You need the knowledge of a chess master to coach at the highest levels of Southern California high schools. Also a scavenger for gold nuggets, for any hint of competitive advantage.
Mike Fleming, the football coach of Corona Santiago, has scrolled through social media multiple times and came across promotions for Studio City Harvard-Westlake TV’s (HWTV) broadcasts of the Wolverines’ games. It’s a free, almost professionally run stream – and as Fleming put it, an exploration tool. So if there’s such a broadcast, Fleming said, and so are you not if you look at it as a coach, you are doing yourself a disservice.
“With Harvard-Westlake, they’re doing a great job producing the game with great content, with commentary from people who know the game well,” said Fleming.
Here’s the kicker: did he know those people were Harvard-Westlake students?
“I didn’t know they were kids,” Fleming said.
Harvard-Westlake’s Jake Lancer is a 17-year-old who just started calling the Wolverines’ live sports broadcasts because it was unrealistic to keep his high school basketball dreams alive in a school full of top-level recruits . Lancer has become a five-star contender behind the mic, taking on a role as the Wolverine’s cross-sport play-by-play announcer while honing his craft through countless hours of HWTV broadcasts.
“He’s the best broadcaster in Southern California,” said Jason Kelly, Harvard-Westlake athletic director, without a trace of humor.
Grab the headphones. Grab the cameras. Lancer and HWTV are part of a revolution as a growing number of Southland high schools are putting resources into student-led broadcasts and live streams of their athletic events.
Santa Margarita has built an elaborate operation, complete with a mobile control panel, graphics, and cameras, all costing anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. Bellflower St. John Bosco is launching its own student-run streaming platform, “Bosco+,” later this month. And the NFL has launched a program called “Sports Content Lab” at Inglewood High to start a local pipeline of sports production talent.
Suddenly, Southland turns into a preps hotbed for not only future elite athletes, but a generation of broadcasters making their mark on the mic and control panel.
During his teenage years, Inglewood student Calliel Coleman’s life slowed to an aimless crawl at times.
As a junior, his grandmother died when her heart stopped during dialysis. Almost exactly a year later, his father died of kidney failure.
The saving grace came every Tuesday, when Coleman immersed himself in the NFL-sponsored Sports Content Lab at Inglewood, a burgeoning program created by NFL graphics director Patrick Lee that teaches students about the intricacies of live sports production. After a junior year focused on broadcast engineering and a senior year improving camera skills, Coleman landed an internship with the Los Angeles Chargers and is committed to a career with NFL Network.
“When the Sports Content Lab came to Inglewood…I had to jump on it.”
— Calliel Coleman, Inglewood High student on the NFL-backed program that immerses teens in live sports production
Working elsewhere, Coleman said, “isn’t even an option.”
“Usually schools are in communities like Inglewood, Watts, Hawthorne, South (LA), a lot of places where there are a lot of urban communities — it’s hard to get a chance to succeed,” Coleman said. “So when the Sports Content Lab came to Inglewood…I had to jump on that.”
However, most student-run broadcast programs come from private or independent schools. Loyola has a club that broadcasts about once a week, and Santa Margarita’s “Eagle TV 2.0 Sports” broadcasts major games as part of a TV sports production class taught by SoCal PBS sports producer Paul Higgins.
At Harvard-Westlake, nearly every on-campus game is broadcast over HWTV, where students from a smaller production course occupy key positions and fill out camera and graphics for physical education credits. A broadcast of a February 14 boys’ basketball game against St. John Bosco featured two cameras facing the court and two cameras on the backboards, full instant replay, and a rapport with the conversation between Lancer and color commentator Claire Connor.
Lancer, who is a junior, has turned his developing skills into freelance commentary work with NFHS. In January, he shadowed Fox Sports broadcaster Gus Johnson in the booth at the Rose Bowl, now modeling his in-game reference boards of team rosters from Johnson’s tips.
“If you compared him to an athlete,” Kelly said of Lancer, “you’d say he’s DI.”
The biggest hurdle to widespread student-run broadcasting, other than the cost of equipment, is simple: Southern section schools don’t always have the rights to broadcast their games.
Those go through the state’s governing body for high school sports, CIF, which can contract out rights for regular season and playoff games to outside companies like NFHS or Bally Sports. In that case, even if 100% of regular season rights are split among home schools, student-led productions take a back seat.
“It absolutely sucks when they come in and take an HW game because they can play another game out there that doesn’t have HWTV. … It’s definitely been a little contradictory this year,” Lancer said.
The future of prep sports broadcasting is the Wild West. Bally owner Diamond Sports Group is expected to file for bankruptcy, leaving the door open for bids for a primary rights partnership with the CIF. Amid a potential shift, Harvard-Westlake is trying to strike an agreement with the CIF to stream on HWTV even if a third party steps in, Kelly said.
However, the deepest dive into uncharted waters comes from St. John Bosco with the launch of Bosco+, an app in development that will house student-run broadcasts of games and events for a monthly fee of $4.99.
A Bosco+ soft-launch had garnered about 1,250 subscribers by mid-February, according to president Brian Wickstrom, and the money generated will be split between coach salaries, tuition and facilities improvement. Students who worked live streams are paid $20 per hour.
“I think what we’re doing is going to change the landscape for high school sports,” Wickstrom said. “It will provide opportunities for all participating schools to earn money.”
In each model, interest is ultimately driven, school officials say, by networks of family and school alumni who flock to streams when in-person visits aren’t available.
“It’s just so relatable to hear a young person talk and comment with such knowledge about their peers,” Kelly said. “Listen, this is Hollywood. We could hire an adult commentator to live stream our games, and they would be very professional. But that’s like a paid hit man.
“We have the talent on campus with our kids, and I think our community loves that our kids are commenting on our kids.”