Incorporating STEM and sports: Behind the scenes at College World Series

Jul 22 2013

As a native of Omaha, Neb., I have been attending the College World Series (CWS) baseball games my whole life. I was already planning on flying from Chapel Hill to Omaha to attend the 2013 games when the STEMwire team came up with the idea to write a baseball story with science and STEM education connections.

Part I: Planning and Preparation

While the idea sounded fun, it was definitely just a topic at the beginning, not a fully-fleshed out story plan. Developing the trajectory of the article was one of the toughest parts of the process; it involved incorporating the timeliness of the CWS, scientific principles of baseball, as well as sticking with the main purpose of STEMwire to report on STEM education.

The article became a two-part story:

  1. College baseball players are students as well as athletes, and some of them major in STEM fields. Profiling a few of these student athletes could show younger students the opportunities offered in STEM fields through baseball role models.
  2. Baseball is riddled with principles of scientific fields like physics, aerodynamics and physiology, just to name a few. Those who are fans of the sport, or play it themselves, may not realize how much science is integrated into baseball. Educators could use examples from the sport to help teach these concepts in the classroom.

I left for Omaha armed with two cameras, an external microphone, audio recorder and a tripod, not knowing exactly what I might need or what kind of access I would get.

I was able to get a press pass as an online reporter, and that position that came with its own regulations and rules of access.

Press pass for the 2013 College World Series.

Press pass for the 2013 College World Series.

Part II: The Games Begin

My specified role as an online reporter barred me from some locations at the stadium (the locker rooms, dugouts and photographer’s box), but the press pass afforded me plenty of access to gather the materials I needed. I maneuvered myself throughout the stadium to take photos illustrating the scientific principles I planned to talk about. I took advantage of all the resources offered in the press box and attended the post-game press conferences to learn more from the players and coaches about their performance.

This being my first experience with event press access, as well as the fact I was attending as an education reporter and not a sports journalist, I was a more unique fixture at the event and learned a lot during my time there.

There are tons of rules, both written and unwritten. Rules about where you’re allowed to be (I’ve already talked about access), what you’re allowed to report and how you’re allowed to gather information.

  1. You were not allowed to provide real-time coverage of the games as they unfolded, especially in regards to stats or specific plays. That privilege was afforded only to the NCAA and ESPN.
  2. If an event was being video recorded by ESPN, no other news outlets were allowed to record it without a specific permission. If it was not being covered by ESPN (like team practices, for example) you were allowed to record it yourself.
  3. When attending a press conference, the losing team’s coach and three players would speak and answer questions first, followed by the winning team’s coach and players. News organizations could not delay press conferences for individual interviews, and they had to wait a certain amount of time after the press conference ended for exclusive comments.
  4. One unwritten press conference rule was to only ask questions relevant to the game just played and the strategies for the next game in the series. That meant my queries about STEM education and players’ studies would have to be asked at other times. Both of the player interviews I had were done before the teams played any games.
  5. Showing professionalism while in the press box, during games, or at the conferences may be an obvious rule, but it meant different things in different contexts. Attire could be casual, but team affiliations were discouraged (unless the journalist was working specifically for a campus publication). The press box was fairly quiet during game play, unless you were in a room designated for radio. Seats were assigned in the stadium press box, but press conferences were a free-for-all.
  6. I also learned how little I know about baseball terminology. These sports journalists have a language all to themselves.

Part III: Post-event

My press pass gave me a chance to get a behind the scenes look, bypass long security lines and stand in odd places to take pictures. But I also learned that having that pass adds to the impression that you have some kind of authority and know what you’re doing.

The whole “fake it ‘til you make it” idea is an old one (I still love Dale Carnegie’s take on it), and while I may have been bumbling and inexperienced going into this story, I feel like I’ve taken another step toward making it real.

The final product includes player interviews, a series of photos and lessons in the math and science of baseball, including a graphic illustration of the Pythagorean theorem through a baseball diamond.

I left the College World Series with a ton of material to compress into a cohesive article, a little more insight into a new (new to me) field of journalism and had a ton of fun doing it.


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