Fox Sports and Chicago White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti spoke with the Greenlee School’s Sports Media Club and the Sports Business Club Sept. 7.
Benetti’s visit was well-anticipated by the students and assistant teaching professor Beth Haag, who is the faculty advisor to the Sports Media Club.
“I wanted him to talk with students for at least five years,” said Haag. She had known of Benetti’s unique experience working in sports journalism as someone with cerebral palsy and thought he would be a great professional for students to hear from.
When Haag learned Benetti would be in Ames to call the Iowa-Iowa State football game Sept. 9, she finally got to arrange the event.
Benetti discussed a wide variety of topics with students from the importance of finding what makes you stand out, to the students’ White Sox questions and their own interests in sports media.
Josh Allen, a junior in journalism and mass communication, grew up watching the White Sox with his family.
“You can tell on air that Jason is passionate about his work and wants to provide the best experience possible to viewers, and in-person that was no different,” said the Sports Media Club vice president. “Jason was able to share a lot of interesting information about persevering through struggles he has faced with hard work and passion, which is advice any person could take into their field, not just play-by-play announcers.”
The Sports Media Club has been creating similar opportunities for students to get involved in sports communication since the club was founded in 2021. Haag had noticed an interest in sports media among juniors and seniors in an upper-level course, so she worked with Greenlee School Director Michael Dahlstrom to develop a club that would meet incoming students’ interest in the field.
Some of the Sports Media Club’s functions include helping students meet others interested in sports media careers, organizing site visits to organizations like the Iowa Wild and Iowa Cubs, developing mentorship relationships with Iowa State students and graduates working in sports media, and sponsoring on-campus networking events with sports media professionals.
Gus Pope, a junior in journalism and mass communication, said getting to hear from speakers has greatly impacted his future plans.
“When I was a freshman, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I showed up to one Sports Media Club meeting on a whim, heard from a guy who was the social media director for the Packers, and I was hooked,” Pope said.
Pope did an internship with the Lincoln Saltdogs during the summer and works in content creation and production for Cyclones.tv.
Haag said that making professional connections helps create opportunities for hands-on experience in sports media and shows students that anything is possible.
“Kelsey Boal, a student in my sports media class in 2020, really wanted to work for the NFL, and now works for the Kansas City Chiefs,” Haag said. “So, for students to see people that are their age, who were able to do it, it shows, ‘hey, you can do this, too.’ And in Jason’s case, it wasn’t easy, but you can overcome anything.”
Several students interested in sports communication have been making the most of these opportunities at Iowa State—working as play-by-play announcers, sideline reporters, and in videoboard control rooms with Cyclones.tv and ESPN+.
Marijke Mendeszoon, a junior in journalism and mass communication, was a sideline reporter at the Drake-Iowa State volleyball game Sept. 16. She is the first-ever student to be a sideline reporter for an Iowa State ESPN+ broadcast.
Over at Jack Trice Stadium, Makala Kafer, a junior in journalism and mass communication, controls the in-game fan prompts for Iowa State home football games.
First-year student Caleb Polking and sophomore Evan Wessling, both in journalism and mass communication, work with Cyclones.tv, announcing some volleyball, soccer and softball shows on ESPN+.
“I’ve had to pinch myself a few times thus far knowing that Evan and I, both lifelong Cyclone fans, have had the ability to call Iowa State sporting events. It’s really incredible,” Polking said.
Wessling said his favorite part has been calling basketball games in Hilton Coliseum. “I grew up coming to basketball games since I was 8 years old, and getting the opportunity to call a game courtside in Hilton was an unbelievably surreal moment.”
Polking and Wessling both said that working in sports media has shown them this is the career path they want to pursue and that several professionals and opportunities have made a big impact on their experience.
Haag recently connected the students with retired Iowa State Athletics Communications director Tom Kroeschell, who also calls Cyclone soccer matches for ESPN+. Polking said the advice Kroeschell gave him and Wessling in just a few meetings has been invaluable.
In the spring of 2023, Wessling attended the two-day sports broadcasting bootcamp held by the Greenlee School where the “Voice of the Cyclones,” John Walters, coached students Friday about preparing for sports radio and TV broadcasts. On Saturday, students had an opportunity to call a portion of a recorded Cyclone men’s basketball game for radio and an inning at a live ISU softball game for TV with Walters providing detailed feedback to students. Wessling said the experience was life changing.
“With the guidance of John Walters, and the bootcamp he ran, I realized how much broadcasting meant to me and that I want to do it for the rest of my life,” he said.
Polking added, “I would just say that I’m extremely grateful for all of the opportunities in sports media here at Iowa State thus far. Jared Calvert and the Cyclones.tv team, John Walters, Beth Haag, and the Greenlee School have all been instrumental, and I can’t thank any of them enough.”