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For Many Local Journos, Friday Night Is Football Night

Friday is supposed to be wind-down time, when the weekend arrives, and folks can decompress.

Unless you cover high school sports; if that's the case, the busy time has just begun. It's especially true from September to early December, when high school football plays out on campuses throughout the area.

High school football gets coverage from every major daily media entity, as well as from the regional weekly publications--but it's an especially hectic time for TV news outlets KMSB Channel 11 and KOLD Channel 13, and the Tucson Citizen.

"It is indeed pretty crazy, but in many respects, it's the most fun I've had at the Citizen," said Citizen sports editor Mike Chesnick. "It's even more intense because of online. We set up our TC Varsity scoreboard (the Citizen's high school Web site platform) ahead of time, and begin updating it when correspondents call in scoring updates after the first quarter. We get updates after each quarter and try to add some game highlights.

"At halftime, photographers e-mail in a photo or two to post to our Web site, so we have fresh art. After the games, we also try to update the photos, and photographers begin to compile 'online galleries' of each game. We try to send a photographer to each game. Many of them double up, going to one game for a half before heading to another contest on the same side of town."

The TC Varsity Web site is among the most popular points of interest at tucsoncitizen.com, but getting the information online is just the first step.

"Most of the correspondents e-mail in their stories and box scores," Chesnick said. "Staffers ... help out by covering games. Prep editor Geoff Grammer, assistant sports editor Michael Schmelzle and I edit them and send them to the copy desk for headlines and online posting.

"We have one designer in charge of the regular sports section and one designer who lays out the eight-page special tab section for high school football. ... Not many papers across the country have the time to put out such a product. We're lucky in that our deadline is between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m."

KMSB does not have the same luxury. With a 9 p.m. newscast, the sports folks are often in the midst of the broadcast as games near completion.

"From 8:30 to 9:15 or 9:20, it's unbelievable. Video is coming in; scores are coming in; I have to be on my A-game to execute this thing. It's unlike anything I've ever done," said KMSB sports director Vinnie Vinzetta. "With a 9:20 deadline, that's a full hour before the other TV-sports folks. I have to be ready that much quicker, but when it comes together, you feel like you're on cloud nine, and you've taken care of the viewership of Southern Arizona high school football."

During the regular season--which wrapped up last weekend; the first round of the playoffs get underway Nov. 14--KMSB expanded its Friday newscast from 30 to 60 minutes, much like it does on Sunday nights.

"The news staff is dedicated to us on Friday nights, and the production folks help us get stuff into the system and (help us by) dedicating live shots," Vinzetta said. "A lot goes into it. It's the whole Fox 11 KMSB production and news staff helping to make this thing happen.

"We have a couple of interns who have call sheets we update from week to week, and they're dialing numbers left and right. It's not call and get an update and 'have a good night'; it's call and bug these people every 10 or 15 minutes. We're calling athletic directors; we're calling coaches' wives; we're calling moms and dads. Anybody who has a cell phone at the game, you'd better be prepared to have some of your cell-phone minutes taken away by Fox 11."

When it comes to high school football coverage, KOLD has probably the best-known local TV newscast, largely because of the "Overtime" segments, goofy vignettes that often involve the entire news crew and act as a buffer between the news coverage and the expanded "Overtime" sports block.

"There is really no method to that madness," said KOLD sports director Damien Alameda of the segments that earned the CBS affiliate Rocky Mountain Emmy recognition. "There are a handful of guys in a room on a Tuesday or Wednesday wondering how dumb can we possibly act this week. We come up with the idea, and we shoot it. The nice thing is it's a chance for people who maybe aren't tuning in for the sports to get a little entertainment factor with their news."

Once the "Overtime" skit has concluded, the real lunacy begins.

"We ad-lib pretty much the entire show," Alameda said. "We get the highlights in between 9:30 and 9:45. We don't necessarily know the highlights we're calling until we get the chicken scratch. ... We make no bones about it: We just let loose, and for 20 minutes, we entertain however we can, but we're doing the best to bring viewers the most complete coverage we possibly can. On a weekly basis, it's an average of eight or nine games. We're out there having fun and having a good time. High school football is my favorite time of year. It's a blast, and we have a blast doing it.

"My career started covering (high school football) in the Bay Area, so it has a special place in my heart. It's just exciting the way these kids put their heart and soul into it. It's one of the few outlets where kids can find themselves.

"You've got a handful of folks (at KOLD) who are just as invested in 'Overtime' as I am. They love what they do; they love going out there and shooting a game, because they have a sincere passion for it. They love being on the scene, knowing these kids sincerely care about playing the game (and are) having a good time and having fun."

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