The next in my Sporting Gals series features the ever-inspiring, go-getter Brooke Olzendam. Brooke was an incredible person to interview not only for how quickly she has ascended to the top of sports networks as an amazing talent, but for how she got there.
Here are her deets: after bouncing from coast to coast, she’s settled in Portland working as the Courtside Reporter for the Trail Blazers.
Thanks for chatting with me, Brooke!
THE SPORTING GALS: BROOKE OLZENDAM
When did you first realize that sports broadcasting was what you wanted to do, and what were your first steps?
My dad coached high school boys basketball for 33 years, so I was always in the gym, that helped form my love of sports. (He won a State Title, in the Washington State Coaches Hall of Fame, retired but still teaches high school PE.) I played basketball and volleyball at Shadle Park High School, under the legendary Linda Sheridan, who helped start Title IV. (She passed away a few years ago from Lou Gehrig’s disease.) She also coached me in volleyball. Sports taught me so much about life. I learned the importance of responsibility, punctuality, dedication, and hard work. I knew I wanted to do something in sports in life, but wasn’t sure what…yet. 🙂
While in school, what were some of the best choices / things you did that helped you towards your career?
I loved the fact WSU had their own local station, “Cable 8”. We were able to produce, write, edit, anchor, and report on all things, in order to see what suited us. Covering sports was the most fun and came easiest to me. I had finally found the perfect combination for me. TALKING about SPORTS. It was love at first broadcast.
After college, how did you approach the job search, and how long was it until you found something?
Weeks after I graduated, I went to FOX Sports NW in Seattle, and worked my way up from logging tape to hosting “Huskies All Access”, as well as performing sideline duties for WSU, UW, Gonzaga, and more. I was lucky enough to have one of their hosts (Angie Mentink) meet with me and explain what I would be up against if I did pursue this line of work.
She said it would take a lot of time, some tears, and missing out on things and important milestones in friends and family’s lives.
I understood, and she was right. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I worked my way up from the bottom, begging producers to watch my reel. I went out on every shoot I could to hole the lights, run tape, and shoot a stand-up after it was over. Those reps were incredibly beneficial, and helped me put together that reel, which was something I used to vie for air time.
At your first job, you were working for your alma mater’s rival fresh out of college. What did your first job with the Huskies teach you about the sports business, and what were the most important things you learned?
I quickly learned that you can still quietly root for your team or school, but to check your bias at the door. It is so important to make your “subjects” (i.e. student-athletes and coaches) feel comfortable and safe when you’re interviewing them. If they feel like you are a rabid fan of their rival, this will definitely not happen. By covering the Huskies, I quickly matured in that way. They were the first school I covered so much that they began to feel like family. When I was given grief from my friends, I brushed it off. By choosing sports broadcasting as my career, I gave up my blatant fandom. I don’t regret this, because it led to support from WSU and UW, and that would not have happened if I was a “Coug”, who reluctantly covered their rival, “Huskies”.
While in LA doing your show, “Running with the Pac,” you were a one-man band: you traveled to every school, produced it, hosted it, edited it, the whole shebang! What was it like to be the backbone, plus the arms and the legs, of a show, and how did you manage it?
I loved simply hosting “RWP”, so I was flattered and nervous to both host, AND produce it. I quickly learned that was rewarding, as it was challenging. The “producing” started weeks in advance for each show, so I would be calling University S.I.D’s every day in preparation for the upcoming show, as well as the week after. I got to choose what team/sport to cover, and which athlete to interview. After I made those decisions, I had to make the calls to ensure a date, time, and location for those to occur. They all had to set in stone before I arrived on campus, to ensure things would go smoothly for all involved. I would do the interviews on Thursdays and Fridays, then fly back to LA to edit them and make a half hour show. Post production also involved finding b-roll to cover the shoots, as well as writing packages. This would all happen on Saturday, from early morning to late into the evening. It was a lot of work, but when one show was finished it was a rewarding feeling. I learned so very much during this time. Because I produced and edited, I knew how to host and report better. By knowing every aspect, you can maximize time, and do all of them more efficiently.
When working solely for UCLA as a part of their football broadcast team, how did you prepare yourself for covering a team and a sport that you didn’t have as much familiarity with, in such a short amount of time?
To prepare for UCLA football, I scoured everything there was to read on it’s history. I wrote the most important facts and figures down, like record holders, and their recent coaching history. But for me, the most important information was the background on the current players. I asked for name pronunciations from the S.I.D., as well as any personal information about specific players he thought I should know. I researched their high school careers too. I will say I spent more time on the key players, but I knew a little about every player, down to the third string. I also introduced myself to all the coaches, and made sure they knew I was educated on their team. I wanted to establish a relationship, and hopefully earn their trust. I did that, and it was a great year.
You’ve bounced from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest, back to the PNW: what has been your favorite part of your career so far?
Wow! I have enjoyed it all! But traveling with the Pacers was a very exciting endeavor. It was the most difficult, time-consuming, and intense job I have ever had, but it came with a lot of great experiences that I will always carry with me. Flying and staying with the team came with all benefits you would imagine, but the travel was pretty crazy. With that, personal relationships were difficult to have, and friendships hard to keep strong. I loved the excitement for three seasons, and will always be glad I had the experience. I am also glad, I now have a job where I still cover the NBA, but get to be close to family and friends. (And sleep in my own bed every once in a while). 🙂
One of the hardest things to do in the sportscasting industry is simply just breaking into it — what is the best advice you ever received, and what would you tell aspiring sportscasters?
Be kind to everyone!
From your photographer to the intern. You NEVER know when you will come across them again, and people remember being treated poorly or treated with indifference. I always want my crew to be in a better mood than when I got there.
Follow Brooke on Twitter!