Get to Know the Zionsville Sports Network
Through Zionsville Sports Network (ZSN), students at Zionsville Community High School have a unique opportunity to develop and test their sportscasting skills, while also supporting their fellow student-athletes.
“Its main purpose is to provide Zionsville athletes with a chance to support their peers and their friends in a different way,” says Hayden Orbaugh, president and director of operations. “It gives you a new way, other than standing in the student section and clapping. It allows you to support them in a really fun way, and that’s why we do it.”
Started by students Drew Bertram and Lucas Fox in 2016, ZSN is an extracurricular club at the high school where students learn the ins and outs of sports broadcasting. From basketball to football to wrestling, ZSN broadcasts a wide array of the school’s sporting events via livestream. These pay-per-view broadcasts are made available via the IHSAA Champions Network, allowing fans to enjoy the action from the comfort of their own home while game attendance is limited due to restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
As the lead administrator over all extracurricular activities at the high school, Assistant Principal Matt Walter remembers when Bertram and Fox first proposed the idea for the network in 2016.
“I remember a few kids came to me, and the athletic director, Greg Schellhase,” Walter says. “They said, ‘We’ve seen other schools have these broadcast teams.’ Around 2016 it was becoming more common, so they had seen other schools doing it. They said, ‘Can we do that?’ So the idea really came from kids who were into sports and thought it’d be something fun to do.”
After watching his older brother Hogan initially get involved with ZSN, Orbaugh decided it was time for him to jump in on the sportscasting action.
“Hogan played basketball so he couldn’t do basketball games,” Orbaugh says. “I said, ‘Hey, can me and my buddies do it during basketball season?’ So he taught me how to do it, set it up and all that. That’s how I got involved.”
A golfer in his own right, Orbaugh says ZSN has often benefited from athletes who join the club and already have an innate skillset regarding talking about sports.
“We’ve found some of the best kids in our program the first time they hopped on, just because they’re athletes,” Orbaugh says. “That’s come true with a crew we started this year. One of our best basketball crews is Luke Nolan, Carson Wagoner, Luke Baumgartner and Dane Phillips. That’s because they’ve played sports their entire lives.”
Nevertheless, Orbaugh emphasizes that anyone with a knowledge of sports is welcome to give ZSN a try.
“My main role is to get the student involvement up,” Orbaugh says. “Our main rule is that anybody who wants to do it can, and that’s always been a big thing. You don’t need experience.”
While some students may come in with no sportscasting experience, Walter has witnessed many participants develop their skills over the course of an athletic season.
“I’ve watched the evolution, particularly through the football season for example,” Walter says. “They really improved and got pretty darn good at it by the end of it. By the time they were in the sectional and regional games, they were really well done. It’s building communication skills and how to articulate your point, and how to be concise.”
As with everything else in the past year, ZSN has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the club’s broadcasts are now pay-per-view via the IHSAA Champions Network.
“That provides another finance option towards the athletic department, and all our funds go towards the athletic department,” Orbaugh says. “We’re completely a nonprofit because we’re just a student club. It’s provided a way for the athletic department to make up in some lost revenue.”
This recent shift to pay-per-view has upped the expectations of quality in ZSN broadcasts, Walter explains.
“People are paying to watch these broadcasts, so there’s expectation of really high quality,” Walter says. “They’ve responded very well to that and do a really good job.”
While ZSN offers Zionsville High School students with real-world broadcasting experience, Walter ultimately sees the club as a confidence builder as students forge forward in life.
“I think probably the biggest thing is the kids develop a lot of confidence in terms of putting themselves out there in a public forum, where people are hearing them and watching them,” Walter says. “It can be a little intimidating, but they do a really good job with jumping on there and being confident.”