Guest Writer: Sara Jane Harris of ABC 33/40 Birmingham
I get the question a lot. “Did you always want to be a sports broadcaster?” And each time I answer, I say no. While most tend to be disappointed in my response, I am only telling the truth. Growing up, I didn’t dream of covering sports for a living, I dreamed of playing them.
I developed a love for sports at a very young age. Throughout my childhood, I couldn’t get enough of them. I swam year-round, played soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball and even ran track. In high school I lettered in six different varsity sports. Sports were my life and I couldn’t imagine a life without them.
When it came time to choose a college, I accepted a scholarship to play soccer at the University of South Carolina. My major at USC was Exercise Science, because at the time I thought I wanted to become a nutritionist. After a year at South Carolina, I decided I wasn’t happy with my soccer career. During my sophomore year, I transferred to play for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. And it was at Charlotte, where I decided to pursue a degree in Journalism.
During my senior year at Charlotte, I attended a women’s leadership luncheon. At the luncheon, I sat next to Danielle Trotta. At the time, Danielle was the weekend sports anchor at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte. I spoke to her about my interest in sports broadcasting, and she invited me to become an intern in the sports department at WBTV, an offer which I gladly accepted.
While at WBTV, I learned what it was like to work in sports. I spent a majority of my free time in the sports department learning from Danielle. She was a great mentor. Danielle taught me how to edit, shoot, and write a sportscast. At the time – I didn’t have a resume reel, so she took me out one day – and we made one.
With resume reel in hand, I finished my internship at WBTV and graduated from UNC Charlotte. While I was told it would be very hard to get my first job in sports, I remained hopeful. I emailed every sports anchor and reporter in the southeast. In each email I asked that person if they could use any help, an editor, a photographer, anything. I knew that getting my foot in the door was the most important part to getting where I wanted to be, so I was willing to accept any position that was given to me.
Several months went by after graduation and I was starting to get discouraged. I had not been able to get a job. No one wanted to take a chance on someone with no experience. But just as I was starting to lose hope, I was introduced to Ashleigh Messervy. At the time, Ashleigh was an anchor at the FOX affiliate in Columbia, SC. Ashleigh got me a job as an associate producer for the station’s morning show. It wasn’t a sports job, but it was my foot in the door – and that’s all that mattered to me.
After a long year of reporting to work each day at 1 a.m., I was promoted from associate producer to mid-day reporter. As a news reporter I spent a majority of my time covering crime, politics and city hall meetings. (I hated it, but I tried to remain positive.) During the Fall, I volunteered to help shoot high school football games. I worked 14-hour days during this time, but I was following my passion. The football, made covering politics and city hall meetings a little less hard to swallow.
Two years passed and I felt it was time to make my move into sports. I made a meeting with my news director. In the meeting – I told him about my passion for sports. He, like many people in my past, told me there was no future in sports broadcasting. He said it was a shrinking market and that I would be better off staying in news. He offered me an anchoring position on the station’s morning show, but I declined. Despite his attempt to sway my decision, he graciously gave me the weekend sports anchor position at FOX.
As the weekend sports anchor – I worked longer days than ever before. I would shoot, edit, write, produce and anchor my own sportscasts. It was hard, but it was fun. It was stressful, but it was worth it. I was finally a sports anchor and I loved what I was doing.
A year after I got my first job as a sports anchor, I accepted a position to be a sports reporter and fill-in anchor at WBMA in Birmingham, Al. I’ve only been at WBMA for six months– but in those six months, I’ve produced one of the nation’s best high school football shows, traveled to every college football stadium in the SEC, and covered a BCS National Championship.
It took me three and a half years to get to where I am today. While that doesn’t seem like a long time initially, I feel like I have come a long way. (Especially when I remember midnight drives to work, weekends I gave up in college to work as a sports intern, or sitting in long city hall meetings – where I was dreaming of a position in sports.) I didn’t always grow up wanting to be a sports broadcaster, but now I know it is the only job that is right for me.
I realize as well, that none of this could have been possible without the kindness of others: My family, Danielle Trotta, Ashleigh Messervy, and the many other kind people who have assisted me through my career. While it’s been a fun ride so far, I cannot wait to see where the next three and half years take me!
My advice to others: Follow your passion, don’t let others talk you out of what you truly want and go for it!