When watching or listening to football, basketball or any other sport event online, how often do you take the time to think about the broadcasting team that is producing the sport event for audiences across America? But imagine that this broadcasting is being achieved by high school students.
That’s exactly what’s happening from a small team of 16 students at Selah High School who are part of what’s called “Thor’s Network,” which is named after Selah’s Viking mascot. They carry out the work of providing livestreaming of their own school’s sports events, high school state championships, and even Yakima SunKings basketball games.
“This class really is about video production and new media,” said Thor’s Network instructor Jeff Weeks, whose students stream events through the National Federation of State High School Associations’ NFHSNetwork.com website.
Fellow Thor’s Network instructor and Selah High School assistant principal David Gibb added: “It’s not about making money. It’s about making students industry-ready.”
Thor’s Network started after Weeks watched a Pullman High School basketball game on YouTube live, and could tell through watching that the Pullman video productions class was filming the game. Weeks believed it would be interesting for Selah to follow suit, so he spoke to Gibb and Selah High School’s career technical education director, Kasey Benjamin, about establishing a production class. Weeks and Benjamin set off for Pullman High School to learn how their new media class worked, what equipment to use, what problems the class would face, and how to manage storage for the class. Thor’s Network was launched at the start of the 2017-18 school year and, as of this writing, has provided video production for 344 events.
So what exactly does a small video production class specialize in?
“Quite a little bit,” Weeks answered. “One of the key things that we specialize in is really broadcasting for Selah High School events. Anything from a sporting event, to a band concert, to the drama production. We have our own web page. What we’re trying to capture is a day in the life of a Selah High School student.”
Students involved in Thor’s Network perform the camera work, display the game scores, and even comment on the action on the floor — most of which people can watch at the NFHS website.
“We’ve been asked to take on a number of projects by outside groups,” said Weeks, whose students have covered state volleyball at the Yakima Valley SunDome and even Yakima SunKings basketball games. “So instead of being just classwork, community groups and other things have come and asked us to do some work for them. We’ve been able to make other community connections that have brought us some other work.”
One of those connections is with Eli Sports Network, a media production company based in Centralia that specializes in providing online coverage of high school sports.
“Thor’s Network is miles ahead of regular people in this business (and) it’s a great training ground,” said Paul Beattie, the founder of Eli Sports Network, who is impressed by the Selah students’ level of understanding in their use of computers and technology when producing game coverage.
He added: “There are some nuances that they already understand. We have a lot of commercials that we run, and we have a certain format. I gave (Selah student Maleek Morfin) a format card, he read through it, (and) he figured it out in less than 10 minutes. I love that type of professionalism in young people.”
Yakima SunKings director of operations Felix DeLeon decided to reach out to Weeks about having his students cover the team’s basketball games, and said he’s heard several good comments around the league about the students’ output.
As Gibb verified: “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, in terms of how well Thor’s Network not only presents itself on air — just a level of production and professionalism that Thor’s Network is presenting itself with.”
The responsibility these students hold is more important than some might even realize. Weeks pointed out that last year’s coverage by Thor’s Network of the state basketball tournament averaged around 125 viewers per contest.
A network of impacts
The ones who are getting that footage for Thor’s Network are a blend of students who put skills they have learned into their work for the entertainment of audiences.
“We have some returning students who are veterans that know a little more than the first-year kids,” said Weeks.
Among those veterans are 17-year-old juniors Shea Mattson and Dillan Ferguson.
“It’s been one of the best decisions for classes,” said Mattson, who has been a faithful student of Thor’s Network for two years. “Basically (my job is) anything Weeks needs me to do. I try to be more available to almost all the positions at (a) broadcast.”
Ferguson similarly takes on a lot of roles and is one of the main producers. He’s learned how to manage the process that occurs during livestreams, and described his experience as “entirely positive.”
He added: “I have not had a bad day when part of this class.”
Of course, Thor’s Network also has several first-year students. Maleek Morfin, a 17-year-old senior, is responsible for doing graphic design and participates as a commentator.
“(It’s) probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I highly recommend it to other students trying to pursue something,” he said. “You can really count on your peers.”
Paul Harris, a 17-year-old junior, manages the program’s Twitter account, posting frequent updates about any games for the followers of Thor’s Network. “We do a lot of designing in class, and we make a lot of logos,” he said. “I’ve learned how to use the Tricaster, do broadcasting, (be) talent, anything you can think of.”
Reid Rasmussen, an 18-year-old senior, is one of the talented producers and a play-by-play commentator. He feels he’s learned a lot about software that’s used for producing games, and credits the responsibilities required by the class for making him more dependable.
He added: “I’ve learned a ton just by being with Weeks.”
Morfin assessed the experiences so far during his senior year this way: “Thor’s Network kind of gives me a chance to take a break away from school and kind of do some outside real-life skills. With Thor’s Network, it’s more like a real-world experience rather than sitting in a classroom all day.”
Being a student involved in Thor’s Network, the examples my classmates had shared about being in the program entirely describe my own thoughts of Thor’s Network. I’ve learned more about sports and broadcasting while in Thor’s Network. I’ve also seen examples of performing tasks in a professional manner by my instructors and partners from Eli Sports Network, which I mimic for the benefits of my later working skills. With this class, students not only inherit the knowledge of broadcasting from their teachers, they also gain the necessary experience and skills for their future life. And, maybe, they can hand down those experiences and skills to future members of Thor’s Network.
Regan Hutchinson, a junior at Selah High School, is a member of its Thor’s Network class.