October 23, 2014

ESPN rolls into town for ‘Blazer game

Amy Cunningham
acunningham@gardnernews.com

ESPN, Kan. —  ESPN employees will spend Thursday and Friday readying the District Activites Complex to broadcast live the football game between the Gardner EdgertonTrailblazers and the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints, but preparations for telivising the match-up started over a month ago.

According to Dan Margulis, Director of Programming and Acquisitions at ESPN, talks between the school district and the television production team likely started back in late August, culminating with a stadium visit in September by a member of the ESPN crew to fully assess the appropriate set-up for their needs. The television station will bring in special lighting and broadcasting equipment.

Gardner Edgerton High School football coach Marvin Diener said that a dialogue between the school and ESPN actually started last spring.

“There was contact made between us and ESPN as early as April, as far as us being a candidate for one of the games,” Diener recalled. “Then,  probably it was late July before we realized we were one of the top games that they were pursuing. And then, it was the second week of school that the dates (for the game to be broadcast) were confirmed.”

Chips must fall correctly into place in order to be selected to appear on the network, which shows between 16 and 20 high school games a season. Margulis said that ESPN considers many factors when deciding on which games to televise.

“We when we look at scheduling our high school football games we look for, since we’re predominately a college network, we follow recruits and players that people have heard about,” he said. “We want to get great local rivalries, to get great stories and a flair for the community. All those things made that made this game, with the great rivalry, with a player like (GE’s Bubba) Starling and St. Thomas also has a player, a running back who is highly recruited. All those things promised this would be a great game.”

Veteran play-by-play announcer Justin Kutcher, who has been with ESPN for two years, and color analyst Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s National Director for Recruiting, will arrive in town Thursday to begin conducting interviews and putting together packages that will appear throughout the broadcast.

“For a high school game we will get player info from the school, then we have a conference call with each head coach where the entire production crew is on the call. We’ll learn the x’s and o’s of the team, the key players and we’ll get into details and learn the personal stuff,” Kutcher explained. “We find out as much as we can about players, schools, teams, any traditions they might have. And then, once the broadcast begins it’s just calling football.”

An east coast native, Kutcher looks forward to each game he calls.
“Growing up in the northeast, college and high school football weren’t that big,” he said. “But to come to a town and see eight, nine, ten thousand people show up is amazing. I think what’s special about high school football is the way the community gets involved. It isn’t just parents or students, it’s people from the town, and they come out and they’re dressed in the school’s colors.

They know the players’ names and it is just so cool to see.”
Kutcher was surprised to learn that the Gardner Mayor proclaimed the city be called ESPN, Kan. on Friday, Oct. 22, but hopes that provides an additional element to the buzz surrounding what is being touted as the most anticipated game in Trailblazer history.

“I hope it gets everybody excited for the game and that we get a great turnout,” he said. “When you broadcast a game and you have a loud boisterous crowd, and there is electricity in the crowd that surrounds the game it can’t help but bleed into the broadcast. You get caught up in it, and we feed off the crowd just like the players feed off the crowd.”

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