MAPLEWOOD, NJ – Russell Simon and Mark Donatelli,16-year-old high school students, are local celebrities.
Simon and Donatelli started hosting “Simon Says on the Mark” on the South Orange-Maplewood local access channel in October 2010 as sophomores at Columbia High School.
Now juniors, the two say the hardest part of the show was coming up with the name.
“The name took us awhile,” Donatelli said. “His name was already ‘Simon Says.’ We thought how can I get my name in it? I’m pretty sure I came up with ‘Simon Says on the Mark.’”
The program, a sports talk show that features debates on the hottest topics in professional sports as well as live interviews, is filmed once a month for South Orange-Maplewood TV.
Simon said he had always dreamed of being a sportscaster and now it’s a reality. “It’s a passion for me,” Simon said. “Ideally in the very far future, I want to be the play-by-play broadcaster for the Jets or be a sports talk show host.”
The dream did not stop with the television show.
Last spring, Simon reached out to Seton Hall University’s student-run radio station, WSOU, to see if he could create a radio version of the show.
After not hearing from the station, he sent another email with links to his work on the Jets Nation blog, and WSOU responded with the opportunity to produce a seven-minute segment on the professional-sports talk show “From the Stands.”
“I definitely dream big,” Simon said. “I have goals for myself, like being a play-by-play announcer. Before doing the segment on WSOU, we never really talked about WSOU. Now, we’re just trying to increase our goals.”
WSOU’s sports director, David Rind, said that “the partnership has been everything I could have hoped for.“
"Russell and Mark have been tremendous additions to WSOU Sports,” Rind said. “They have brought tremendous energy and work ethic to the show, and their knowledge of sports is impressive. As high school students, Russell and Mark show real drive for the profession, and their dedication is very impressive for their age.”
The college search has started for both Simon and Donatelli. While Seton Hall is not currently on their list of top schools, both see a career on the air as a possibility.
Simon said he hopes to pursue a career in communication, with his top “hopeful” schools being journalism powerhouse Syracuse and the University of Texas.
Donatelli said that communication is still an option, but he is seeking a top business school. “It’s something I’m not going to rule out,” Donatelli said. “It seems it’d be a fun thing to do. I really like it and can see myself doing it as a career.”
His top schools are Villanova, Boston College and the University of Michigan.
Simon is from Maplewood. His parents are Doug and Diane Simon. Donatelli is also from Maplewood. His parents are Randy and Susan Donatelli.
Timothy LeCras is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts designed to give students real-world experience.