How Our Youth Called a Stanford Game & Other Adventures with MC Sports

by Sara Bennett, MC Sports Director

When I took over the MC Sports program last fall, my main task was to fulfill the terms of an amazing grant from the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation to work with underserved youth. With the help of my predecessor, Chuck Alley, I was quickly brought up to speed.  If we were going to fulfill the terms and successfully complete the grant, I needed to get on board fast.  I had plenty of experience working with kids in Midpen’s studio and even as a nanny, but driving our big truck and being in charge of a crew of kids out in the field doing sports broadcasting was challenging.  But I was determined I’d do my best.

Crewing at Sunken Diamond

To complete the grant requirements, there was a checklist. I knew we needed to serve a certain number of kids, put on special events, organize training sessions and field trips, etc.  But nobody told me about the emotional checklist I needed to go through with each kid.   Success on paper is very different from success that sticks with each kid.  Going for the one, I quickly realized I wanted to go for both!  How do I make the experience truly meaningful for the kids?  Will they feel great about themselves when we’re done?  Will they see me as a friend?  Will they meet new friends?  To be honest, I was nervous.  I wanted to build trust with the kids and once I had that trust, I didn’t want to let them down.

Harlem Globetrotter Nate Branch with the kids, Sports producing at Stanford

Roll the “tape” forward and I am now looking back at the most rewarding work of my life, culminating in our fantastic connection with the Stanford Sports broadcasting team.  Not only did they give the kids a tour of the production facilities at the Maples Pavilion where they cover Stanford basketball, but they opened up opportunities for the kids to shadow the crew during coverage of Stanford baseball.  During a live broadcast by the Pac-12 Network, our sports youth actually directed, switched, ran graphics, operated camera, and even commentated a couple innings, all using Stanford Pac-12 equipment, supervised by pro staff!  That’s how much the Stanford crew believes in our kids.  When the kids worried about making mistakes, the pros assured them that they, the pros, make mistakes.  The important thing is to keep going.  That experience was incredibly validating for the kids.

Our kids have already been invited for the summer to the Pac-12 studios in San Francisco,  a huge facility with dozens of staff.  The kids will take a tour, get to see the professional equipment and studio set up plus meet with many of the pros who make their living in sports broadcasting.   For our end of the year celebration at the East Palo Alto YMCA, former 49er and current broadcaster Dennis Brown will be our special guest.   Plus we have a genuine signed 49ers football to give away to one of the kids.  When professionals in sports and sports broadcast industry find out about us and what we are doing, their response to engage with our youth has been overwhelmingly positive and generous.

The months have literally flown by.  Working with the kids based primarily in East Palo Alto, using our mobile production truck and equipment, we have covered over 20 local games.  The sports we have broadcasted, including several that were broadcast “Live”, include football, basketball, indoor soccer, and baseball. In addition to the sports, we’ve also covered a local community spelling bee.

Providing kids with team building and vocational skills, while having fun and making new friends is at the heart of the mission of MC Sports.  With the grant, for the first time, we were able to provide the kids with a wider variety of experiences. This includes opportunities to meet with “celebrities” and field trips to local sporting events.

I arranged for the kids to meet “celebrity” speakers, that I hoped would inspire and relate to them. Nate Branch, one of the original Harlem Globetrotters, visited with our kids and shared his special story.  He grew up in EPA.  He told the kids about how he went from playing basketball on the streets of EPA to playing for Ravenswood High School and taking his team to the regional title in a historic game played at the old Stanford Pavilion.  He then played for the University of Nebraska.  Upon graduation, he passed up lucrative offers playing for the pros and instead chose to entertain and inspire kids with the Harlem Globetrotters. He joked with the kids and even tossed around a baseball with them, which we all found really funny.

We also had a chance to visit with Steven Toyoji, a two-time Paralympian, who competed in Beijing and Rio.  He brought in his racing gear and his Olympic ring to share with the kids.  He grew up in Redmond, Washington and was a diehard sports fan and was determined to play sports, too. In high school he competed in wheelchair basketball and in track and field events.  For him it wasn’t how he was different from anyone else, it was about achieving his personal best and doing what he loved to do.   He qualified for the Paralympics and went on to win silver and bronze medals.

Paralympian Steve Toyogi shares a photo of his Olympic moment

We were also able to take the kids on several field trips this year.  The San Jose Earthquakes donated tickets to us for one of their soccer games.  We turned out to be really devoted fans, staying for the whole game even though it started raining!  The San Francisco Giants also donated tickets.  We took the train up to the game, and got to watch the Giants win.  For most of the kids, these were their first visits to professional sporting events as well as riding a train.  I was reminded again of how important programs like MC Sports are to the kids we serve.

As my year with the kids wraps, I can honestly say we’ve checked all the boxes for success, both grant wise and heartwise.  I feel great about the experience the MC Sports program has been able to provide the  kids.  For me personally, without a doubt, working with them  has been the most satisfying and demanding work I have ever done.

One of the most rewarding things that has happened as part of this program is to see how the kids have come to have a real camaraderie.  They comprise a variety of ages, different schools and backgrounds, but have been able to find commonalities and really gel as a group.  They’ve made new friends with people of different backgrounds.  They are tolerant and generous.

CJ, a camper our first year, a junior counselor now

It’s a cliche to say, but I have learned more from them than they have from me.   When I started, some of the kids knew more about the truck then I did.  Throughout this past year, the kids have been really great at telling me how things work and what to do during a game.  I hope I can pass along that knowledge to the summer campers who I will be training soon!  Also as a soccer player, it has been good for me to learn more about other sports, plus how from a video production standpoint, each sport requires a different approach.  The kids caught on fast, how to follow the action and to grab interesting shots even when the pace of the play was slow, as in baseball.

I want nothing more than to be able to continue working with the youth and providing them with these unique experiences.  Because of our funders and using our own committed resources, Midpen is able to offer these programs, regardless of a family’s ability to cover the costs associated with the programs.  We are so grateful to the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation and for many of the readers here, our donors, for taking this journey with us.

Sara is a favorite daughter of the mid-peninsula.  She grew up in Menlo Park and attended Laurel, Encinal, Hillview, and then Menlo Atherton.  She studied Media Arts in college at the University of Arizona, but took jobs as a nanny after graduation because she liked kids and the “money was good.”   Sara took the TV Studio Workshop in 2009.  Her quick grasp of video skills soon earned her an offer to come on as a part time tech working in the studio.  She was quickly drawn into working with youth, because she enjoys them, the way they think and how surprising they can be to engage with.  She began working the TV studio summer camps and when Chuck Alley left as director of MC Sports, Sara quickly seized the challenge to manage that program.  Under Sara’s guidance, the youth have had even more opportunities to explore sports broadcasting as a way to personal development through interaction with celebrities, attending actual sporting events and of course going deeper into the field through hands-on practice in sports broadcasting, production and communications.

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