WEST ORANGE, NJ - (Editor's Note: West Orange High School Tap Team reporter Evan Easterling visited Write on Sports Camp at Montclair State University on July 10. Easterling is a former student of the sports writing program, and this is his first person article.)
July 10 was a very interesting day for me. For one, it was one of the few times that I have woken up early this summer. But it was also exciting. I was going to the ADP Technology Center in University Hall on the campus of Montclair State University to attend Write on Sports’ fourth day of camp. I realized I was doing more than visiting the camp in preparation for this article. I was going back to a place where I spent three of my summers. I was going to see old faces. I was going back to a place that is special to me.
When I arrived, the students were doing something that I had done in the past, preparing for an interview. Past Write on Sports interviews have included ESPN’s Chris Broussard and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, both of whom are Write on Sports board members. Students were preparing to interview Doug Doyle, who hosts SportsJam with Doug Doyle on Wednesday nights at 7:30 pm on WGBO Radio, and Akin Shoyoye, a Nigerian-born track athlete who attended Seton Hall Prep and recently graduated from Rutgers-Newark. Shoyoye was the second track athlete the students would interview that week. Vince Cartier, who held the record for the fastest indoor mile in an all-scholastic race for 38 years, visited Write on Sports earlier that week.
Before the students would get their chance to interview Shoyoye and Doyle, Doyle conducted a model interview with Shoyoye to demonstrate interviewing techniques and what kind of questions to ask. Throughout the interview, the students gained information about Shoyoye that they could use for their articles. They learned that the man that sat before them moved from Nigeria to Newark, but never lost his culture which is still reflected by the food he eats at home. They learned that Akin started his collegiate career at UMass as a Nutrition major, but transferred to Rutgers Newark as an aspiring journalist. They even learned what shoes Shoyoye buys for competitions.
After Doug Doyle’s interview with Akin Shoyoye, it was the students’ turn. Students raised their hands, stood, and delivered their questions in a press conference-style format. Then the students asked questions in a locker room format. Doyle moved to one corner of the room, while Shoyoye remained in the center of the room. After the last questions had been asked, the children went outside. It was exactly as I remembered. But why change what works?
The program has gained support in the community and from journalists like Doug Doyle. “It is a worthwhile program that gets kids excited about writing and researching,” said Doyle.
However, the most tangible benchmark of the success of the program is the interest and smiles on the faces of the kids.
Write on Sports was founded in 2005 by Byron Yake, a former sports writer in Pittsburgh for the Associated Press who later was Sports Editor and senior executive of the AP in New York. In its ninth year, the program has grown from its inception at the Yogi Berra Museum into a program beginning to develop a national presence.
In addition to the camp at Montclair State, there are camps in Roselle Park, NJ, Hawthorne, NJ, Clifton, NJ, Newark, NJ at St. Benedicts Prep and Rutgers, Goshen, IN, and Central Falls, RI. This is the first year for the camp in Rhode Island and the first year that the camp at Montclair State has been opened up to Orange and East Orange students as well as West Orange students. The camps are free for students accepted into the program.
Andy Beutel, a seventh grade social studies teacher in Mahwah, is in his fourth year as the lead teacher at the Montclair State camp and in his eighth year with Write on Sports. Beutel’s first impressions of the program were favorable.
“I loved the idea. Anytime students can write about a topic of interest, it improves literacy skills in a way that is fun.”
Each of the students from West Orange, Orange, East Orange, and Montclair at the Montclair State Camp learns interviewing techniques and completes a video story, print feature story, and blog during the two week span. The camp at Montclair State University took place from July 7-18th and included guest athletes and journalists as well as a New Jersey Jackals game on the July 16.
After the first year of the program, changes were made. Educators were brought in and a curriculum was implemented. The curriculum was written primarily by Dr. Erik Jacobson, an associate professor at Montclair State and a program director at the Newark camps. In addition, partnerships were formed with the West Orange and Newark public school districts.
Write on Sports not only has a concept of enhancing writing skills by giving students an opportunity to write about a topic they like, but it also uses an individualized approach. Beutel mentioned that when he teaches in public school there is a challenge with a student-teacher ratio of 25:1. However, in Write on Sports there are 6 teachers to 25 students.
As the lead teacher, Beutel helps new teachers and interns understand the philosophy and approach and at the end of each day he leads a reflective discussion with the staff, which at the Montclair State camp includes Kathy Jackson, a teacher in the West Orange district, and former Liberty Middle School principal John Vogler.
I asked Beutel about one of Write on Sports’ challenges as it expands: As Write on Sports expands how will it keep its philosophy while keeping each program unique?
Beutel credits the teacher prep run by Dr. Jacobson with giving the teachers the ability to grasp the curriculum but also have input.
“The same goals are there – video story, print feature story, blog, but as teachers it’s our job to put our spin on it, make decisions on the fly, and cater the instruction to the students you have,” says Beutel.
As the program expands, I asked Beutel where he could see the program developing and he responded resoundingly with, “Anywhere. It is a program that is beneficial to students across the country.”
To find out more about Write on Sports, visit their website at writeonsports.org.