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Windom students enter the world of media

Kari Lucin/Daily Globe Students in Mike Kray's Mass Media class at Windom Area High School sit at the top of the school's bleachers, where they broadcast basketball games live.

WINDOM -- A group of enterprising Windom High School students have been producing video and commentary for their local sports teams -- all as part of a class on mass media.

"It's pretty cool. It's different stuff you don't do in the usual classes," said Travis Muller, 17, one of the students in Mike Kray's Mass Media class.

The class began broadcasting volleyball and football games live during the fall season and has continued with basketball for the winter season. They are discussing filming some hockey and wrestling games, too.

At the beginning of the year, Kray taught students how to use the camera and sound equipment -- setting it up, troubleshooting it and taking it down again afterward. Then students got hands-on training by actually producing finished live broadcasts on television.

The academic component of the class includes writing a journal, learning about advertising techniques and picking out different styles in media. They learn camera technique -- wide angles, close-ups, extreme close-ups and tight-angle shots.

Adam Eisenmenger, 17, said the class helps students learn how to speak in public because of all the interviewing.

The group spends class time setting up and testing the equipment as a group, long before the game ever starts, and the commentators gather up background information so they have something to talk about if the game's action lags.

"Sometimes we'll set up interviews before (the games), pre-recorded stuff," said Thomas Elness, 16, one of several students to serve as a commentator. "I find all the stats and rosters on the teams, so I can comment on them."

During the game, two student announcers talk about the action as it occurs, but they also perform courtside interviews using wireless microphones run through a sound system. They even have crowd microphones and their own headphones for improved sound quality.

Two more students are needed to run the two cameras that show the game, with another student determining when to cut back and forth between the cameras. Finally, a student needs to provide statistics for the game.

"You need everybody to make it work," Elness said.

Though there are 10 students in Kray's class, some of them are in sports, often leaving only seven students to fill the six spots in the video crew for every game they produce. Those seven teens have to balance broadcasting with their own lives, from family to sports to jobs, so the team doesn't cover every single game.

It's also challenging. The most difficult part may be just remembering where all the cords and equipment is supposed to go, said Kristin Koch, 16, or maybe just getting the sound system to work correctly. Their broadcasting cart contains monitors, a soundboard, and a place to store more than 150 feet of cords, three of which all need to end up in a single small room during the broadcast.

And coming up with things to say during halftime isn't always easy, either.

Elness remembers a particularly difficult 20-minute halftime in which he and Muller just chatted -- only to have another 5 minutes added on when the 20 minutes were up.

"It's just a fun deal," said Austen Smedsrud, 16.

What they produce may not look quite as good as what's on television, the students have no breaks, no teleprompters and no commercials they can cut to when things go wrong.

"If we didn't all love it, I don't think we'd do the ones we do, because it takes a lot of time," Elness said.

The audience loves it, too. The group has gotten a tremendous response and many thanks from people who watch the games.

Kray has also received some assistance from the city of Windom and Windomnet, as well as a grant from the Blandin Foundation that helped pay for some equipment.

"It's been a community effort to get things going," Kray said.

The games are broadcast live on Windom's local cable channel 22, and students plan to stream them live online at the school's website at