Mercer Video Productions (MVP) was started by the Mercer Athletics Administration in the Spring of 2014. The emphasis on video production mid-summer lent to the additions of Director Lisa Cherry, graduate assistant Michael Fox and Brad Bostwick. The program started small with the intention of linking up with the television broadcast station ESPN3 to produce student-led video productions for Mercer Athletics.
“Out of many late nights and discussions, Mercer Video Productions was formed as an entity to better structure student engagement and learning opportunities within broadcasting,” Cherry said.
With a small budget from Mercer Athletics, Cherry and Fox searched for students who wanted hands-on experience in sports media, and a lucky few happened to hear about the program. Those few students, along with the directors and their vision, have now become the core of a blossoming media program for Mercer Athletics.
For sophomore Avery Braxton, the opportunity came at a perfect time in the spring of his freshman year.
“It was purely by luck. I was at Bear Fair my freshman year and just happened to come across the table that Lisa was hosting. I’ve known I’ve wanted to work for ESPN since I was in about 9th or 10th grade so to have them on campus and basically fall into my lap was such a blessing for me. I had no idea they were on campus.”
Demi Shay Watchorn and Emanuela Rendini were in professor Jay Black’s class as sophomores when Black mentioned an opportunity for students who wanted to get more involved with the Journalism and Media department. Right after class, the two walked over to speak with Fox.
“Me and Emanuela walked over and talked to Fox and said we were really interested. They were like, ‘welcome!’” Watchorn said.
Within ten minutes, they were on the team with Braxton and a handful of other willing students.
“There is a distinct sense of curiosity and determination in our students to take in as much information as possible every day,” said Fox.
Students are immersed in all forms of sports media including filming, editing, sound technology, graphics and speaking comfortably in front of the camera. One day, a student may be creating graphics for a football advertisement, while the next he could be in front of the camera recording a live show to be aired on the SoCon Digital Network.
For Braxton, whose dream is to one day be a Sports Anchor at ESPN, that opportunity became a reality much quicker than he expected. Braxton says his proudest moment came on Oct. 20 where his first show with co-anchor Emanuela Rendini aired on the SoCon Digital Network.
“I am an aspiring broadcaster and eventually want to be a sports anchor so this was a huge deal for me. I was really proud of it and it was so exciting to see myself on TV. It really made me feel like I was on the right track in terms of my dreams and what I wanted to do in life,” Braxton said.
With his foot already in the door, Braxton feels he is just that much closer to his dream. This is exactly what Fox wanted for his students.
Fox explained that he and Cherry wanted to foster a “program that gave students hands on experience and [works to give] student leaders in the world of media”.
Since its inception, the program has blossomed. The program now has 23 student workers and about 20 first year volunteers.
“There’s a core group of us,” explained Watchorn, talking about the handful of students who happened to stumble on the opportunity in the spring of 2014. “It has become more popular and new [Center for Collaborative Journalism] students have begun to show interest and now there’s an application process.”
The program has a hierarchy, but one of mutual support and learning. The program is tiered; Cherry, Fox and Bostwick offer advice and direction to students as they work on their projects. The few student leaders head projects and aid in directing the student volunteers, while the second-year students are given a bit more autonomy with their ideas and execution. However, the ultimate goal of MVP is to eventually have it be a student-led program.
“We’ve had students take the initiative and pour their efforts into an idea and the joy they have when it finally gets broadcasted or published makes us very proud as a staff that this program is able to make such an impact,” Cherry said.
Fox, Cherry and Bostwick train the students whenever possible. Whether it be one on one, in a group setting, or on the fly, the leaders are always immersing the students in media lessons.
“They do what they’re supposed to do and they go above and beyond. They’re always putting in extra hours,” Watchorn said.
The most important part, however, is the actual execution of the projects. The terrifying part, when you realize thousands may be watching or hearing you on television or on radio.
As the designated broadcast commentator for Mercer’s SoCon volleyball matches, Watchorn talked about her first live broadcast.
“I was so nervous. I still get nervous going on air,” said Watchorn. “It felt surreal. I panicked a little, to be honest. I know my voice was shaking.”
From their very first live broadcast of Men’s Basketball in February 2014 to working halftime shows and creating hype videos for football in fall 2015, the program has grown. Despite the thrill of being heard and seen by thousands, both Braxton and Watchorn expressed that their greatest accomplishment has been acting as the guinea pigs for the program.
For Watchorn, the first day walking into the MVP office was a leap of faith.
“For me to graduate and come back and see where the program is—that’s what i’m excited about. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done, and to know that we were the first ones to help out, it’s pretty incredible.”