Onondaga Community College didn’t have a team competing in The Basketball Tournament, but thanks to a team of OCC Alumni and Faculty, all of the games were broadcast on the ESPN family of networks. When the $2 million dollar winner-take-all competition was held in OCC’s SRC Arena on the last weekend of July, 14 of the 24 television production crew members were affiliated with the College. “It was great national exposure for the campus and our Electronic Media Communications (EMC) program,” said class of 1983 and faculty member Tony Vadala. “We had graduates from 1971 to 2019 working together during the tournament.”
The on-court headliner in the tournament was “Boeheim’s Army,” a team comprised mostly of former Syracuse University basketball players. Several team members play professionally abroad and enjoyed the opportunity to return to Central New York and reunite with former teammates. “It’s unique to have the basketball players coming back to their city where they went to college and a group of people returning to their alma mater to televise that very event,” said Mark Ballard, an OCC faculty member who works as a director on broadcasts across the region.
One of the crew members who returned home was Dan Roach (Liverpool HS), a 1979 graduate of OCC who operated a camera throughout the tournament. Roach still lives in Central New York but travels most often when he works for the Golf Channel and ESPN. “We all appreciate that we came from OCC and had the same learning experience. OCC was always about being hands-on which is how we learned the business so well. It wasn’t theory based, it was hands-on.”
Tommy Valentine was the youngest crew member to excel in OCC’s hands-on EMC program. The Chittenango High School graduate earned his OCC degree in May of this year. He was also named the top student in the EMC major. Valentine developed his skills quickly at OCC. “The first time you walked into the TV studio it was daunting. You had all of these lights and buttons and everything going on. They brought us right in, got us familiar with everything and our comfort with the equipment grew exponentially as we went on in the first semester. Before long it was, ‘okay I know how to do everything because we’ve gotten this practice right out of the gate.’ They let us make mistakes and learn what we needed to learn.”
Throughout Valentine’s two years on campus he took every opportunity to work on sports broadcasts. He was a behind-the-scenes regular at Syracuse University Football and Basketball games. He also worked at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductions in Cooperstown the weekend before the TBT Tournament. He always found himself on live broadcasts with OCC faculty members which added to their credibility in the classroom. “To be able to listen to my professors in class and watch them execute it, to practice what they’re teaching, I knew if I followed their advice I could get to where they are. I knew what they were teaching was legitimate.”
Next month Valentine will transfer to St. Bonaventure University and major in Broadcast Journalism. He’s looking forward to new opportunities there, and to crossing paths with former Lazers while working at future sporting events. “OCC alumni are the best in the business. Every production I’ve worked on has included OCC alumni. The fact I get to be part of that prestigious culture means a lot to me. Professor Tony Vadala always says, ‘coast to coast, border to border, the OCC alumni are all over the country.’ To be part of that family means a lot to me.”
In the days leading up to the TBT Tournament, Valentine was a guest on a special iPhone edition of our podcast, “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College.” You can listen to the podcast here.