By Joe Arruda
Not often are students presented with the opportunity to learn from someone as they do their job on the media’s largest stage. Students in Communications/Sports Journalism (COSJ) Professor Kyle Belanger’s Newspaper Design and Production and Sports Information classes were able to watch and learn from his experiences in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.
Belanger, who has more than a decade and a half of on-air experience, recorded YouTube vlogs and shared them with his students. In watching the videos, students were able to get the unique opportunity to follow the work he did while he did it.
In Atlanta, Belanger explained that he had three jobs. Working as a sports radio producer, he produced unique segments for stations from ESPN and Sirius XM, to the some of the smallest markets imaginable. He scheduled interviews with current and former athletes, including Dak Prescott, starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, and NFL Hall of Famers, Michael Irvin and John Hannah.
In his videos, students were able to see all aspects of the job, from the highs of being up close and personal to current players and NFL legends, to the lows of the exhaustion that comes along with 17-hour work days.
“A valuable part is the materials that I bring back, the tangible materials that you can’t get in a textbook, and you won’t get in a textbook,” Belanger said. “They’re not only ones that are being used in real life, but are being used in real life in one of the most intense media crucibles on the planet [the Super Bowl].”
Being able to share a live account of real life experiences adds another level to the COSJ program. Students were able to witness what exactly it is that happens behind the scenes of their dream jobs.
“Kyle made me feel like I was in the room with him, attending Radio Row, with his videos and commentary,” said sophomore Jack Margaros, Sports Editor of The Springfield Student. “It was a great look into what a typical week of being a busy journalist is like.”
Even though it was his fifth time working the event, Belanger does not hesitate to bring back as much real-world experience as possible.
“I continue to gather information and create those teaching materials that give our program a unique look into something that is a real, tangible, important, but also high stress, application of the theory that we’re always talking about,” Belanger said.
Working as a producer and sharing his experiences as teaching tools were just two of Belanger’s roles on Radio Row. In his fifth Super Bowl, it was also his fifth year volunteering with the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team. The team travels to each Super Bowl, playing against a team of NFL alumni from the host city.
“It is some of the most rewarding service work imaginable,” Belanger explained. “I can’t say the most, because I have a lot of really dear service projects, but it is awesome to have a family of Wounded Warrior amputee football players who will travel and meet us there.”
He began working at the Super Bowl, and ultimately with the wounded veterans, all because of a man who was once proclaimed as “the Michael Jordan of sports radio producers,” by Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly. Chris Visser is Belanger’s boss, and an icon in the sports journalism world. Visser invited him to come along to the Super Bowl and work, but to also help with this Wounded Warrior team.
Being able to have this experience alongside someone that students know and work with, allows their future to become a reality. What Belanger has done is special in allowing his teaching to come full circle.
It is different for a teacher to speak about the spectacle of events like Radio Row, as if it is not an achievable reality. But when students are able to visibly see and experience what it is like to actually be a journalist working at such an iconic event, their learning comes to life.
“The actual value comes in many shapes and sizes. There’s a bit of a carrot on a stick that happens when you see someone who you know working an event like the Super Bowl,” Belanger said. “In many ways, my story is a lot like y’all’s story. I worked through a lot of different roles, through a lot of different jobs, to end up there. For you guys to see me, I’m not Stephen A. Smith, I’m not Sage Steele, and yet here I am, I’m there, and you guys can do it too.”
Photo courtesy of Kyle Belanger