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The art of telling a story of sports

Zach Carlyle ’15 (right) broadcasts for ESPN from courtside of an Abilene Christian University basketball game. By the end of the season, Carlyle will have over 30 television appearances on the network. (Courtesy photo)

A passion for sports is something that is shared by millions of people all over the world. Some are talented enough to play them, many enjoy following them and watching them every chance they get, but for Upper Iowa University alum Zach Carlyle, his passion is fueled by a different aspect than most.

“I always loved playing sports when I was in high school, but I found that I loved some of the other parts of a game like taking book for baseball or just sitting in the press box,” explained the former Fayette resident. “I knew early on in my life that I wanted to work in sports media. When I got the opportunity to announce baseball games at my high school (Dallas Center-Grimes) between my junior and senior year, I knew that I was making the right choice.”

After graduating high school in 2011, Carlyle moved to Fayette and began his journey that would lead him to where he is today as a broadcaster for the most popular sports media outlet in the United States – ESPN.

It didn’t take long for Carlyle to get involved with radio coverage of Peacock athletics and meet the man who would later become his broadcast partner, Joe Stassi.

“I got the opportunity to be a spotter for Joe, which basically meant that I would watch the play and point to the name on a sheet of paper of the player who made the tackles,” explained Carlyle. “After doing that for a few games, I noticed that Joe would have a different broadcast partner every week. I decided to approach Howie (Thompson), the sports information director at UIU, and ask him if it would be possible to try it out.”

Later that year, Zach got his audition during Thanksgiving break when the regular Upper Iowa sportscast broadcasting team had left campus for the holiday.

“I got the chance to fill in and call a basketball game with another sports communication student,” continued Carlyle. “I was very nervous for it, but when it was over, I could remember feeling like it went well and that hopefully I had done enough to leave an imprint on Howie.”

Throughout the rest of the year, Zach called several softball games and continued to learn and gain confidence.

“The next fall, I got my first opportunity to do a football game alongside Joe,” said the young broadcaster. “It was a game that I’ll never forget. As Upper Iowa went to attempt a game-winning field goal in the final seconds, the lights in that end of the stadium went out and our kicker had to kick in the dark.”

Upper Iowa University alumnus Zach Carlyle ’15 has so far made the most out of his young broadcasting career as he currently works as a play-by-play television announcer on ESPN for Abilene Christian University’s (Texas) home football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball games. Carlyle originally became well known for providing radio and TV coverage of many Peacock athletic events between 2011 and 2018. (Courtesy photo)

He went on to say that despite the fact that the Peacocks lost that game, his overall experience was a positive.

“We clicked right away. The chemistry with Joe was something that was just there from day one and we complimented each other well,” said Carlyle. “Over the next seven seasons, Joe and I called all of the Upper Iowa football games and I learned a lot about the fine details of sports broadcasting. He has definitely been the number one influence on my career.”

Along with broadcasting football games, Carlyle also did men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and softball over his career at UIU. In 2014, when Upper Iowa reached an agreement with KCRG 9.2 to provide television coverage for Peacock athletic events. Carlyle played a big roll in the transition, which was also his personal transition from radio to television broadcasting.

After earning his Master’s Degree in 2018, Zach took the next step in his career when he began working as an intern at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Tex.

After a year, he was offered a position as a media relations coordinator with the university. It was there that his opportunity with ESPN came about.

“Abilene Christian has a deal with ESPN to provide TV coverage for home football and men’s and women’s basketball games,” explained the Peacock turned Wildcat. “Last year I got to do two games, but this year I will have about 35 games under my belt by the end of the basketball season.”

When ACU plays away from home, Carlyle broadcasts the games on the radio and is also the official voice for the women’s basketball team.

Along with his broadcasting responsibilities, Carlyle does overall media work for the entire Abilene Christian athletic department.

“Working in sports information was kind of a backdoor way to get into broadcasting for me. It was kind of a package deal,” he elaborated. “When I was at Upper Iowa, I learned a lot about sports information by working with Howie. He has helped me get to where I am today in many different ways and has been a big influence over the past nine years.”

As for his work with “the worldwide leader in sports,” Carlyle admits that he most enjoys having the means to tell a story with each broadcast.

“The art of this job is storytelling because that’s essentially what you’re doing every time you broadcast, whether it be TV or radio,” he continued. “Having ESPN, which has worldwide reach, as a platform gives me the opportunity to spotlight athletes and tell their story in a way that otherwise would never be possible. Not only am I telling a story in real time as the game takes place, but I am also able to share great stories that have helped shaped many of the athletes that I cover into who they are.”

Carlyle went on to say that the process of preparing foe each and every broadcast is one that requires a good amount of preparation.

“I have a system for compiling schedules, statistics, standings, depth charts, and other information that I use for every broadcast,” said Carlyle. “That is basically the groundwork. I don’t memorize the information because I am able to look at it as I call a game, but it’s important to have everything quickly and easily available at all times.”

Along with the routine preparation, Carlyle relies on communication with sports information directors, coaches, and the athletes in order to get a better feel for the team that he is covering.

“Talking to people will get you way more information than you could ever find by doing online research. Talking to the people that are part of the program will always give you the most accurate and up-to-date information,” he explained. “There is a lot of homework that goes into each broadcast, but that’s just part of the job. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the job. I would say 75 percent of what I do is about the preparation; once I’ve done my research, the broadcast is simple and just second nature.”

As for when and where you can catch Zach on the air, many of Abilene Christian University’s home basketball games will be broadcast by Carlyle on ESPN+ or ESPN3 throughout the rest of the season.

“So far in my career I’ve broadcast over 700 different games, but I still get butterflies in my stomach right before I go on,” closed Carlyle. “I never thought this would happen to me. I used to dream it, but to experience it is indescribable.”

Carlyle continues to dream and set his goals high as he hopes to one day be able to work for a network like CBS or FOX, but for now, he is making the most of his opportunity to tell a story each and every time he goes on the air.

(Editor’s note: This article featuring UIU alumnus Zach Carlyle ’15 is posted with permission of the Fayette County Newspapers, and sports/news writer and UIU alumnus Zakary Kriener ’13.)

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