By David Boyce
In the final seconds just before halftime, Liberty North freshman Ripley Knold pointed her midcourt camera at senior Michael Hughes, who had the basketball at the free throw line. Hughes let go of a shot that was 75 feet away from the Eagles’ basket. These shots are attempted by basketball players in high school, college, and the pros all the time. Over 95 percent of the time, they bang off the backboard. At this February 12 home game against Fort Osage, the ball had a nice trajectory, and it swished through the nets for one of those once-in-a-lifetime shots. Knold followed the ball through the net, and once it went in, she quickly went back to Hughes to capture his reaction.
“It was unbelievable he made the shot, let alone we were able to capture it,” Knold said. “My dad tells me I have an instinct for it. I did what I normally do.”
What Knold captured in a high school basketball game was equivalent to a college junior or senior, seasoned on hundreds of games through broadcast class and internships.
“Ripley did an amazing job. Like she said in her interview, she didn’t expect it to go in, but she followed it anyway, because we told her to follow all her shots,” Liberty North broadcast teacher Jennifer Higgins said. “She did what she was told - to immediately go back and follow Michael for several seconds to get his immediate reaction and to follow him all the way into the locker room. It was definitely a heads up move on her part.”
The story doesn’t end there. Far more people than the ones who watch Liberty North student broadcasts of Liberty North basketball games were able to watch it. Instead of thousands, it was millions when it made ESPN’s Friday night Top 10 Plays of the Day. Behind the scenes, Liberty North sophomore Chandler Seroogy was on the tape machine and saved it on the Newtek 425 replay system.
“Pretty much the whole room went crazy,” Seroogy said. “The whole room was like screaming and throwing their hands up. Everybody was excited.”
The Liberty North broadcast students would have been perfectly happy that they captured the remarkable shot for their viewers and leave it at that, but John Sprugel, co-owner of Niles Media Group, felt the shot was worthy of ESPN. Niles Media Group works with students in Liberty Public Schools interested in broadcasting. Due to their help, many head to the University of Missouri and other schools with valuable experience in broadcasting.
“We have the best facility and the best equipment in the city for sure. Liberty Public Schools and Niles Media Group have made sure we have what we need and when we need it,” Higgins said.
At the moment of the shot, Knold never dreamed it would be on ESPN.
“I had the headset on when they told me,” she said. “I thought they were joking, so I laughed at them.”
To Seroogy, the thought that what they did on a Friday evening in Liberty would appear on ESPN’s Sports Center was almost too much to grasp.
“After we cleaned everything up, we got the guarantee it was going to be on the Top 10,” Seroogy said. “It was disbelief. It was actually on Sports Center!”
It not only made the midnight airing of ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Day, it was the No. 2 Play of the Day.
“I stayed up all night to see it. I was super excited,” Knold said.
Higgins was obviously happy for the students to get that kind of reward for their diligent work.
“It was super cool for the students to be able to see their shot on ESPN,” Higgins said.
What the Liberty North broadcasting students captured was not an accident or luck. All it takes is to spend several minutes in the broadcast room at Liberty North, just before Eagle Hour and during Eagle Hour, to see the energy and excitement from students as they learn the craft of putting together a daily broadcast for Liberty North students. Thirty-two students are in the beginning broadcast class, and 30 are in the advanced class.
“We film it third hour, and then it is on YouTube,” Seroogy said. “We make feature stories, student spotlight, informational, and funny stories sometimes. We did a recap of 2015 at the beginning of this year.”
They are telling the story of their school year. Higgins also teaches newspaper and has 30 students who work to put out eight editions during the school year.
“It’s a changing medium,” Higgins said. “We do a lot online. They love designing. We still enjoy putting out a print paper. I think the students here like getting a print paper.”
Next year, there will be a new class at Liberty North called sports media.
“It is going to be a hybrid class of true broadcast and true newspaper,” Higgins said. “They will learn to cover sports from all mediums - print articles, website, and doing stories for the broadcast.”
As the media continues to change, Liberty North is making sure its students are prepared for it as they head off to college.
“It is definitely hands-on experience,” Higgins said. “They can go straight from here to MU, or any journalism program they want to go into, and make a difference right away. We are teaching them the skills they need, for sure. They are hands down way above students in other districts.”
Not every student in the Liberty North broadcasting program will pursue it in college and make it a career, but while at Liberty North, they will learn plenty about the world of journalism.
“I hope they learn to be curious and ask questions,” Higgins said. “That is the skill of any good journalist. I hope they learn ethics. Just because you can run a story, or print a story, doesn’t mean you should. You need to think about who you are covering. I would hope they would be good people. That is something I try to teach them.”