Monday, July 1, 2013

Kirk Nawrotzky: Good Sport

View photos from this interview - Capital City Free Press on Facebook

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." –Jackie Robinson

  I truly believed a Sunday afternoon would offer a more relaxed environment to profile Kirk Nawrotzky. The studios of the Alabama News Network seemed relatively quiet. The tower stood watch over the operation, and I was set for a laid back conversation. Supposedly all the cool kids work on the weekend.

  But upon entering the sports bunker, I soon realized Kirk was in full multi-tasking, sports-dishing, TV-conjuring mode. The sports world never stops turning, and the same apparently applies to this 25-year-old native of northern Virginia – near the D.C. metro area - who seems to function solely on the fumes of his passion for athletics. Those fumes can come in handy as he notes a 10-11 hour work day isn’t too rare depending on what sports are in season. The former college baseball player and “small town” guy is already a television weekend sports anchor, just a few years removed from college.

  Kirk joined the Alabama News Network/CBS 8 in Montgomery, Ala. – then WAKA – in July of 2011 as a sports reporter and photographer. He was then promoted to weekend sports anchor in May of 2012.

  “…People think I’m 18 years old. I get a lot of, ‘You look like you’re just out of high school,’” he says. “But if you appreciate my work, that’s all that matters to me.”

  Drawing on the life experiences of a geographically diverse family – with his mother hailing from a farm in West Virginia, his father from New York City – Kirk’s exposure to different ways of living and groups of people helped ease his transition to Montgomery, though, he had never traveled through the Deep South.

  Kirk’s first in-person exposure to high profile-sports came through childhood visits to Camden Yards to experience Baltimore Orioles games. He says he was fortunate enough to be in the seats during Cal Ripken’s “iron man” streak of consecutive games. Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game in 1995.

  “Looking on the [B&O] Warehouse and seeing the numbers as they pulled them down. That’s one of my earliest [major sporting event] memories,” Kirk says.

  Kirk also recalls attending Washington Redskins games in the winter, “sitting on the first level at the old RFK stadium.” Years later he would find himself interning with that very organization.

  Kirk grew up playing soccer and then took up baseball in elementary school. Later he dropped soccer to focus on baseball, playing in high school and then collegiately at second base for Roanoke College in Virginia.

  Following his year on the diamond at Roanoke, Kirk says, he “called it a career.” “I can’t say I retired because I wasn’t making any money from it,” he says, laughing.

  “I was decent enough to play, but I knew I wasn’t going to make a career out of it. My first passion was television and sports,” Kirk says.

  “Seems like these days you’ve got to get started earlier and play more…. You want to have fun, though. That’s the most important part. Things are changing. You don’t just stop because school’s out,” he says.

  And Kirk’s zealous pursuit of baseball hasn’t been confined to mere viewing in front of a television set, reporting on it or with being in the game himself. He and his father spent a dozen years traveling to view a game at every Major League Baseball stadium.

       "It was just an idea that slowly came along,” he says. “We went to one stadium and then decided to do a couple more the following year. Before we knew it the adventure had started. All in all, by doing some every year, we started in 1999 and finished in 2011."

  “I think I always knew I wanted to be involved in sports.” By middle schools, he says, “Hey, I might not be able to play in the Super Bowl, but it would be pretty cool to cover it one day!”

  And he hasn’t ruled out coaching in some capacity one day. “Maybe with some local youth teams… just to have fun and be involved with the community…. That’s an important aspect of a child’s life, and to have a positive impact…”

  Kirk was bitten by the television bug in high school and was afforded the opportunity to take TV production classes as a junior. The program allowed him to take off-campus specialized, college-level courses. He says the unique opportunity accelerated his interest so that entering college, Kirk was already set on becoming a sportscaster.

  Those classes have come in handy as Kirk notes that often the video we viewers see during his segment, he shot it himself.

  “Everything you see is normally from me, Dee [Jackson] or Brian [Penter].”

  “My main goal was to talk sports. I love television.”

  Those classes led him to the NFL’s Washington Redskins, working as an intern, where he toiled in the film department.

  “I would sit next to the players and eat with them. I would see them in the locker room. I probably learned some of my best life lessons from that internship,” Kirk says.

       “When I was on my first day of the internship, I showed up and was wearing a nice shirt, slacks… professional-looking and was told, ‘You don’t need to wear that. You’ve got the job.’ They took me to the equipment manager, and he literally put a bag on the table. He unzipped it and there were Redskins’ hats, shorts, shirts, shoes – you name it, gear-wise, it was in there. It just blew my mind. I said, ‘You guys don’t need to give me this stuff.’ The biggest thing that stuck with me out of that is he told me that ‘when you’re here, you’re part of this organization.’ And this applies to everything in life. ‘You look the part. You play the part. We’re all the same, whether you’re the secretary to Coach Joe Gibbs to Daniel Snyder, the owner. If you ask for Clinton Portis’ autograph, he needs to ask for your autograph.’

       “It stuck with me…. Everybody – no matter what their titles says, no matter how much money they make – is important to an organization. Everybody has a key role, and they need to be respected at the same level.

       “It definitely made an impact on me."

  “During college I worked with football video, which Nick Saban or Gus Malzahn would tell you [plays] a crucial role in the development of a football program,” he explains.

  At Old Dominion University, Kirk hosted an online football program in addition to his video work. “I helped build their online sports shows,” he says.

  During his senior year in college, Kirk covered his first NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament, which was held in Washington, D.C. that season.

       “It was fun…. [I] learned how the NCAA acts and operates and how well organized they are. College sports are incredible in that regard where you have teams and fans that are so passionate, and the players want to win so badly. To be in that atmosphere and see it first hand, it was another one of those things to check off the bucket list.”

  Kirk has already enjoyed an all-star collection of interview subjects and big name encounters in his young career—ESPN’s Jay Harris (a fellow ODU alum) and Rece Davis, baseball Hall of Famers Andrew Dawson and Rollie Fingers, Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, former coaches Pat Dye and Gene Stallings.

  Shirt untucked, neck tie carelessly lingering beneath a collection of press passes, Kirk’s focus nonetheless would have shamed even the highest performers on the SAT. Yet, outwardly, he moved about with a casualness that to the random observer could have been mistaken for a purely relaxed state.

  “You put in your work, you do what you have to do, and prove your credibility if they give you the opportunity to,” he says.

                    *                    *                    *

  The whirlwind tour of the Alabama News Network facility included a trip through a bank of machines and monitors worthy of a Department of Defense office and even a glimpse into a smaller side studio where the wheel from the recent gas and grocery giveaway was being housed. It didn’t amount to much, but I gave it a spin while Kirk wasn’t looking.

  He explained that the station is in the process of converting to digital and that soon video tape will disappear and be replaced by digital material, all stored on a server.

  And technology reared its head again in the form of the station’s cameras, which instead of brandishing miles of cable and a team of operators are secured to the floor, visibly wireless and can be pre-programmed to essentially operate on their own during a broadcast.

  Kirk explains that everything from the words he uses to the graphics we see on screen and even the cameras are produced by him and his fellow sportscasters. The cameras are pre-programmed, essentially robots, and function independently through the newscast. The shots are timed to coordinate with his portion of the show, which typically spans three to five minutes. During this interview – after already mapping out most of his segment – he was informed that 30 second or so was being shaved from his segment, forcing him to re-work the entire segment.

  And while his on-air weekend colleagues are live delivering a newscast, Kirk is still holed away in his office in order to get the most current scores and news prior to delivering his report. He says it’s the norm that he doesn’t step onto the set until a few minutes prior to his segment, including a quick stop to apply his man makeup.

  “You get out there, catch your breath for a minute and then you’re on the TV screen,” he says, also stopping to record a quick voiceover en route to the live set.

  Being granted the privilege of standing on set during tonight’s newscast, I have to confess that it was quite overwhelming. As a nod to the pervasive lure of television, I admittedly found myself watching the monitor that showed what the audience was seeing, instead of the actual personalities who were just a few mere few feet away.

  Kirk announced to his colleagues during a commercial break that he had forgotten to wear a belt. His segment did not appear to suffer for it.

                    *                    *                    *

In his own words….

On covering lower division athletics and smaller schools:

  "To me sports are sports, whether there are 100 thousand fans or 10 thousand fans. We have so much local talent at these schools so the only real difference is how many people notice the results.

  “One of the things I love at the smaller schools is being able to interact with the fans/alumni. They see me and know to watch the news that night. Bigger schools understand they can always find highlights of their sports, but other schools don't have that benefit.

  “I've come across a lot of great people, student-athletes and many more at the lower division colleges and universities so it's always fun to see them enjoy their passion while I enjoy mine."

On determining what makes it on the air:

  “You can never go wrong talking football in central Alabama. Every day is different, and you need to find out what really affects the people in your area. If something local is going on, that takes precedent over a golf tournament going on in Washington.”

On keeping himself in check during an exciting game:

  “It happens all the time. You’ve got to enjoy the moment… yeah, you’re still doing a job, but you’re enjoying watching these guys or girls do what they love to do, while you’re doing what you love to do as well. I think if you don’t get caught up in it a little bit, it’s probably not the right profession for you.”

On learning the Deep South sports landscape and being introduced to NASCAR:

  “NASCAR is a sport that’s continually growing, reaching parts of the country it never used to. It wasn’t a sport I grow up watching, but… you meet people and they bring you along with it…. Coming down here and having the opportunity to go to Talladega or even the Montgomery Motor Speedway is a really cool experience. I’m going to do what I have to do to understand as much as I can to cover it and convey it in a way they want to see and appreciate.”

On covering his first Iron Bowl:

  “The most memorable thing was just to be a part of it. I didn’t really grow with college football, but I knew about the Iron Bowl. But being able to experience first-hand… to see the fans, to see the passion of it all, just to be there…. [It’s like] a big NFL playoff game. It’s history, and bragging rights are involved.

  “[This rivalry] is up there at the very top. Because there are no professional sports here in Alabama, and there’s so much history and lineage….. Because they’re so close and pretty much everyone in the state has a connection to both schools. And if you lose, you’ve gotta talk about it for the next year.”

On interacting with the public:

  “I love to hear from everyone… [such as] ‘Thanks for coming out to this game.’ I’ve been here almost two years, but I still think most people might not recognize me on that street. And that’s all right, I’m not trying to be recognized or get any fame out of it. But I always like to hear from people – if they have suggestions or they like something we did…. I’ll listen to the negatives. Without negatives, there can be no positives. If someone doesn’t like the way I approach something, tell me about it.

  “I talk. That’s what I do.”

On social media’s role in his job:

  “I love it. I grew up in that era. I’ve had a Twitter [account] pretty much since it came out. I saw positives of it when I was in college – posting photos from the coaches and press conferences. And I gained followers from just putting up a hash tag, because someone somewhere was looking for it. If I’m out somewhere covering an event I’ll post a photo to Twitter, and a viewer might then look forward to the full story later when we broadcast that evening. You’re out at a game, you take and post a photo and say, ‘Hey, I’m here!’ It shows credibility that you’re actually there. It’s a benefit to that community as well, especially for an event that doesn’t get national or state coverage.”

On covering the huge coaching personalities in the SEC:

  "I've been around when another reporter has asked a question a coach didn't exactly love, but nothing out of the ordinary. As far as personalities, with today's age of cameras recording every move, fans get to see how a coach may act. During the season a coach is focused and has all their attention on the goals at hand. Fans may look at a rival differently than their own fan base does, but I haven't noticed a drastic difference with how they are portrayed [on TV]. Everybody has a job to do and they're passionate about it."

On Troy University football:

  "Troy is a great place to go see a game at, no matter which sport you're talking about. They have had great players come through and continue to do so. Their move to Division I was before I moved to the area, but I know their history of success and it is outstanding.

  “Coach Blakeney leading the way doesn't hurt either. He's a smart coach with a great track record. He's also the type to remember you after the first time shaking hands. As a member of the media, Coach Blakeney has always been willing to accommodate my schedule and help me do my job."

On the trials on live television:

  “Something might happen with a graphic. You might mistype something…. The tape might glitch. You just kind of roll with the punches. Sometimes I might point it out [a mistake] on air because it’s funny. If everyone’s laughing at home, you probably are too.”

On covering the Montgomery Biscuits and Riverwalk Stadium:

  “Going to Biscuits games is always enjoyable whether I'm working that day or not. The Rays always have good talent come through their system and other teams that visit do as well. For a Double-A franchise the fan base is terrific. When you look at average attendance per year, Montgomery is always right near the top of the Southern League.

  “I've been to a lot of minor league stadiums and you can see why people love coming to a game downtown. There are great sightlines, ticket prices are reasonable, the people are friendly and you're surrounded by history."

On high school athletics in Alabama:

  "The talent level in this state is incredible. Covering sports at the high school ranks gives you great perspective. For me the most memorable would be the various all-star games I've been able to witness.

  “Montgomery is great because we get a lot of players in the city for these various games with lots of sports. It's always fun to see the top talent and then watch them make a huge impact the following year in college.

  "Since I've been in the area, I've met some outstanding people but I know there are more I have yet to come across. I love to hear from viewers about what affects them and their interests…. whether it's a story about someone who overcame hardship to a family with great history. Without people speaking we'll never learn.

  “I just want the viewers to know that I want to hear their story and to please reach out if you have one. It can be through Twitter, Facebook, email, phone or face to face. Life is always changing and there are too many stories left untold.

  “I love hearing people tell stories. I could listen to it all day.”

On the fantasy interview he’d most like to do:

  “Jackie Robinson. In part because I’m a huge baseball fan and to understand what he went through…. [Even] the people on his team changed the way they thought and the way they viewed the world. It really changed the game because so many people were being overlooked for all the wrong reasons.”

On turning it off:

  “I don’t have a huge passion for anything else. To me it’s about just finding something else to do it, whether it’s hanging out with my dog to just going out and shopping…. I’m not an avid reader. I’m not a singer or guitar player. I don’t have any hidden talents so to speak. …Basically just focusing on myself and my family.”

On being part of the Alabama News Network team:

  “…It is a pleasure to work for Alabama News Network. They gave me my first TV job and I'm forever thankful for it. I've been able to experience things I'd never imagine and the environment with everyone who works here is great.

  “As for the sports team, the chemistry is wonderful. I think we all feed off each other and have fun doing so. It makes for a relaxed yet professional atmosphere. Plus it doesn't hurt to have a Sports Director like Dee Jackson showing you the ropes.

  “In regards to our sports coverage and product, I believe that Dee, Brian and I offer a variety that those at home can enjoy. We come from different parts of the country and bring knowledge along with it.

  “Dee has covered professional sports in Kansas City and has been covering sports in Alabama for many years. Brian has lived and breathed the SEC lifestyle for as long as he can remember… being from Georgia and going to school in Florida. I've interned in the NFL, worked in minor league baseball and been on both sides of college athletics. We've seen it all, but most importantly we're fans first.

  “If someone hasn't seen our product then I encourage them to do so. We're always striving to get better day by day which is the only way to be successful.”

                    *                    *                    *

  I often look to get a selfish kick out of an interview, typically in the form of a question that – appropriately enough for this session – sails in from left field with no warning. With Kirk’s unbridled devotion to sports and passion for his profession, it was all too easy. So what would he be doing in the absence of sports and television?

  “I love interacting with people…. and I like trying to help and use whatever knowledge and experiences – good and bad – to help people get through things they may be going through. My dad was a teacher. My sister’s a teacher. [I would be] teaching in a way to help people.”

  “People are people. Everybody’s the same at heart,” Kirk says.

  Though his answer seemed like a challenge to muster, perhaps Kirk’s role already qualifies him as an educator of sorts. Using his passion and knowledge for the sports world and sharing it with the television audience likely fosters a greater appreciation and understand of athletics among viewers. He might not be convincing in a stuffy tweed jacket, wielding a pipe and gesturing to a lecture hall of students, but a microphone, camera and an irrepressible love and acumen for sports seem to work just as well.

Get your Kirk Nawrotzky fix online:

Twitter: @ kirknawrotzky -

Alabama News Network:
Alabama News Network Facebook:

Alabama News Network Twitter: @ALNewsNetwork

  About the author: Joseph O. Patton is the editor-in-chief and founder of the Capital City Free Press. He is a former news editor for the Coosa County News, lead reporter for the Montgomery Independent and editor-in-chief of the AUMnibus, the student newspaper of Auburn-Montgomery. Patton is also the creator of and writer for the satirical news radio segment "Goat Hill Gossip," which previously aired on WAUD in Auburn, Alabama and has appeared on several Central Alabama radio programs as a political analyst.

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