the orientation for this program and fell in love with it. And to be honest I still haven’t taken that computer science class I thought I would like so much.”
As an active member of the RHS drama club, David found her passion for production after her numerous experiences acting.
“For me, it started in theater and then I want into film,” she said. Her philosophy on why she chose to partake is simple: “The more people that can see it, the more people that are affected by it and I think that’s just a great way to reach people is to film for TV.”
Kuhn has wanted to partake in this program for as long as he can remember. After learning from a friend what the program was about he was hooked.
“I have been in love with television and film production ever since I was a little kid and this is what I am going to college for and hoping to have a career in one day,” he said.
What Voorhees is most impressed is the quality of work his students produce.
“This program shows how serious the students are,” he said. “Think about it, they are high school level kids doing incredible college level work.”
Voorhees wants to ensure the students are comfortable in any production position, so they learn everything from technical directing to audio and everything inbetween. Gradually the students were introduced to the camera equipment and eventually the mobile production unit, which was donated to MCCC by PVI Virtual Media Services.
Prior to teaching, Voorhees produced nightly sports cast for PHL17 for two years after graduating from Rider. Then, he went on to get his master’s at Temple University, where as a teaching assistant he fell in love with teaching and went to Robert Morris University as the school’s television production coordinator. A year later, in 2004, he started teaching at MCCC, and he’s been there ever since.
Aside from teaching today he also produces and voices a podcast called “Inside the Box: The TV History Podcast.” In the past, he’s worked in video production with the Philadelphia Eagles, Trenton Thunder and various freelance jobs from MLB events to the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade. On top of all of that, he’s almost finished his doctoral degree in media studies at Rutgers University.
Voorhees clearly had the right experience to bring a sports production to life.
Despite Robbinsville High losing the game, Cettina, Kuhn and David said they enjoyed being able to work on something they had such a passion for. Minor hiccups like a band member tripping over a loose wire on the field didn’t set the students back.
Each student ran different positions each half. The entire production was student-run, and Voorhees made a point to stand back and let his students fall into a groove.
The major improvement for next time? To broadcast it live. This is in the works, Voorhees said.
“What’s most important is that this is not just for a grade,” Voorhees said. “There’s meaning behind theory and practice…and that’s what this is.”