Working on a dream
By Steven Hoffman
Dylan Coyle was working toward his dream of becoming a sports broadcaster long before he walked across the stage and accepted his diploma from Oxford Area High School on June 2.
According to his father, Bill, when Dylan was growing up they would watch a lot of sports together and the boy was always paying careful attention to the play-by-play announcers and color analysts. He listened to their descriptions and internalized how they spoke to each other and how they communicated to an audience.
Instead of trying to copy Chase Utley's batting stance, young Dylan would emulate Harry Kalas, the Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies.
“He always loved announcing,” Bill explained. “He would always be imitating Harry Kalas and talking while the game was going on.”
He’s been taking steps toward that goal ever since.
An important moment came when Dylan was in the eighth grade. Chris O’Connell, a TV reporter with Fox News, visited his school for Career Day. Meeting O’Connell made him even more convinced that he wanted to pursue a career in broadcasting.
“He was the first person in the business that I really talked to,” Dylan said, explaining that O’Connell set up a tour of the Fox News studio so that he could gain some insights into what the business was like.
“It really gave me an appreciation of what goes into news broadcasting,” Dylan said.
While he was still in the eighth grade, Dylan contacted Rob Ellis, a sports radio host who was then working for WIP and now hosts a mid-day show on 97.5 The Fanatic. Dylan told Ellis that he wanted to pursue a career in sports broadcasting. Ellis invited the eighth-grader to the WIP studio to learn about how they do a sports radio show.
“He even mic’d me up for a minutes,” Dylan said, smiling. Ellis invited him back for a return to the WIP airwaves.
Before long, Dylan was doing the announcing for the occasional Little League game in Oxford, and he started developing his own style as an announcer. As he gained a little experience, he continued to listen carefully to professional announcers and analysts.
One of his favorite announcers is Jim Jackson, who does play-by-play work for the Philadelphia Flyers and radio work and some pre-game and post-game activities for the Phillies. Dylan tweeted at Jackson and told him that he wanted to be a sports broadcaster.
About a month later, Jackson replied with a direct message, encouraging the youngster to pursue his dream.
“We have kept in touch since then,” Dylan said, expressing his admiration and appreciation that Jackson would be so encouraging to an aspiring sports broadcaster. Jackson even called Dylan to answer questions about what a career as an announcer is really like.
“He talked about his schedule, and having to travel constantly,” Dylan explained. “He discussed everything about it with me.”
By the time Dylan entered high school, he was lining up opportunities that a college graduate might find difficult to duplicate.
“I was able to get myself into a bunch of broadcasting ventures,” he explained.
How dedicated was Dylan to pursuing his goal of becoming a sports broadcaster? For years before he entered the high school, Dylan had wanted to play ice hockey for the school’s club team. Instead, he chose to focus his energies on broadcasting, doing play-by-play for high school sports.
Bill proudly explained that, before long, people would occasionally approach him and ask if his son could do the play-by-play for the upcoming game.
In Dylan’s junior year, he started doing play-by-play work for Avon Grove High School. The school has a state-of-the-art television studio, and some of the school’s sports contests are livestreamed on AGTV. This created even more opportunities for Dylan.
“I did football, basketball, hockey, some baseball, and lacrosse games,” he explained. “I was fortunate to be a junior at the same time that Avon Grove started the AGTV.”
Another bit of good fortune came from working with Jake Zebley, an Avon Grove High School student who was in the same grade as Dylan. Zebley served as the producer of AGTV, and was extremely dedicated and advanced for his age―just like Dylan.
As a student at Oxford, Dylan was on the receiving end of some good-natured kidding from his classmates for broadcasting Avon Grove games―the two schools are rivals.
“Everybody was joking with me,” he said. “I didn’t mind. I like the spotlight.”
Some of Dylan's favorite games that he worked on during high school include clashes between Avon Grove and Oxford―especially football games and basketball games. Another highlight was a memorable ICHL Southern Division game between Avon Grove and Delaware Military Academy. Delaware Military Academy, a heavy favorite, went up 3-0 before Avon Grove mounted a comeback. In the third period, Avon Grove tied the game with a goal with just 24 seconds left, only to lose the game, 4-3, when Delaware Military Academy scored with two seconds left.
“That was disappointing, but it was an exciting game,” Dylan recalled.
Each sport presented a learning experience for the young sports broadcaster. He was also paired with different color commentators, which helped him further his understanding of the many duties that a broadcaster faces.
“People are looking to be entertained,” Dylan said. “It can be difficult to fill the air time.”
He listened attentively to a wide variety of sports broadcasters to learn how they filled the air time.
Preparation plays an important part in a broadcaster's success. Hours of work can precede going on the air.
“One of the most underrated parts of being a broadcaster is the research. There is a lot of work involved,” Dylan said. He explained that Gene Hart, the original voice of the Flyers, always said that he would only use ten percent of the information he gathered for the game, but it was important to know it all because he wouldn’t know which ten percent would be useful until the game unfolded.
Jackson offered some words of advice to Dylan when he told him to never start talking about something that you're not confident talking about.
One of the things that Dylan learned very early on is that it’s equally important to know when not to talk.
“One of the hardest things about broadcasting is knowing when to shut up,” he explained. “You need to know when to let people see what’s going on.”
One example he mentioned is Kalas’ well known call of the final out when the Phillies won the World Series―he knew when to let the moment speak for itself.
Another example is perhaps the best known call in sports history―Al Michaels' exuberant “Miracle on Ice” call during the U.S. hockey team’s victory over the Soviet Union during the 1980 Olympics.
He worked between 15 and 20 games during each of his last two years in high school. The work helped him really begin to develop his own style. He regularly reviews his own work to work on his weaknesses and build on his strengths.
“I think it’s always important to look at what areas you can improve on,” Dylan said.
One area that he really focuses on is being impartial when he is announcing, and to report what he sees, as he sees it.
“I have the philosophy that when I’m announcing, I’m calling what I see,” Dylan explained. “I’m not going to show bias toward one team, but I am going to remember who my audience is. That means focusing on the home team.”
While still a high school student, Dylan had the rare opportunity to be in the booth with Jim Jackson and Bill Clement, which is a personal highlight for him so far. He called Reading Royals games and learned about the business from that team's announcer, Mark Thompson. He has already been a part of broadcasts of Temple University ice hockey games.
He started a blog for hockey fans on the Good Night, Good Hockey website, gnghockey.com. He reports about Flyers and Hershey Bears hockey teams. He is building a following on Twitter and Instagram. He organized several “takeover” events where they rented out the Wells Fargo Center for an evening of activities for hockey fans.
Dylan is quick to credit all the professional broadcasters who shared words of wisdom with a high school student. He is also thankful for the support he has received from people like Oxford Area High School technical education teacher Christopher Pierdomenico, gifted education teacher Jackie Mavrelos, and athletic director Mike Price, and Avon Grove, technology education teacher Clint Jones and athletic director Vanessa Robtison with helping him get a jump start on his career. In the fall, he is heading to Temple University to major in sports journalism.
Through all his various experiences, including his involvement with gnghockey.com, he has grown accustomed to being around professional athletes and Flyers officials like Ron Hextall.
One time, he was standing next to hockey great Mark Howe at an event. He let his dad know who he was standing next to and Bill asked him if he was going to get a picture with him.
Dylan replied, “Dad, we’re working.”
He is very thankful for all the people who have helped him reach this point.
“I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have been given,” he said.
His dad is grateful for those opportunities and also proud of what his son has done with those opportunities.
I'm so proud of him,” Bill said. “He amazes me. The dream that he had, he is starting to fulfill it. I can't wait to see where he goes and what he accomplishes.”