URBANA — The top of the press box at Urbana's athletic complex is far enough from the field that you can easily see all the action.
Several students in teacher Erin Ludwick's journalism class are stationed there regularly, carefully recording fall sporting events and learning how to produce a broadcast and stream video online.
The atmosphere is one of careful concentration — sophomore Stanley Godia steadily moves the camera back and forth as soccer players battle on the field.
As he does, several other classmates talk with Jason Liggett, Urbana Public Television's production coordinator, about options for student broadcasts, like having a sideline reporter or interviewing a coach at halftime. Then, they talk logistics, like whether a coach might actually be available.
The students learning about broadcast are obviously enthusiastic — they also produce shows and write during class time, and not just about sports
"I think it gives them a voice in school," Ludwick said, adding that enrollment for her journalism class has skyrocketed, and students seem to love having an audience beyond their teacher.
The class and the work students do is challenging, said senior and co-head of broadcast Miguel Fierro,
"You always find a way to make it happen," he said.
The broadcast students started streaming Urbana athletic competitions last year on the school's sports webpage, http://www.athletics2000.com/urbana, and this year are learning to produce broadcasts for UPTV, which is available to Comcast cable subscribers.
Liggett previously worked individually with some Urbana High School students, teaching them how to cover events and edit video at UPTV's facilities. Last year, he started working with Ludwick's class and continues to go in every week to teach the students about broadcasting.
They'll cover all home football games and two soccer matches for UPTV this fall, he said, as well as some boys' and girls' basketball games this winter. The productions will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays, but students record them as if they're live, Liggett said.
Their video also shows up on the school's scoreboard during football games, he said.
Because they record more events that stream to the website, the students also make highlight reels that run on UPTV.
Producing broadcasts means students have to be on time and act professionally, Liggett said.
Some also serve in leadership roles, Ludwick said, which means they have to learn how to approach other students when work needs to be redone or figure out schedules for who will work which athletic event. Students received weighted grades in the class because of the out-of-class work, she said.
The class, which is much more laid back than an on-the-field broadcast, is a great fit for some students who have skills that aren't so appreciated in other classes, Ludwick said.
Sophomore Abram Washington illustrated that when talking about why he likes the class.
"I like this class because we get to talk, have a show and enjoy ourselves," Washington said, while spiritedly conversing with his classmates, none of whom seem quiet or reserved.
Liggett said the class is helping students who want to pursue broadcast careers develop their skills now.
"At least they can experience it now," Liggett said. "They might have a better understanding or a leg-up on some of the other students (once they get to college)."
He said he enjoys working with the students and is impressed with them.
"Once I get into the classroom, the kids are so energetic and willing to learn," Liggett said. "It makes my job a lot easier and it makes it more fun."
And you can tell they appreciate the experience, even those who aren't planning on broadcast as a career.
Senior Myles Kelley wants to go into engineering, but said he loves being the co-head of the broadcasting class.
"I do love this class," he said, discovering he liked broadcast after taking journalism to improve his writing skills. He discovered he likes working with cameras and covering sports, too, especially because he's friends with co-head Fierro,
Learning about broadcast isn't without its challenges, Kelley said, including figuring out ways to interview people and getting permission to use copyrighted music.
"We have to work around these (obstacles)," Kelley said.
(You can see more of their work at http://www.youtube.com/user/UHSBroadcasting.)
Their contributions are important to their school, as well.
Urbana athletic director Greg Hall said he can tell from the website that some spectators are watching the streamed sports online, and it's useful for out-of-town family members who can't make it a game. He said he knows a parent who was in the hospital watched the streamed video online, as well.
"That's what we want, for someone who can't be there ... to go ahead and watch it online," Hall said.