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Sports Journalism students shine in the Florida sun

picture of a Centennial College Sports Journalism program student interviewing a Toronto Blue Jays baseball playerPhoto by Richard Lautens

Since its inception in 2010, Centennial College’s Sports Journalism post-graduate program has been teaching the profession’s best practices and preparing students for careers in the ever-evolving world of sports media by encompassing print, radio, television, websites, podcasts, social media – and whatever comes next.

One of the unique features of this immersive, hands-on program is the opportunity to make the annual trek to Florida to cover baseball’s spring training camps, where students literally apply their skills in the field to build their confidence while interviewing players and filing stories to deadline.

"We focus on the rookie leagues and Low-A baseball teams that form the farm-team system for major league baseball," says program coordinator and faculty member Malcolm Kelly, who created the program and its real-world learning opportunities. And it’s not solely about baseball, either.

"Students also cover the University of South Florida NCAA women’s softball, the University of Tampa baseball and swim teams, and the lacrosse team at Saint Leo University, where a lot of Canadians play. There’s also practice-round PGA golf on Tuesdays, which some of our students follow diligently," Kelly notes.

The big draw for fans, of course, is the start of spring training by the Major League teams.

"The class trip to Florida illustrates the college’s ongoing belief in experiential learning. It’s the first major experience for our Sports Journalism students, and it’s amazing how much they grow in one week in March."

Students are responsible for filing a story, photo and social media posts every day, and the content is shared with the Canadian Baseball Network, published on the school’s Toronto Observer website, and a few go to Sportsnet.ca for uploading to the cable channel’s popular website.

"Each student will have a chance to prepare one story for the network," Kelly says, adding that the opportunity to contribute to a national sports outlet is a powerful motivator for the students.

The annual spring trek was established in 2012 after Kelly wondered out loud what it would be like to take students down to Florida to witness the excitement of young ball players trying out at professional training camps. In a way, the nervous energy on the field is something the Centennial sports journalism students can relate to.

"When I first floated the idea, I was encouraged by the tremendous support I received from the partner MLB teams in Florida, as well as the schools down there that were happy to host us and support what we were trying to do in terms of a teaching opportunity," says Kelly.

One notable outcome has been the growing partnership Centennial College has cultivated with Sportsnet and its parent company, Rogers Media. The broadcasting conglomerate recently announced a $75,000 gift intended to enhance training and development for Centennial students enrolled in the Sports Journalism program.

Spread over two years, the funds will be used to support multimedia and digital media training during the 2018 spring training experience, and to fund scholarships for students who have excelled academically while in the program.

For Kelly, the donation represents a validation of all the sweat and tears invested in the program since he first talked about a journalism program focused solely on sports reporting with an element of professional placement.

Thanks to remarkable industry support, Kelly gets to see the "extraordinary growth" his students experience under the Florida sun every spring.