SportsCenter
Williamsport is center of ESPN’s look into Pennsylvania sports


By Nick Williams

With the Phillies in and out of first place in the NL wild card, the T.O. saga ongoing in training camp of the defending NFC champion Eagles and the legendary Joe Paterno kicking off summer sessions at Penn State, ESPN had plenty of sites to choose from for a place to host Pennsylvania’s turn in SportsCenter’s “50 States in 50 Days” series.

But, they chose not to go pro, and instead selected the site of the biggest youth sporting event in the world: South Williamsport.

“We don’t want to shortchange, [Penn State football coach] Joe Paterno, the Eagles, Steelers, Phillies, Pirates, or any of the other teams,” said producer Stu Mitchell. “But, it certainly is something different since it’s not a professional sport. We get a chance to go to a town and go to an area and show something that SportsCenter really doesn’t cover.’

So, on the top hill overlooking Lamade Stadium on Tuesday, a 3:00 p.m. taping is taking place.

On the hill, groups of children slide down the worn-down grassy slope using broken-up cardboard boxes, only stopping to look at a suspended camera that’s hanging out on the end of a metal beam scanning the area for signs and screamers.

Anchor Chris McKendry addresses the camera while sitting behind a makeshift SportsCenter desk in front of a screen and, a bit lower, a plastic fence that separates her from the throngs of kids looking to get on television.

This taping aired on the 6:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m., 1:00 a.m. and next-morning SportsCenters as part of Day 38 in SportsCenter’s summer-long series that looks inside the sports face of a particular state, one state at a time.

“This is my fourth one,” said director Jim Ryan, whose previous stops include Massachusetts, Nevada, and Georgia. “This is cool. It’s probably been the most fun stop.”

It’s been quite an enjoyable stop for McKendry, too, who hails from Philadelphia, but has never before been to the Little League World Series.

“I usually work in the studio [in Bristol, Connecticut], but when I heard that 50 and 50 was coming here, I asked ‘Can I go home?’” McKendry said.

So far, she’s having a blast.

“I love the games,” she said. “The games are the highlight of coming here. Just the atmosphere, it’s part competitive baseball and part county fair.”
Ryan agrees, he thinks it’s a perfect balance between competitiveness and sportsmanship.

“I love seeing these kids having a good time,” Ryan said. “This is all about sportsmanship and having fun and good competition, too. It’s great.”

Ryan’s job for the broadcast is to direct and coordinate the on-air proceedings, making sure everything goes smoothly. Mitchell’s job, as producer, is to provide Ryan with the content, working with other ESPN producers back in Bristol to decide which aspects of Pennsylvania sports should be highlighted.

“[Mitchell] provides the content and I try and take the idea of his content and make it look and sound as good as I can,” Ryan said.

The content Mitchell has to choose from ranges from the Little League World Series, the Steelers, the Eagles, the Phillies, the Pirates and the Flyers, just to name a few.

“Pennsylvania has so much good sports, [the 50/50 segment] will take up a lot a lot of the show, about 14 minutes of an hour show,” Mitchell said.

“Although we’re here at Little League, we don’t just cover this,” he adds. “The focus is on the state, not just the event we’re at.”

Even so, ESPN chose the Little League World Series for a reason—its popularity.

“I think everybody follows it,” McKendry said. “It seems to be on everywhere. Not just because it’s on ESPN, but because people really love it.”

Plus, unlike the Terrell Owens saga in Philly, the Hines Ward holdout in Pittsburg and the Flyers coming back from an NHL lockout, the Little League World Series brings something wholesome to the broadcast.

“We’re used to over-hyped and overdone professional sporting events,” McKendry said. “We were all saying what a refreshing week it’s been for all of us.”

The ESPN production crew got here Sunday. It is just one of five crews that travel the nation, with the idea being that each crew will cover 10 states. They usually spend about four days at one site and do shows every six days because of travel time.

Because she’s usually not on the crew, McKendry didn’t arrive in Williamsport until a day later, bringing along her two-year-old son.

“He’s having a great time,” McKendry said. “He wanted a cardboard box of his own. He’s loving it.

The rest of the crew is loving it, too. It seems that Little League has the power to bring the inner child out of everyone.

“I was happy when they told me I was going here,” Ryan added. “Like most kids, I also played Little League. My teams were never good enough to make it here. Look at these kids now, there’s no way I was as good as these kids are.”

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