Jim Van Horne sits behind the desk, papers in front of him, his familiar baritone delivering every word with authority.
But this is not the television sports anchor desk that Van Horne sat at for two decades and the papers do not contain hockey scores. This is a classroom at Canada’s newest college and the first private school to offer an exclusive sports broadcasting course.
Van Horne is officially television coordinator at the College of Sports Media, a rather untraditional school housed in the basement of an old ad agency on George St.
It looks more like, well, an ad agency than a school and with only 16 students enrolled in its inaugural semester, the atmosphere is a lot more casual and familiar than the average school.
“I just love this,” says the former TSN and Rogers Sportsnet anchor, who spends the day critiquing and praising the writing and announcing skills of a handful of young hopefuls. “The enthusiasm of the students, their desire to learn is invigorating.”
The college is part of a growing trend towards specialization in sports broadcasting and journalism. As the sports media world experiences an explosion of digital television channels, online streaming and podcasting, new skills are required and the world of education is trying to keep pace.
Scarborough’s Centennial College and Loyalist College in Belleville will soon be offering one-year programs aimed specifically at sports journalism.
“There’s a general belief in journalism schools that if you can do news, you can do sports,” says Centennial journalism program co-ordinator Malcolm Kelly, whose print-electronic course will launch next January. “It’s just not true.
“They just don’t teach sports in journalism schools. There’s so much that’s specific about sports journalism, both in print and electronic.”
The first to tap into that need, at least electronically, was former Score reporter David Lanys, who has turned a daydream into reality in five short years.
Lanys says he got his inspiration while exchanging elbows with other reporters in a scrum following a Maple Leafs playoff game, which gives you an idea how long ago that was.
“One of the reporters in the scrum was asking some of the most ridiculous questions I’d ever heard,” Lanys recalls. “I thought, this person obviously didn’t get the fundamental training in sports journalism.”
That got him to thinking that there was a need for a school to train young broadcasters specifically interested in sports. It also got him thinking about his future.
“I knew I didn’t want to be a field reporter going to a Leafs’ game on a Saturday night when I was 55 years old,” he says. “I wanted something different in my future and even though I loved broadcasting, I always had an interest in business.”
Indeed he did. Lanys has always had an entrepreneurial bent. While in high school, he hired his friends to work for his Streak-Free Window Washers company in the Finch-Bayview area. That venture financed a new car and two European vacations and led to him opening his own consulting company in university.
“I’d go into small mom-and-pop businesses and advise them on what they were doing wrong,” he recalls. “I’d charge $400 or $500 and I didn’t have many clients.
“I hope those companies are still around,” he adds with a laugh.
But an entrepreneurial flair is one thing. Financing a project this big was another.
Lanys came up with a business plan, figuring he needed $1.25 million to open the school’s doors. Television pays well, but not that well, so he hit the banks shortly after leaving The Score two years ago.
The banks weren’t interested, so he started asking around. On a recommendation from an acquaintance, he contacted a tax accounting firm and they hit it off almost instantly.
A deal was struck, but now came the hard part: getting approval from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities so he could grant diplomas and use the term “college” in the school’s name.
Part of that laborious process was enlisting an advisory board that included some of the biggest names in the business including TSN president Phil King, CBC executive producer Joel Darling and FAN 590 general manger Nelson Millman.
“The industry is changing rapidly and schools need to change all the time,” says King. “The more talented people that go into sports broadcasting, the better it is for the industry.”
Lanys says that board gives his school a leg up on others.
“With our instructors and advisory board, the network that our students will have when they graduate will be the one it took me 10 years to develop,” he says.
Lanys hired veteran broadcasters as instructors, adding the likes of former CFRB sports announcer Ray Williams, ex-Raptors reporter Norma Wick and CBC reporter Elliotte Friedman.
But a staff and a proposed curriculum, which included everything from radio to television to new media, weren’t enough to get final ministry approval. The school had to be ready to open its doors.
After a long search, Lanys found an empty ad office near Jarvis and Adelaide. He wanted the ground floor, but price sent him downstairs.
Still, it was a good fit.
“The layout required very few changes,” he says. There was even a sound-proof studio for voice-overs.
Other studios were built, recording equipment, cameras and computers purchased and ministry approval was granted. A sparsely attended press conference was held Nov. 19.
Four days later, the first inquiry came in for the two-year course. Within six weeks, 35 had applied even though no classes had been taught and tuition was a hefty $17,000 a year – Centennial’s is $4,200 by comparison.
Students showed up for their first class on Feb. 4.
They’re a mixed group, including those who’ve graduated university and those just out of high school.
One doesn’t fit the mould, though.
At 45, Patrick Brown looks a little out of place but doesn’t feel that way. A former project manager at Air Miles who took a buy-out package, Brown decided the time was right to follow his dream.
“I’d always wanted to get into broadcasting,” he says. “But I got on another track and suddenly I’m 45 and I figured it’s time to do something different with the rest of my life.”
Brown heard about the new college last fall and placed a call.
“I figured I’d get an answering machine or a secretary,” he recalls. “But Dave Lanys picked up the phone. I kind of liked that.”