Tim Truman gestures for Kris Zachodylo, a 16-year-old in baggy pants and a mop of dark brown hair, to have a seat behind the mixing board.
“Do you want to run the show?”
“I don’t know how.”
“My teaching style is to throw you in and let you swim,” Truman replies, not relenting.
And so it begins.
After more than a year off the air due to funding cuts, Eagle Academy’s student-run sports talk show is preparing for the first show of a new season.
The show, which is simulcast online and on radio station WXGN, has taken various forms since 2002: This year, it’s “The Coach’s Corner;” two years ago it was “Hunter and the Coach.”
Both paired Pete Collesano, the school’s motor-mouthed physical education teacher, with student commentators. But all of the shows are designed to help the Egg Harbor Township school’s students apply language skills, boost their confidence and take responsibility.
“Basically, we’re tricking them into learning,” Truman, a former WXGN employee who has managed the program from its inception, said Friday.
The students are responsible for shaping the content of the program — reading sports news and translating it into original commentary — and also learning to use the broadcast equipment.
“As the students grow into their roles, they’ll also be developing more of the show,” said Truman, 47, of the Cape May Court House section of MiddleTownship.
But the true value, he said, is that it gives the teens an opportunity to take charge in meaningful ways. In the context of a radio show, they’re learning to step up as adults.
“When you treat them as colleagues, they rise to the occasion,” he said.
Eagle Academy, which opened in 1999, provides a combination of academic and practical course work to students who were at risk of dropping out of traditional high school due to behavioral, emotional or learning challenges.
But funding has been a challenge, both for the radio show and for academics in general.
School Director Bud Smith said the program only costs the school $1,500 but it wasn’t able to raise the funds after a necessary grant fell through.
“We’re able to do it because of funding that comes through a (state-administered) Workforce Investment Act grant,” he said. “We didn’t get the funding we needed for the show and then there were availability issues with our technician.”
Fortunately, Smith said, the funding materialized this year, allowing students to get back on the air. Truman, who has managed the various multimedia programs since 2002, said it was heartening to come back and find all the equipment still set up as he left it.
“I was concerned the equipment would have been cannibalized, but the room was still here,” he said. “Everybody worked really hard to get this restarted.”
This year, Collesano and Smith recruited about five students to lead the new season. Hurricane Sandy cut into practice time — this year, the students recorded only one “mock” show before their first live broadcast Friday. The kids aren’t nervous, or at least say they aren’t, but Collesano is.
“I’m nervous all over again,” he said, five minutes before air time. “It’s amazing what you get used to, but now it’s like starting all over.”
But Collesano launches into the work: handing out a rough outline he’s prepared for the show and asking his two teenage co-hosts to brainstorm commentary. “The Rookie” Joey Crouch, 16, scans through news articles for relevant player quotes to bring up during the show. Seventeen-year-old Andrew “Big A” Felker scribbles notes on the back of his outline.
“I’m kind of comfortable speaking,” Crouch said shortly before air-time. He knows his dad, an avid sports fan, will be tuning in. “If you’re yourself, there’s no problem; it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”
Then it’s Truman’s time to show Zachodylo how to run the show.
“They’re going to pick us up this morning — we are live live, not mock live,” he said. “In this business, time is everything; you can’t afford to fall asleep on the clock.”
At three minutes to go, Turner shows how to switch on the computer’s broadcast mode; at one minute he turns on the mike; and then comes the “It’s time” bumper leading into the show. Zachodylo nods along with each step.
“Gooooooooood morning everybody and welcome to The Coach’s Corner,” Collesano intones into the mic.
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