When Khalil Edney made varsity basketball history Sunday in a preposterous winning shot that immediately went viral, two rookie journalists — one a college senior, the other a recent grad — were lucky enough to be right there to cover it.
Jordan Griffith, a senior at Purchase College State University of New York, and Mike Zacchio, who graduated from there in 2011, were still high on adrenaline Tuesday after bearing witness to the remarkable buzzer-beating moment in the Mt. Vernon-New Rochelle Class AA basketball championship game.
Their reactions to being there — to seeing this amazing shot, and being able to work it as reporters rather than just watch it as fans — are happy reminders of how thrilling it is to be a young journalist, just starting out, when a big story breaks.
“Honestly, when he shot it, I said ‘No way,’” said Griffith, 24, who was covering the event for MSG Varsity, where he works part time. “Everybody, every single person on press row stood up and didn’t move. Then suddenly we were watching every single person celebrating. One school was celebrating because they thought they won. The other school was celebrating because they thought they won. When the officials called it ‘good’ it just went into pandemonium. People behind me were crying and screaming, ‘Oh my God!’ Every person in the gym had nothing in their mind at that moment except that shot.”
The shot that Edney slung some 55 feet down the court was initially waved off by officials, but they later reversed their decision, handing a 61-60 victory to New Rochelle and sending the 17-year-old’s achievement all over the major networks and the Internet.
As fans invaded the court, Griffith says he found his journalism training kicking in. Despite the swarms of people around him, and his own excitement, he managed to summon a steely focus and zero in on Edney.
“Literally everyone was screaming around me,” said Griffith, the son of two retired journalists, in a telephone interview. “The first thing I thought was, ‘I have to stay focused.’”
As his sideline reporter interviewed Edney, Griffith stood next to him tapping Edney’s words on his phone and tweeting them out. Soon Griffith went into what he calls “PR mode,” getting the word out to all the reporters he knew at the networks to help send the MSG Varsity footage viral.
Nearby, Zacchio too was tweeting. A sports reporter for The Journal News, a Gannett paper that covers the northern suburbs of New York City, Zacchio had been assigned to cover the girls’ high school game scheduled after the boys. But he’d arrived early and was sitting in the press area just as the boys’ game was wrapping up.
Sensing that something big could happen to tip the balance of the game in New Rochelle’s favor, Zacchio raised his iPhone and started shooting. Just as Edney launched the shot, Zacchio took his eyes away from his phone in time to watch the ball drop right in. Quickly, he looked back at his phone to make sure he had filmed the shot. He had.
“I got that on camera!” he gushed to his Journal News colleague, Josh Thomson, who was covering the game. They both worked to get Zacchio’s video out to their social networks. “I was thinking, ‘Everyone’s got to see this!’”
Zacchio’s glee was palpable, inspiring his own news organization to do a video and sidebar on him headlined “Reporter Elated to Film ‘The Shot.’”
“It was a crazy experience,” recalled Zacchio, 23, in a telephone interview. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. To be there to cover it was amazing.”
As Zacchio reflected on how his years in the Purchase journalism program had prepared him for that moment, he said he remembered something he’d learned from a sports reporting class. “The message was: Always be prepared, because you never know when something’s going to happen,” he said.
Mary Alice Williams, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Purchase College, who has taught both Griffith and Zacchio, said by phone that she was immensely proud of the two.
“These are career-making moments,” said Williams, a former co-anchor of NBC’s “Weekend Today” and a former anchor and news division vice president of CNN.
“In news, it’s the bad moments that make careers. In sports, it’s the really good moments that make careers.”
Tara George is Associate Professor of Journalism at Purchase College, State University of New York, where she has not taught either Griffith or Zacchio. She blogs at journoprof.com.