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Sarachek: A Look Behind the Scenes

This past week, Yeshiva University hosted its annual Red Sarachek Tournament featuring Jewish high school basketball teams from across the nation. While the play on the court was often impressive and consistently entertaining, this reporter found the play behind the scenes equally intriguing.

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Led by co-Presidents of MacsLive, Benny Statman (YC ’15) and Courtney Thomas (SC ‘14), approximately 60 unpaid volunteers over the course of five days worked to produce Sarachek’s live broadcast streams, photograph the games, and contribute articles for the website. “For many of these players, this is the biggest stage they’ll play on,” said Asher Goldberg, YU alum and long-time techie for Sarachek and MacsLive. “We want to make them feel like superstars, not just another high school player from Atlanta.”

To that end, Sarachek’s dedicated volunteers have transformed what was once considered a lackluster tournament into a highly professional, well-oiled machine. In the stands and on the court, four cameramen and two photographers work to capture each moment in high-definition. Each stream is then sent live to two producers – set up on the track – who work with an HD50 Live Production Switcher to provide the optimal shot. “We have our own closed com system that allows us to communicate with our crew on the court,” said Benny Statman, who acts as audio-video producer in addition to President. “We need to be in constant communication.”

As demonstrated by Sarachek’s broadcasters, communication is key to producing a quality broadcast. “We are the voice of Yeshiva University to anybody who cannot make it to the Max Stern Athletic Center,” said Shlomo Weissberg (YC ’14), senior broadcaster for MacsLive, “obviously, we have to remain incredibly polished.” Together with senior broadcasters Ilan Katz (YC ’14), and Gabe Davidoff (SSSB ’14) Mr. Weissberg coordinates a team of rotating broadcasters who relay all the action of the games from the on-court booth. For instance, to boost the ‘color’ of the color commentator, each coach receives a questionnaire before Sarachek asking for a specific storyline going in. Then, before the game, the color commentator will speak to the coach in order to solidify his personal broadcasting method. “We try to really tell a story,” said Courtney Thomas, co-President of MacsLive. “I remember one player who was captain of the basketball team, president of the student council, and was honored for doing a lot of volunteer work. We try to relay that and fit it into the game.”

Sarachek’s broadcasters are also intimately aware of their audience – made up mostly of players’ parents and siblings. Hence, commentary must be as impartial as possible. Sarachek Media Guides are produced before the event and distributed to all volunteers in order to inform and educate on proper conduct throughout. For instance, a referee’s call can never be called ‘bad’ on air, only ‘questionable.’ “We’re all about professionalism,” explained Ms. Thomas, “we want to show parents at home that YU is a respectable and professional institution. Similarly, injuries are never shown live, and commentators are well prepared with a significant quantity of material in case of a game delay due to injury.”

All in all, a total of sixteen volunteers with over $5,000 in rented and sponsored equipment worked each game: four cameramen, one photographer, two audio-video executive producers, two broadcasters, two sideline reporters – who interview coaches and relay comments back to the broadcasters – three scoreboard technicians, one booth producer, and one post-game writer. “We love what we do,” shared Mr. Weissberg. “A large part of why I’m in YU today is because of my Sarachek experience as a high school basketball player. I just think it’s a fantastic opportunity to give back.” Mr. Goldberg echoed a similar sentiment: “We received 40,000 total visits from 8,000 unique visitors – that’s unbelievable. I come back every year because we always put together something awesome.”