West Orange middle school students interview David Tyree and Jenny Vrentas

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — “The locker room is now open!” declared Montclair State University literacy professor and Write on Sports co-director and teacher Erik Jacobson. At these words, middle school students from across Essex County raced to interview former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree and Sports Illustrated reporter Jenny Vrentas.

Twenty-six West Orange middle school students participated in the 13th annual Write on Sports summer journalism camp at MSU from July 9 through 20. The program was founded in 2005 by Byron Yake, a West Orange resident and former Press News bureau chief. With the help of Jacobson, Yake grew the program by adding a curriculum. The interview with Tyree and Vrentas was held on July 16.

During the hands-on two-week program, students honed their communication skills, wrote a variety of stories, interviewed athletes and sports media figures, and created a video on a topic of their choice.

One of the highlights of Write on Sports is when a guest journalist and a guest athlete visit the camp to model an interview; this year Vrentas interviewed Tyree.

Vrentas spoke about the evolution of sports journalism as digital platforms and social media change how people consume media before interviewing Tyree about his playing career and the upcoming season for the Giants.

“It’s been a totally different model of how people receive and consume,” Vrentas said. “Adjusting to that has been difficult because you still want to write longer feature stories and provide quality content, but you also have to meet the needs of people by providing quick hits.”

Tyree also spoke about the relationship between media and professional athletes. “The human element needs to be considered in sports in all dynamics,” Tyree said. “This is true for journalists interacting with players and vice versa.”

After Vrentas interviewed Tyree, West Orange and Newark campers got to ask their own questions in both press-conference and locker-room-style interviews.

Other guests during the program included Seton Hall men’s basketball broadcaster Dave Popkin, West Orange High School golfer Tyler Galantini and sports journalist Conor Orr.

Write on Sports campers also attended a New Jersey Jackals game at Yogi Berra Stadium. Prior to the July 18 double header against the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, students interviewed Jackals relief pitchers Nate Gercken and Evan DeLuca.

“I love the camp,” said first-year camper and rising Liberty Middle School seventh-grader Sean Harrington. “It’s really fun and you really improve your writing for the upcoming school year.”

Sean was a member of the Write on Sports Club at Edison Middle School, which spurred his interest in the summer program at MSU. “Here we get to do more reporting and research by doing this all day for two weeks instead an hour once a week. Our videos and stories are can be more in-depth and better here.”

“The goal of the program is to help students improve their literacy skills and find more confidence and enjoyment in the writing process in a way that doesn’t feel like school,” Write on Sports co-director and teacher Andy Beutel said.

The program tries to help children improve and enjoy their writing by allowing students to focus on their niche interests within sports. The student-centered focus enables students to learn more about topics of their interest while getting feedback from instructors.

“If you like sports or you like writing, you’ll enjoy the camp,” Beutel said. “They get to delve into a topic that they like with peers that share their interests.”

More information about the program can be found at https://writeonsports.org.

Photos Courtesy of Peyton Smith