By Hayley Ramagos
Staying hungry and humble is Hannah Chalker’s (’11) key to success. The 25-year-old sports broadcast journalist has already worked with major networks such as ESPN3, ESPNU, Comcast Sports Southeast, SEC Digital Network and Fox News Channel. Currently she works for University of Alabama Athletics as on-air/producer with Crimson Tide Productions & SEC Network productions.
Her career has blossomed because she took full advantage of her resources during her time as an Ole Miss undergrad. Chalker served as a news anchor and reporter for NewsWatch and a student reporter for Ole Miss Sports Productions.
“I naturally remember the students who stand out,” said Nancy Dupont, Chalker’s Journalism 102 professor and later both her Media Performance and Advanced Television Reporting professor. “Hannah stood out. She was very confident that she could learn anything and learn to do it well.”
Growing up in a sports-loving family is what planted the seed that grew into Chalker’s love and talent for sports broadcasting. When she and her sisters weren’t busy playing for their volleyball and year-round soccer teams, she and her family were attending every professional sporting event in Atlanta. Whether it was the Braves, Falcons or Thrashers, the Chalker family was there.
But she did not find her calling until her senior year, when Chalker landed an on-air position with ESPNU Campus Connection as the SEC recap reporter for an Ole Miss basketball game against Southern Miss.
“It was that moment standing on the court, talking over screaming fans with lights blinding my eyes that I knew I was in love,” Chalker said. “It was a rush and familiarity that’s hard to explain.”
Three months after graduation, Chalker quickly accepted her first professional job in Orlando, Florida, as a reporter and producer for the SEC Digital Network, powered by XOS Digital. She rapidly adjusted to the demanding, odd hours of the world of sports broadcasting and determinedly fought to prove herself in a male-dominated industry.
“In every industry there’s a learning curve between a newbie and a veteran, but being female and green has it’s own set of challenges in the sports world,” Chalker said. “You have to constantly prove that you’ve done your homework and that you know what you’re talking about. Being a female sports broadcaster takes a lot of guts, and it’s a full time job proving that you’re so much more than just a pretty face.”
One thing is certain: Chalker accomplishes everything through hard work. After her position with ESPNU Campus Connection, she was asked to intern with Ole Miss Sports Productions as a reporter for olemisssports.com. It was there that she met J. Stern, the former Assistant Athletics Director for Ole Miss Sports Productions.
“She had an intuitiveness that resonated in what she did,” Stern said. “I would let her work, and she would just do it right.”
Stern, impressed with Chalker’s work ethic, quickly came to play a pivotal role in her learning experience in the sports broadcast world and, later, in her professional career.
“[J. Stern] has been my mentor and dear friend since my senior year of college,” Chalker said. “He helped me gain the necessary production and writing skills that I needed for sports broadcasting, as well as put me in contact with the right people to learn from and grow professionally over the years.”
Chalker learned things that she never could have been taught inside the classroom. Stern gave advice when she needed it and showed her techniques that further set her apart from other broadcast students.
“The biggest thing was her learning how to old-school edit,” Stern said. “She was the first student I ever had in the work force who learned how to do that. Taking the time to old-school edit eventually led her to a job.”
Stern credits Chalker’s professional success to her positive attitude.
“I like how she is paying her dues — taking the time for learning writing and editing the right way and not just jumping in front of the camera,” Stern said. “She mastered the conversational writing of broadcast early and she was able to write in her own, different way.”
This was also apparent in her work in Professor Dupont’s classes. Dupont recognized Chalker’s ability to create a confident presence in front of the camera all while using her amiable people skills to get a great story.
“Her personality is extremely pleasant,” Dupont said. “That makes her a very strong interviewer. When she was on camera, she was more than just a pretty face. There was a power behind her reporting that made her stand out.”
Maybe Chalker’s talent and success in sports broadcasting is simply a product of passion. She says sports and writing are the two things she is most passionate about.
“Besides the ones (sports) I cover, I’m always involved in some kind of sports league whether it’s golf, volleyball, softball, etc. On the other hand, I’m extremely passionate about writing and expressing myself. Even when I was very young, you could always find me with a pen in my hand writing some kind of story or poem.”
Chalker finds the opportunities she has to mentor young aspiring journalists as the most rewarding aspect of her job. She likes to have a shadow on the field with her for every game to show them the ins and outs of being a sideline reporter.
For Chalker, the long nights, early mornings and lack of social life during football season is worth the unrivaled excitement of her job.
“Picture this: it’s Saturday during the primetime SEC game of the week, the fans are so loud you can barely hear yourself think, and the guys in the booth are getting ready to throw it down to you for your opening hit of the game,” Chalker said. “Now that’s what I call fun.”
In addition to her sideline reporting, Chalker is host for the 2014 documentary, “The Wishbone Boys,” chronicling the University of Alabama football program’s most historic periods under head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. After achieving so many milestones in only three years, Chalker clearly has the potential to go wherever her will power takes her.
“My dream is to one day host a primetime sportscast,” Chalker said. “As much as I love infield reporting, I’ve always seen myself behind a news desk somewhere. That’s what I hope I’m doing in the next few years, living out my dream, so I can come up with a new one.”
The author is a senior, Integrated Marketing Communications major from Winona, Mississippi.