The 2020 edition of the Sports Journalism Institute’s annual “boot camp” was unlike anything the institute’s previous 27 classes experienced. Because of concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, this boot camp was a virtual experience, with classes, chats and even orientation, on all online, via zoom.

The 16 students zoomed in May 31 for a welcome session. Even the instructors weren’t sure what to expect, since SJI is equal parts boot camp and bonding, but it soon became obvious that this would be no different from previous classes in that regard. Chat rooms replaced dorm rooms as places to share Sports Check tips and thoughts about internships in limbo.

Once classes started, SJI was on familiar ground. Journalism pros including David Squires, Malcolm Moran and Richard Deitsch paid virtual visits, and our partners at Arizona State also stopped by. Sessions by Brett Kurland (“the art of the interview”) and Paola Boivin (who talked about her career and conducted a mock press conference that allowed students to practice their interviewing and deadline writing skills) were big hits.

A conversation with ASU football coach Herm Edwards was one of the week’s highlights, as he offered answers that were informative and inspiring. And the Global Sports Institute’s Dr. Scott Brooks gave the students a fascinating look at the art and science of scholarly research on topics including diversity among NFL head coaches.

Students also heard from Stephen A. Smith of ESPN, who advised them to “pound the pavement” and always “gather different perspectives before you come to a conclusion as to what you want to say.” Hearing his voice, as well as that of PTI’s Michael Wilbon, was a high point in the week.

“It was an awesome virtual camp,” said SJI co-director Leon Carter of ESPN. “A lot of preparation went into making this a very robust camp, and it showed.”

SJI thanks our many partners and sponsors for making the week possible—including ASU’s Cronkite School, APSE, NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA, AWSM, the Gannett Foundation, USA Today and its network of publications, and ESPN and the entire Disney family.

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