By Jaime Aron
Editor’s note: Kid Reporter Jake Aron just finished five days of covering the Final Four. He filed blog posts, video reports, and social media updates throughout the last three games of the men’s basketball season. And along for the ride was his dad, former Associated Press Texas Sports Editor Jaime Aron. Jaime looks back on the experience of watching his son break into the business.
When many of the reporters covering the Final Four saw my 11-year-old son in the media workroom, few considered his presence cute. Offensive is more like it. One TV reporter groaned that his station got only four credentials, yet I let my kid tag along? I understood the vibe. I felt that way when covering big events, too.
So when a reporter I’d never met came over to us on Friday afternoon and told Jake what a great job he was doing, it felt really nice. When it happened again, it was even more validating. As the compliments piled up, it became clear this kid had established himself as more than some late-night-TV novelty act.
“You act like you belong here,” a national columnist told Jake. “Keep it up.”
By the title game on Monday night, reporters, volunteers, and security guards were greeting him by name. Jake was even posing for selfies with strangers. (Thankfully, no one asked for his autograph; that might’ve really gone to his head.)
“After (title game coaches) John Calipari and Kevin Ollie, you are the most visible person at the Final Four,” a reporter from Chicago told Jake.
The Experience of a Lifetime
I thought Jake would thrive in this environment. But all parents know it’s tough predicting such things. I also admit to wondering if he might try bailing out by Sunday, deciding that covering sports was too much work and not enough fun.
It looked that way at first. A series of news conferences on Thursday left Jake so bored we never went to another. What he needed was 1-on-1 interaction, like he got later that day with the consensus player of the year, Doug McDermott, and the next morning with Oscar Robertson (or, “Robinson,” as Jake accidentally called him).
That led to a new game plan. While stars like Shabazz Napier and Julius Randle lured the media horde to news conferences, we hit the locker rooms for everyone else.
Being only a few years removed from SI Kids’ target audience, players were very welcoming. Once they discovered Jake was no wide-eyed fan — that he was really there to work — they liked him even more. Several times, players made professional reporters wait to ask a question because it was Jake’s turn.
“I absolutely love him,” Kentucky’s Marcus Lee said. “He’s my favorite (reporter).”
Jake got comfortable with his surroundings — and with himself. As his confidence grew, so did his skill. He went from robotically asking one question to comfortably firing off three or four. He figured out the art of the follow-up question, even slipping in a funny line that elicited a nice quip.
It wasn’t all perfect. He learned some things the hard way. For example, Jake was fascinated to learn there was a player in the Final Four, Amida Brimah, who spoke six languages. On Friday, he was excited to interview Brimah in the Florida locker room — until he discovered Brimah plays for Connecticut. And that he had already interviewed him that day. But when UConn upset Florida, Jake knew he’d have another shot. His goal was to get a video of Brimah saying, “Go Huskies! Win the championship!” in all six languages. Alas, he didn’t want to play along, offering it up in only one then leaving to do something else.
We also savored small but memorable moments, like the in-your-face thrill that came every time a security guard scrutinized his credentials and his first experience of a PR person pitching him a story. After the title game, Brimah told Jake he was going to miss him, leading to a great photo and Jake telling a TV interviewer that was one of his favorite memories of the weekend.
Back to Reality
Now comes the tough part: Being a 5th grader again. Jake’s classroom will no longer be AT&T Stadium. He’ll carry schoolbooks, not the NCAA championship trophy. The adults around him will be teachers, not Hall of Famers. Bedtime will be 8:30 p.m., not well after midnight. Perhaps most of all, he’ll no longer have the niche of being the only person around under 18.
The last five days definitely changed him. How? We’ll find out. I’ve half-jokingly told him to get sports reporting out of his system now — and, without me prompting anyone, he heard similar messages from dozens of others. Yet he also learned the secret that when it’s good, it’s very, very good. That’s why so many smart, talented people are journalists.
A little after 3 a.m. Tuesday, I was finally tucking Jake in bed, capping this magical experience. I gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of how he handled himself the last five days.
“Thanks for taking me with you,” I said.
Eyes closing, he replied, “I needed a driver.”
Photos courtesy Jaime Aron