Dec. 4-10, 2003

By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Seventh grader gets the opportunity to be a sportscaster

Travis Cunniff, a seventh grader at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School was chosen as one of seven students from around the country by Nickelodeon Games and Sports for Kids and Time Warner Cable to become a member of the 2003-04 team of young sports reporters, known as GAScasters. Under the guidance of mentor Mark Larson, the sports director for Channel 10, Travis will cover organized games and sporting events for the Syracuse area exclusively for Nick GAS.

Travis was selected from hundreds of applicants between the ages of eight and 14 after participating in GAScaster auditions held nation-wide. Travis learned of the auditions when his father saw a flyer in Burger King and brought it home for Travis and his brother, Alex. Travis was notified in October that he had won and would be on his way to New York City for training. Travis recently returned from New York where he spent four days meeting with Nickelodeon and Viacom’s producers and cast, including the host of Slime Time Live, Dave Aizer. Travis and his mother were welcomed to New York City at a party at Planet Hollywood.

Larson said that the experience was a good one. “The kids learned how to be on camera and how to present themselves in a very fun, upbeat way,” said Larson. “They were also shown the editing process and a sample of a finished product –– what Nickelodeon is looking for.” Travis said he enjoyed his live interview. He heeded the advice of the production staff and turned his nervousness into energy. “I liked shooting in front of a camera,” said Travis. “It was an excellent experience. I had a lot of fun.” As part of the process, Travis and the other GAScasters participated in a press conference with celebrities such as Warner Wolf, a legendary New York City sportscaster and Lesley Visser, a sportscaster from CBS sports. They also had the opportunity to conduct one-on-one interviews with Amani Toomer, a wide receiver for the Giants.

“I was very impressed with Nickelodeon,” said Larson. “The entire event was very organized and really energized the kids. Their shyness just disappeared and as the day went on, their confidence grew.” Peter DiGenova, Travis’ dad, said he was not at all surprised at Travis’ comfort in front of a camera. Although Travis is not a big sports fan, he loves to act. “You’re apt to find my son out in the backyard fighting with swords and play acting rather than watching sports,” said DiGenova. “He’s very imaginative.”

As part of his sportscaster duties, Travis will write an on-line sports article and produce an on-air piece with his mentor from Channel 10. The topic will be of any organized sporting or gaming event within a 60-mile radius of Syracuse. Larson said that it’s up to him and Travis to come up with an idea for his sports stories. “We’ll pitch the idea to a woman in New York City who will then take it to the producers,” said Larson. “The decision involves a lot of people. If it gets the approval of Nickelodeon, we will go ahead with it.”

The trip culminated with a graduation ceremony held during breakfast and a tour of CBS studios where the GAScaster’s watched the filming of the “NFL Today Show.” Travis received a plethora of prizes including a Nickelodeon T-shirt and wind-breaker, a football, notebooks, a backpack and his very own GAScasters microphone cube.