| WRAL’s Football Friday Turns 25
High school football season is in full-swing, and WRAL-TV’s Football Friday is keeping pace with the games yard-for-yard. The show runs each Friday on WRAL-TV at 11:35pm, and on August 26th the program kicked off its 25th season of covering high school football.
“To celebrate,” said WRAL-TV Sports Anchor Tom Suiter, “hopefully, we’ll just do flawless shows.”
|The original “dream team” for WRAL’s Football Friday: (l to r) Tom Suiter, Bob Holliday & Jay Jennings.
History in the Making
Suiter says WRAL began its coverage of high school football in 1981. He, reporter Bob Holliday and photographer Jay Jennings, now WRAL-TV’s Sports Director and Documentary Photographer, respectively, were on the original team. The trio soon got up to covering 12 to 13 games in the regular newscast.
Suiter developed throat trouble and spent time away from the anchor desk in 1988. However, they were up to covering 18 games and cramming all that into 6 minutes, along with all other sports, during the 11 o’clock news – the task became impossible. So when Suiter returned, they created the 30-minute Football Friday show in 1989.
“The good thing about Football Friday is that we send cameras to places cameras usually only go for murders and hurricanes,” said Suiter. “We go into the communities to do good stuff.”
The Game Plan
For Football Friday, WRAL-TV covers games in the station’s viewing area. So how does it work? WRAL-TV sends teams out to cover local games. Usually one person covers two games. During the first game, the staffer shoots the first quarter and selects three or four plays to highlight. He or she calls in the plays for Suiter to write-up. Then the staffer heads to a second game, shoots more video and does the same.
When Suiter was also anchoring the 11 o’clock newscast he never saw the tape before it rolled live on the air. He had more than one interesting moment when he began narrating. Now that WRAL-TV Sports Anchor/Reporter Jeff Gravley anchors the WRAL 11 o’clock News, Suiter gets to see the tapes before the on-air run.
Suiter and Holliday begin planning the new week’s Football Friday program as soon as the previous show is over. Holliday creates a list of games for coverage, then he and Suiter talk about the list and narrow it down. They eventually have to eliminate a few because so many games go on in the Triangle.
The Football Friday crew covers the regular season and three play-off shows each year. They select a different team to join them in the studio each week complete with football players, coaches, band and cheerleading squad.
Six WRAL staffers put together packages for the Football Friday show including Holliday, Jennings, Sports Anchor/Reporter Ken Medlin, Reporter/Photographer Rick Armstrong, Sports Assistant Josh Hailey and Jay Hardy.
A Training Ground for More than the ACC
More than one WRAL news staffer got a start on Football Friday. In 1983, Keith Baker was fresh out of high school. He came to Suiter and said he really wanted to learn how to shoot video. Suiter got him a camera and sent him out on Friday nights. Richard Adkins followed suit. Both Baker and Adkins took cameras to high school games, and WRAL started to build its coverage. Now Baker is a News Photographer and Adkins the Chief Photographer for the station.
“Football Friday has been a really good training ground,” said Suiter.
WRAL-TV News Photographer Chad Flowers began helping out and learning when he was a freshman in college and Hardy got his start on Football Friday as well. WRAL-TV Reporter/Photographer Mike Charbonneau even started out that way. He worked one year in the sports office for WRAL and then was able to get a news job in Greenville. He’s now back at WRAL, reporting the news.
Why It Works
“I feel like I’ve taken a great deal of pride in this show because we go into a lot of communities and cover a lot of teams,” said Suiter. “People come up to me and say, ‘I was on Football Friday in 1985’.”
The Extra Effort Award that Suiter presents each week has been much the same. He began the feature in 1981. He says he’ll often go to interview a teacher about their Extra Effort Award-winning student, and it turns out the teacher was an Extra Effort Award winner as well.
“Football Friday is a really good thing for the station. It’s just been a really good thing.”
– WRAL’s Tom Suiter
“Football Friday has been a good, positive thing,” said Suiter. “A lot of times in TV things aren’t positive, especially newscasts. I love high school athletics because I had such a good experience in high school athletics. Very few students go on to play in college, so this is the last time they play.”
Suiter credits coaches with making high school athletics so good.
“If you have a good high school coach, you have a good high school experience,” he said. “Being a high school coach is a great thing. You’re doing it because you really love it. You can really have an impact and an influence.”
“Football Friday is a really good thing for the station,” said Suiter. “It’s just been a really good thing.”