Sparks eager to serve listeners in Wisconsin

Cory Sparks strives for one thing each time he goes on the air. “It is my goal for an audience to have the best time of their day when they consume my work.” Listeners in Beaver Dam, WI will have that opportunity. Sparks is joining ESPN Beaver Dam and 95.3 WBEV.

Among many duties, Sparks will host an on-air shift and broadcast play-by-play. “It allows me to do a little bit of everything. My primary love of calling games is included, as I get to call a variety of high school sports on an ESPN affiliated station. Along with this responsibility, I am hosting radio shows, conducting interviews, putting together daily SportsCenter reports, writing online stories, learning the sales and marketing end of broadcasting, community relations and so much more.”

Embracing opportunities

Sparks is a 2023 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He’s said yes to numerous opportunities over the past four years, from broadcasting various play-by-play to serving as sports director for the campus TV station. Sparks’ proactivity prepared him for the Beaver Dam opportunity. “I was proactive in volunteering to broadcast games at the NCAA level, going after college leadership positions in radio/tv/newspaper, getting an internship in the Northwoods League as a play-by-play broadcaster and so much more. I diversified my skillset and am a go-getter. That’s what got me to where I’m at today.”

While proactivity has been a strength for Sparks, an occasional challenge has been receiving critiques of his work. He admits, “While critiques are necessary in broadcasting, I’ve caught myself being too negative and letting constructive criticism turn to pessimism. Through positive affirmation, more and more structured research, and remembering that I do this because I love it, I have been able to overcome that hurdle.”

Referred to STAA

Sparks joined STAA two months before graduating this year. “My professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Wendell Ray, introduced me to the Jim Nantz Award. From there, I did some research and learned what STAA was about and how I could use it as a resource in my broadcasting journey.

“I was a little hesitant about joining STAA when I didn’t know fully know what benefits came with joining it. However, just like with anything else, I did my research and learned that this could be a phenomenal opportunity as I transition from college into the professional world.”

ESPN Beaver Dam and 95.3 WBEV is another phenomenal opportunity for Sparks, who loves to learn. “[This job] allows me to learn everything about sports broadcasting. By gaining a broader scope of the industry, I’ll have more insight when doing the specific aspects I love most.”

Being on-air also provides Sparks the opportunity to make his listeners’ days a bit more pleasant. “At the end of the day, it’s my job to tell a story and leave a lasting impact on others.”

Vaillancourt back in the game as voice of UNO hockey

When family priorities led Mike Vaillancourt to step down after six seasons as the voice of Clarkson University hockey, he wondered if he would ever again broadcast his favorite sport. Three years later, the answer to his question is a resounding yes. Vaillancourt is the new voice at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

He can hardly be more excited. “UNO is all-in on hockey,” Vaillancourt gushes. “The administration is very dedicated to the success of the program, which is a focal point in the community. The Mavs were 4th in the nation in attendance last season and the people in Omaha love their team.”

Weighing the options

UNO was one of three options for Vaillancourt. Together with his wife Hillary, Vaillancourt carefully weighed all three. “We each took time to research each individually and together, and Omaha was the top choice for several reasons. She was very excited that Omaha came through.”

Fortuitous timing started the ball rolling for Vaillancourt at UNO. He cold-contacted the athletic department, not knowing there was an opening. Vaillancourt picks up the story from there. “Fast-forward two months. I let my coach at Clarkson know what all has been happening and he made a call to [UNO’s AD for hockey] without my asking.” Vaillancourt then adds with a grin, “Lesson: always be in good with coach. A few days later, I had my first interview, followed by a panel and a phone conversation with the color analyst.”

Vaillancourt also had some inside help. “UNO’s equipment manager and I were road roommates at Clarkson for a season. So, there is a familiarity walking in. He gave me a great reference without my knowledge.”

Relevant relationships

Maintaining good relationships with Clarkson’s coaches after he left was important in Vaillancourt advancing his career. “It was my choice to leave in support of other family needs, but I remained in constant conversations with the coaches. When my wife said it was okay to get back to hockey, they helped a ton, even making calls to programs on my behalf without my asking. It’s so, so important to develop and keep great relationships with your coaches and administrators if you cover a team.”

Vaillancourt first joined STAA in 2014. “For me, STAA is about community. We can all learn from each other whether it’s sharing spot charts, collectively trying to solve tech issues, or handling tough challenges with relationships. Being with STAA allows us, who often compete for the same jobs a way, to help each other and make each other better.”

Leaving Clarkson was difficult for Vaillancourt. Fear of the unknown made it worse. “I was frustrated that I may have left behind my first love in hockey and might not have a chance to return. But, by keeping good relationships and networking, doors opened.”

DeBock takes unusual road to Corpus Christi

Danny DeBock’s path to the Corpus Christi IceRays hockey play-by-play team was unusual. DeBock’s degree is in Information Technology and Administrative Management. He was hired after previously being turned down. He was hired in a role for which he didn’t apply, and he did the job-clinching Zoom interview from the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

And he’s never broadcast hockey.

DeBock’s passion and energy, though, overcame all of it.

“This opportunity is a platform to give back to my friends, family, and mentors who’ve supported me since Day 1,” DeBock states. “I hope I can pay back those who helped me by devoting my time and energy to help the next generation of broadcasters achieve their goals. It’s also an opportunity to support the great community of Corpus Christi.”

DeBock’s title is Game Operations/PR & Marketing Coordinator. And broadcaster. STAA member Ryan Zagrzecki will broadcast home games; DeBock road contests.

Winding path

DeBock’s unlikely journey started in December when he accepted his diploma from Central Washington University. He’s broadcast football, basketball, volleyball, soccer and rugby, but never hockey. It is part of the reason he didn’t hear back when he applied for an Ice Rays broadcasting/media relations opening in June. “When the job listing resurfaced in August, I hesitantly reapplied. My broadcast plans seemed to be already set in stone, with plans of calling club hockey and high school sports in Washington. Then again, I thought, ‘what do I have to lose.'”

What DeBock lacks in hockey broadcasting and media relations experience, he makes up for with passion. “The IceRays liked the passion and energy I brought in my [first] interview. Since they also had a void in the game operations position, the [idea] was to have me in charge of game operations for home games and to broadcast road games.”

The time the IceRays chose for a second Zoom interview happened to be when DeBock was at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. “My mentor I went with got us courtside seats for one of the matches with the time for the interview approaching,” DeBock recalls. “When it came time, I left my front row seat and frantically looked for a place to Zoom in. It just so happened that there was one open seat on a picnic table. I darted to the seat, mounted my phone on the table’s umbrella, and it was there I accepted the job.”

Joining STAA

DeBock had been with STAA for just two months when the IceRays gave their position description to STAA to share with members. “This lifelong Washingtonian would not be making a move to the Southwest without the help of the STAA,” DeBock declares. I’m grateful for [STAA Owner Jon Chelesnik’s] guidance, for providing insight and encouragement through my sportscasting journey.”

DeBock still gets excited when recalling his emotions upon being offered the job. “It felt surreal, being hired to call a sport I had no prior experience in calling. But the main emotion that poured out was gratitude to so many people who invested time in my personal growth.

“I look forward to what’s in store next!”

Owen Gund named South Carolina Stingrays hockey voice

PRESS RELEASE — STAA member Owen Gund is the new Director of Communications and Broadcasting for the South Carolina Stingrays.

The Stingrays are the ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals.

Gund is a recent graduate of Boston University. He was co-sports director for the student radio station and called games for the five-time national champion BU men’s ice hockey team. This year, Gund broadcasted the Terriers’ run to the Frozen Four. Gund also called Massachusetts high school hockey games.

Gund will oversee communications efforts for South Carolina and will be the team’s primary play-by-play voice.

“Owen comes from a school with a rich hockey background. He is passionate and knowledgeable, and I can’t wait for our fans to meet him and tune into the Stingrays broadcasts,” says Stingrays President Rob Concannon.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Gund is a lifelong hockey fan who grew up attending Boston Bruins games at TD Garden.

“This is a dream come true for me. I could not be more excited to join this organization and meet our great fans,” Gund said. “I know there is a strong tradition of hockey in this community, and I look forward to helping this franchise move toward the ultimate goal of bringing a fourth Kelly Cup to the Lowcountry.”

Clippers hire ’23 Nantz Award Winner Carlo Jiménez as their radio voice

When the Lakers hired Spero Dedes as their radio voice in 2005, many broadcasters hoped it would open the door for other young voices to get NBA jobs. Dedes had graduated college just four years prior. The next similar hire, though, didn’t happen until 2019 when the Clippers hired Noah Eagle to be their radio voice, just months after Eagle picked-up his college diploma.

Now the next domino is falling and it is again the Clippers who are giving an opportunity to an exceptionally talented college grad. The team has hired Carlo Jiménez, USC class of ’23, as their broadcaster.

Carlo Jiménez hopes to inspire

Jiménez was this year’s recipient of STAA’s Jim Nantz Award, recognizing the nation’s most outstanding collegiate sports broadcaster. He hopes the Clippers hiring of him, and of Eagle before him, changes the way that pro teams view broadcasters who are recent college grads.

“Noah’s ability to do a fantastic job with the Clippers out of college is really the reason why I was even considered for this job,” Jiménez states. “He opened the door for the Clippers to take a look at my resume and seriously consider me as a 22 year old out of college. Noah has proven that people who are recent college grads can have success broadcasting on the biggest stage. I hope to continue Noah’s work and demonstrate that recent college graduates can be excellent broadcasters.”

Carlo Jiménez uncommon determination

Some might call Jiménez an overnight success story. His story, though, has been many years in the making. One summer several years ago, Jiménez dedicated himself to calling one play-by-play broadcast from TV every day. In his college years, Jiménez called USC football, basketball, baseball and other sports. He also called summer collegiate baseball on both coasts. He expedited his growth by seeking mentorship and critiques from sportscasters across the country, including several of the industry’s biggest names.

Jiménez joined STAA his freshman year at USC. “Since I got my membership I have sent a tape to the monthly group critiques provided by STAA almost every single month I’ve been a member. This was incredibly helpful in getting to learn from not only my own critiqued tape but others as well.”

Social media star

If elite play-by-play skills and a relentless desire to constantly be improving is half of Jiménez’ secret sauce, the other half is his social media skills. He has nearly 64 thousand TikTok followers and occasionally gets recognized in public.

The Clippers also noticed.

“Social media was one of the prominent topics talked about throughout my interview process with the Clippers,” Jiménez recalls. “They were very curious about how I started my social media, what I have learned from doing it and how I would apply it if I were with the team. At one point in the process they asked me to provide some of my own social media ideas for the Clippers.”

Jiménez tries to post semi-regularly and to come up with ideas that take his audience behind the scenes in sports broadcasting. “I also try to provide some tips that I’ve learned from other people that have helped me when I broadcast. Furthermore, I try to explore new editing or storytelling ideas when I do my social media videos. I get a lot of inspiration from accounts that I like and then see if I can implement their strategies into my own videos.”

He continues, “During the pandemic STAA had a video call (the Sportscasting Summit)  in which they mentioned the importance of building your own brand. This in part was a reason I started my own social media and has helped me stand out in every single one of my job applications.”

Jiménez hopes that his hiring by the Clippers serves as inspiration to collegiate sportscasters as to what is possible through uncommon determination, discipline and hard work. “One of my biggest fears once graduating was hearing about the time it often takes to get a full-time job out of college. I hope my journey shows young broadcasters that this isn’t always the case.”

Flexibility helps Wistrcill to full-time DII play-by-play

When J.T. Wistrcill was in 5th grade, he didn’t play a sport. His parents wanted him to do something active so they placed him in karate. “I realized to be good at karate you have to be flexible, so I quickly went back to football and basketball,” Wistrcill laughs. Ironically, flexibility is what has led Wistrcill to his new position as Assistant Director of Broadcast and Video Services at Catawba College.

Catawba is an NCAA DII college in Salisbury, NC. When they needed to fill the position, they contacted STAA.

Jack of all trades

Wistrcill will serve as the play-by-play voice for Catawba, and create content for the athletics teams and social sites. His flexibility to call many sports, and to move from Utah to North Carolina, earned him the position. “Working multiple jobs around the sports field and calling a variety of sporting events,” Wistrcill grins. “I’ve been a student intern inside a university athletic department, assisted in PAC-12 broadcasts and have experience calling several sports. Being versatile and able to take on multiple things at once has allowed me to land this opportunity.”

Wistrcill’s university athletic department internship came at his alma mater, the University of Utah. He attended from 2019 to 2022. During school, Wistrcill started broadcasting football, basketball and baseball games for KSL Sports Rewind in Salt Lake City. Since graduating, he’s called basketball, soccer, volleyball and baseball for Salt Lake Community College and hosted the Locked On Utes podcast.

Wistrcill has even created a high school football recruiting and rankings website. Again, flexibility.

He joined STAA this year on the suggestion of his friend and fellow STAA member Spencer McLaughlin. “[STAA] has allowed me to learn more about what it takes to be successful in this field. Without it I would not have this opportunity at Catawba.”


Even though Wistrcill is a sports media jack-of-all-trades, the sportscasting job market has presented it’s challenges. “Dating back to April of this year, I’ve applied for over 100 sports media jobs,” Wistrcill recalls. “I didn’t land any of the main ones I was hoping for but finished near the top of a few searches. That gave me the confidence to keep going, even if that meant another year of staying in my old jobs. The last job I applied for was Catawba, so after nearly six months I found the opportunity I was hoping to land.”

Though Wistrcill lacked sufficient flexibility to land a high kick, he is plenty flexible to land his first full-time job broadcasting NCAA athletics.

Chris Lynch moves west to call North Iowa Bulls hockey

Northeasterner Chris Lynch is moving to America’s heartland for his next play-by-play opportunity. An STAA member, Lynch is the new Director of Media & Broadcaster for the NAHL’s North Iowa Bulls.

He learned of the opportunity in an STAA Job Leads+ email.

“I’m excited to join the hockey family in Mason City,” Lynch smiles. “This is a proud team with an excellent tradition of competitive hockey in North Iowa and I am honored to be a part of the Bulls organization.”

Lynch arrives in Mason City after a year with the Danbury Hat Tricks of the FPHL and Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks of the NAHL and NA3HL. In his time with the Hat Tricks, Lynch served as the primary broadcaster for all three teams. He capped his season with the call of the Hat Tricks’ first Commissioner’s Cup Championship win in overtime.

Lynch is a native of West Hartford, CT. He completed his Masters at Iona University, Bachelors at Boston University, and was a freelance broadcaster in the New England area. Lynch also worked as a beat writer covering college hockey events ranging from the Beanpot to the Frozen Four.

Enthusiasm, embracing opportunity lead Toll to ESPN Central Texas

ESPN Central Texas offered Drake Toll an opportunity to broadcast a high school baseball playoff game on the day of his college graduation last spring. The Baylor senior said yes. “[ESPN’s] Steve Levy once told me to never turn down a job, so I accepted the gig and left my graduation ceremony early,” Toll recalls.

Following his first playoff series, Toll was offered a full-time role. He’s joined ESPN Central Texas as an afternoon host, host of the Baylor Football Kickoff Show on the university’s flagship station, and an account executive.

“I’ll also host the Locked On Big 12 podcast on the side,” Toll adds.

When asked what he did that helped him land the job, Toll’s reply was simple.

“I said yes. We have all heard the adage ‘know when to say no.’ But it is just as important to know when to say yes.”

Toll’s high energy approach

Toll’s approach to sports talk and play-by-play is high-energy. And it’s completely natural. “If caffeine counts as natural,” he jokes. Then Toll gets serious. “While my energy and explosiveness is often likened to Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless, I liken it to Drake Toll. It’s who I am.

“I often worry that many of my colleagues are taught early on that personality overshadows the game, but then we’re just generating robots who wear headsets. Everywhere I go, I cultivate community and work to become a staple amongst my audience. Sports media is really just sales, and you’re the product. Don’t sell the business, sell the story. I embrace autonomy and use my energy to set myself apart.

Additional motivation

Toll applied for STAA’s Jim Nantz Award and All-American program each of his final two years at Baylor. The program recognizes the nation’s most outstanding collegiate sports broadcasters. Toll never placed. “Drake is as talented as anyone who applied,” says STAA Owner Jon Chelesnik. “But I thought he needed to better balance substance and style. It doesn’t mean Drake won’t be great, though. Joe Davis applied for the All-America program as a college sophomore and also didn’t earn honors.”

Toll says, “I greatly respect the [Jim Nantz] award, but my exclusion from its ranking does not mean I’m a bad journalist. For those like me, do not give up. You belong in this industry. Fresh out of college, I own a media company and have two other wonderful on-air jobs, even without the Nantz Award. You can certainly do the same.”

Additional advice

Toll offers an additional piece of advice, this one to folks who are in the sportscasting job market, “Send an email. You want that job? You’re ready for a change? You’re hitting dead ends? Send one more email. Get personal. Separate yourself from others. You may not achieve your dream on email one, but many don’t even make it that far. Go the extra mile and show you exist outside of the box.”

Toll certainly lives outside the box. His positive, energetic approach to life is reflected in his sportscasting. And he never says no to opportunities. Today, Toll’s approach has landed him at ESPN Central Texas. And one day, Chelesnik predicts, “Drake will be a household name in sportscasting.”

Scully, Lawler, Miller fuel Ibrahim’s path to Iowa Media Network

Zak Ibrahim started getting into sports in fifth grade. He was tall for his age so he gravitated towards basketball, though he enjoyed football as well. He marveled at the athletes he saw on TV, but it was the announcers who especially captured his attention. “Growing up in Los Angeles meant hearing some of the most iconic voices in sports, such as the great Vin Scully, Ralph Lawler and Bob Miller, Ibrahim recalls. “All three spoke of how fortunate they were to be doing be doing what they loved, so I knew that if I ever got the chance to try it, I’d likely fall in love with it too.

Ibrahim, indeed, fell in love with play-by-play. And now he has his first professional job. The recent Indian University grad is joining Iowa Media Network as a play-by-play broadcaster and host. He learned of the opening In an STAA Job Leads+ email.

“This opportunity checks a lot boxes in terms of what I was looking for in my first job,” Ibrahim smiles. “With play-by-play being my passion, this position gives me the opportunity to call games fulltime as the voice of Clarke High School, calling up to eight different sports on quality broadcasts throughout the year. In addition, I’ll host a weekly morning show about the community in Osceola, IA which will help me hone that skill of being a talk show host while learning about the amazing people in the area and providing them with a platform.”

Early start

Once Ibrahim realized his interest in sportscasting, it didn’t take him long to get involved. *I got my first chance to broadcast as a junior in high school,” he remembers. “I did color for our basketball team the first few times I was on air and I loved it. I never had more fun in my life. The positive reinforcement I received from coaches, players and my family helped me gain confidence to continue and eventually take that into my first play-by-play rep later that year. After calling an incredible state playoff overtime basketball game, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

It was also during his junior year in high school that Ibrahim discovered STAA. *I found out about STAA shortly after that first play-by-play rep. Once I told my parents I wanted to go to school for sports broadcasting, they urged me to research some of the best programs to attend. STAA had recently released a list of the top 20 sports broadcasting schools in the country. Among Syracuse, Missouri, Arizona State and others was Indiana University, a school I had multiple cousins attending and planned on touring that spring. That list was how I first stumbled upon STAA. It stuck with me throughout my application process and is a big reason my desire to attend IU was confirmed.

Ibrahim continues, *While applying to schools, I continued digging around STAA’s website and learned about how it helped broadcasters find jobs. STAA was clearly legit and professional. I’d go on to follow the content it produced all throughout college until ultimately becoming a member my senior year.”

Rapid Growth

While at Indiana, Ibrahim continued developing his play-by-play skills. He broadcasted various Hoosiers sports on Big Ten Plus and on IU student radio. During two of his summers, he called baseball for the San Luis Obispo Blues of the California Collegiate League. The reps he gained during college prepared him well for his new opportunity with Iowa Media Network. “That program [at IU] prepared better than I could’ve imagined,” Ibrahim enthuses. “It gave me the opportunity to call almost every sport at some point during my four years, and to call Big Ten athletics. The reps were invaluable.”

Also helpful was Ibrahim’s first job, which ironically, was not in broadcasting. “It happened to be in sales, which my new position also entails. I sold kitchen cutlery. I never knew how much I was helping myself down the road by having sales experience and learning early on how to communicate effectively before I really started broadcasting. My dad used to always say, ‘Son, right now you’re selling knives but after college you’ll be selling yourself.’ And boy was he right.”

Ibrahim was certainly successful in selling himself to the Iowa Media Network. And now the man who grew up listening to Southern California’s great broadcasters will be sharing his own passion for play-by-play with sports fans in Iowa. And perhaps one day, an Iowan will say his love of broadcasting came from growing up listening to Zak Ibrahim.

Luisi embracing leaving comfort zone for Odessa Jackalopes

When Brandon Luisi told his wife that he had a job offer in West Texas, Jammie Luisi was less than thrilled. “She was terrified,” Luisi laughs. “She originally was super scared because neither of us have never lived outside the state of Illinois.”

The Luisi’s quickly got past their trepidation and are moving to Texas where Brandon is the new Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for the Odessa Jackalopes of the NAHL.

“The more Jammie got to learn about the Permian Basin area, the more excited she got,” Luisi recalls.

Odessa connection

Luisi learned of the Jackalopes opportunity in an STAA Job Leads+ email. “The reason I was so excited for this position is because of Peoria Rivermen broadcaster (and fellow STAA member) Jason Ruff, who I’d been interning for the past two seasons.” Ruff formerly held the job in Odessa. “I knew that if I reached out to Jason, he would have more information on what it’s like being there and what the leadership group was like. He got me in contact with the owner of the team and it went from there.”

One thing Luisi believes helped his pursuit of the Jackalopes opening was how quickly he contacted team president Rick Matchett after learning of the opportunity. “Rick is a fast moving guy. I reached out to him with interest in the position; one other broadcaster did as well. By Monday he told me that it was between us. He is a very busy guy and likes to move fast when it comes to hiring people. Therefore he didn’t really have a window of time for applicants, which ended-up benefiting me.”

Relationship building

Relationship building, as he did with Jason Ruff, has long been a strength of Luisi’s. He encourages young broadcasters to not be scared when contacting new people. “Throughout my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I DM’d multiple NHL journalists, beat reporters, announcers and studio hosts and asked for advice. I would get a response within a day from 95% of them. Some of those connections are still prevalent today. One of them being the Carolina Hurricanes broadcaster, Mike Maniscalco.”

Luisi is a 2023 graduate of Bradley University, where one of his instructors was the highly regarded Dave Snell. Luisi broadcasted Braves hockey while on the Peoria campus. That was in addition to internships with the Rivermen and the Peoria Mustangs. He joined STAA after his junior year.

“My STAA membership has been the cornerstone for me in becoming a broadcaster,” he states. “While I may not be the most engaged person in the [private STAA Member] Community, I do read every single email. I read through threads. I read the job leads and see who’s contributing [in the Member Community]. The community that STAA has built is beneficial for any broadcaster of any sport at any level.”

Luisi, and his wife, are excited to start a new chapter in Odessa. “The NAHL is a perfect league for broadcasters to get their first gig right out of college, to hone their skills and get better,” Luisi believes. “I also think being in the South division is going to benefit me because of the style of hockey they play. It’s old-time hockey. A lot of physicality, a lot of the hockey I grew up on.”