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Brothers Helping Brothers

Brothers Helping Brothers

New Digital Media Program Dedicated Fall To Helping Avon Althetes

When Theater Director Ms. Erica LuBonta realized that the show would likely not go on this fall, she began to get creative with her plans for an afternoon activity. What she came up with was a quintessential Avon experience of brothers helping brothers. It’s a way to showcase our students and the multitude of talents they possess. It ensures our stories get told.

So, what is it exactly that we’re talking about? In short, LuBonta dedicated her theater budget and leveraged her professional background in television and broadcasting to build a fully functioning TV production studio space to serve as the hub for Avon Old Farms School television and sports broadcasting.

“When I joined the Avon faculty, I already was thinking about how I could help Avon expand its broadcasting experiences,” began LuBonta. “I always aim to help actors focus on the real-life applicability of acting skills and possible careers, many of which are within the broadcast field.”

Last fall, when the play required some technical lighting and functionality, LuBonta began collaborating with WAOF, Avon’s student-run media group. In working with Mr. Ryan Davey on that project, she began to see a natural segue for students interested in digital media and production to collaborate with the theater department. While she hoped to get some basics in order last spring, the eruption of COVID-19 put that plan on ice.

“Watching Jim Detora and Rob Whitty reimagine campus for the students’ return this fall inspired me. I wanted to create a competitive offering that could support recruitment elements for all of the athletes feeling like COVID made them miss their shot. Immediately, I knew that highlight reels for varsity athletes were a must.”

Upon returning to campus, Erica and Ryan’s troop of 16 students quickly went to work helping their athletic brothers get noticed, despite not having a competitive season. The group worked with varsity coaches to identify players with possible recruitment opportunities and what skills needed to be showcased in the reels. Team by team, athletes were called into the newly created green room to be recorded and photographed for ‘sizzle reels.’ Digital media students also took their equipment to the fields and courts around campus to capture drills in action. The group then combined the animations, still photographs, player statistics, and highlight footage into a clean package that players could post on social media accounts for college coaches to see.

“This day and age, having footage is critical for proper college exposure. That's a given,” said Head Basketball Coach Matt Mihalich. “But we often forget that someone needs to be holding the camera, getting the right shots, and editing the footage to be clear and concise. Having this resource here at Avon Old Farms is what sets us apart as a school, as well as a college athletics preparatory program.”

In addition to helping Avon athletes get some publicity, the process of coming into the studio has helped in other ways, too. With only training practices allowed in the beginning of the fall term, drilling six days a week was getting a little stale. But, putting on a fresh uniform for the camera was a reminder to the players that there’s still a larger goal looming out there: competition will return.

“The players get excited when they realize that their brothers in digital media can create high-end, ESPN-like graphics for them,” shared LuBonta. “One boy even joked that he felt like a celebrity. Multiple athletes took the time to thank us for our work. Making our players feel special by using a diverse set of technical skills to help them when they’re hurting is keeping the brotherhood strong.”

With no games and no large gatherings, for example, there has not been an Avon Army yet this term. However, once students caught wind of what was happening in the digital studio space, more began to ask how to get involved to show support for their brothers.

“We started to have students in sports ask how they could participate, maybe coming down once a week,” explained LuBonta. “One boy came to me all business with a full plan ready to go. I of course agreed to work with him, because we’re excited to show the entire school how diversely this new program can be used.”

One of the goals of the theater department is to allow students to work with many different teams, always in service of an end product to which everyone has contributed to the learning of the collaborative process. This fall, the digital production group has taken that to a new level. 

In addition to the digital media students working with the athletes, the program has also drawn the attention of the music department. Students will be creating original tracks to mix with the highlight reels, creating a 100 percent Avon-created spot.

“The digital studio has become an extension of the classroom by offering our students the opportunity to develop their ability to assess critically, to make informed choices, to work as part of a team, and to develop creative solutions to problems, even when facing limited resources in terms of time, space, personnel, or budget,” LuBonta said. “We’re also teaching important tools for both written and oral communication, giving students the ability to speak in front of large groups, and developing confidence in their own voice.”

Some students involved in this fall’s digital media production are already familiar to the Avon community: Patrick Dallahan ’23, who began announcing football and hockey games as a freshman last year, plans to be in the studio announcing games when scrimmages begin later this fall. Millan Jain ’21 began the ‘Know Your Brother’ podcast over the summer while quarantining at home and has built on that to include sideline reporting this fall. Hobie Jamison ’21, who has been a regular photographer on campus, has also been lending his eye and skills to the production team.

“We have students in each grade working in the digital production studio, which will not only be good for the stability of the program, but is also providing a life lesson to our older students: you can’t take all your institutional knowledge with you,” said LuBonta. “We’re making sure the seniors are training younger students how to do things, not only with the technical skills, but also how to speak in the voice of Avon.”

As soon as competition returns to Avon, the group will be ready to begin broadcasting games or scrimmages in 4K. For now, they’re planning a partnership with Avon’s livestreaming vendor, GKess Films, but they’re hoping that down the road, they will take over more of the livestreaming and will be able to loop things on a delay. The goal is to have instant replays, fly-in information, and on-screen player stats during breaks in the action.

“We have all of the equipment and are teaching students now how to run the mixing board,” explained LuBonta. “We’ll have camera operators, booms operators, and a producer calling live shots. It will be a full TV production from beginning to end.”

LuBonta and Davey are also working hard to get the boys to understand that pre-production is more important than the execution.

“We’re trying to get them to plan, storyboard, and map out shot lengths, so they know what they need. I'm also showing them the Ken Burns documentary style: they're going to trash 80 percent of what they shoot, but they need to film 100 percent more than what they need. They need to be in control of the final product, and not be limited by not having what shot they need.”

From day one of Avon’s encounter with the global pandemic, Head of School Jim Detora encouraged the students and staff to find a way to take full advantage of the situation and use it as an opportunity—a challenge. This group has risen to that challenge fully, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next.