Sunday I attended three American Legion games in Mandan, North Dakota, near Bismarck. As I was sitting watching the games, two attractive young women showed up and started filming the baseball games. I was talking with McKenzie Kiefer, a recent high school graduate, who was giving me the low down on the Bismarck Governors baseball team. Her boyfriend was playing shortstop (he impressed me when he came in and threw one pitch to get an out to kill a rally to end the game). Kenzie explained that both reporters were new. I asked why would they be filming American Legion baseball? She told me, “Not much else going on and Legion ball is big around here”.
“I used to joke with my family about my first job being in North Dakota”, Marisa DeCandido told me. She is from Philadelphia and attended Syracuse University. Currently, she is the weekend Sports Anchor for the NBC affiliate KFYR channel 5. She has only been working the sports feature for a couple weeks. Initially she started her career as the Dickenson reporter which is an hour away; but, jumped at the chance to take over the weekend sports gig when Alec Ausmus took a job in Duluth.
Ashley St. Louis, the CBS affiliate, was also at the game. She has only been in town for a couple of weeks moving here from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to chase her dream of being a sportscaster. Ashley originally went to college for journalism. But, chose a different route in teaching. She was a First grade teacher in Michigan for a year, then returned to college to finish up the journalism degree and doing what she is passionate about. (Fun fact about Ashley, she is a die hard Green Bay Packer fan and has the tattoo to prove it!)
Both women were at the American Legion games shooting their own video for segments that they had to produce before they anchor the sports desk at 5 and 10. I have to admit that when I put Mandan, North Dakota on my baseball schedule I was worried that I would be driving three hours from Fargo to a town that was going to be “behind the times”. I asked what they thought of Bismarck and the surrounding area? Both quickly said that they were pleasantly surprised at how nice everything was. Both said that they were nervous initially but have quickly adjusted. I, also, was surprised how nice the area was and very thankful that I had the opportunity to see it for myself.
Ashley stated that, “Everyone’s dream is to probably to work for Fox Sports”. However, they both acknowledged you have to start somewhere. Just like in baseball the different metropolitan markets represent the “reporter league” you are in. That is by no means to discredit Bismarck, this is the type of town where you get to learn your craft. It is a town where everything gets covered and high school athletes can attain near celebratory status.
Marisa had to leave after the Bismarck game to get to the studio to produce her sports segment for the 5 p.m. news. Alec Ausmus came to video the Mandan game for her and his last assignment before he left for the bigger Duluth, Minnesota market. Alec talked to Ashley like the season veteran he was after spending the last year honing his skill. He is all of 24 years old, at the most, but he had a great presence and projected a confidence that comes with experience. Ashley anchored for the first time the night before, she said she was very nervous but calmed down when everything started flowing. Alec told me that he still gets nervous everyday and doesn’t think that will ever change.
Marisa and Ashley explained that it is very hard to get a sports job in TV. So you need to jump at what is out there. Both are very grateful that they have the opportunity and realize how lucky they are. They know it is going to take a lot of time and energy. Even though, they feel up to the challenge especially since they are both passionate about the profession. I found it odd that they compete but are very cordial and give each other tips on how things work. They told me that there is a friendliness since they are at the same events and understand the pressures each is under. Alec confirmed all of this and I have to say I have seen this in the bigger markets.
After they left, I went back to Kenzie. She told me that she would be going to Jamestown University in the fall to play basketball and volleyball. Her boyfriend, Jake Brucker, was going to play on the university’s baseball team. I was very impressed with her presence and wondered if it had to do with being on the news on occasion. She had a confidence that I don’t see in a lot of high school athletes, as did her boyfriend. Living and working in a small market has its advantages for all involved, especially when you move on to the bigger and brighter lights.
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