The Name of the Game: Promotion for a Profit
Earlier this spring, staff writer, Briella Buchmann, published, “Girls Basketball: Students and School Must Do More.” Buchmann’s work focused specifically on basketball and examined the types of opportunities extended to Mishawaka High School’s (MHS) boys and girls teams and how the seemingly different promotion strategies between genders could be a violation of Title IX, given the multi-facets of the law which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Her article serves as a precursor for this piece because, while research concluded that the school is not in direct violation of Title IX, it opened up the opportunity to discuss “surface level issues,” as labeled by School City’s female Title IX Coordinator, Dr. Sarah Hickle. These categories of issues should be easy fixes to appease all involved parties—yet they often go unnoticed by the Athletic department. How many sports within Mishawaka’s seasonal rotations and their dedicated student-athletes have been affected by the strategic behavior of the Athletic department? Is it intentional?
In January, student research was conducted that analyzed the statistics of the variety of sports advertised on Mishawaka Athletics social media, specifically Facebook, over a one-week period (19th-26th). Results concluded that boys basketball was promoted a total of 12 times—more than double any other sport (wrestling, girls basketball, cheer, or swim.) The data—albeit accurate—was preliminary, but created a need to gather a greater body of research. Hence, the Alltold staff thoroughly analyzed periods of one-two months throughout the 2022-23 school year, encompassing as many sport seasons throughout the school year as possible (August to March), and via multiple school media accounts operated by Mishawaka Athletics (Twitter, Facebook).
This past Cross Country season, Liam Bauschke made a name for himself as a rising sophomore. “Liam went on to win the Sectional and Regional and place 9th at the State meet to earn All-State. His achievements resulted in the best sophomore season in school history of boys cross country…“ said Cross Country and Track Coach Mr. Chris Kowaleski. Kowaleski also highlighted successes on the girls team, “Koryn Flick and Jada Rogers were a solid 1-2 punch all season and earned All-NLC honors, and first year runner senior Maddie Buraczewski was named top newcomer to the team,” but looking at the Mishawaka Athletics social media pages, the shout out ratio is grotesquely disproportionate (One acknowledgement for Buraczewski to a near 30 for Bauschke. “None of Koryn’s accomplishments were littered in [social media]. Both [she and I] broke 20 at semi-state,” said Junior Jada Rogers. According to School City of Mishawaka’s Athletic director, Mr. Dean Huppert, persistent coverage of Bauschke is because, “It's not fair to compare [Liam] to another runner, because in this era at Mishawaka HS, no one is accomplishing what he is. In fact, no other boy or girl has since 2014.
“We cover stories as they happen. We report about athletes, and teams, and give people information that we hope they find interesting,” said Huppert, who has been Mishawaka’s AD since 2017 after 28 years working as a sports newscaster for FOX28 and WSBT. At MHS, he acted as a workplace mentor and used his skills in telecommunications to help implement the Mishawaka Network [school weekly broadcast channel], but the idea of “reporting stories as they happen” is a caveat of the 24-hour, modern-day news cycle because the structure does not allow stories to fully develop or give perspective of all those involved.
Only reporting the best of the best means, “It’s way harder to keep yourself motivated when no one is actively encouraging you or promoting the team at all and is only really focused [on] Liam,” said Rogers. She acknowledged that Bauschuke is worthy of such attention and accolades, adding, “... I understand that he’s a great runner. He definitely has a lot of talent, [and] he’ll do great things in the future,” but emphasized that, “it’s not just about who’s going the furthest right now. It’s about who’s putting in all of the effort, and the work, and taking the time to become a better runner.” This promotion strategy differs from that of other surrounding schools like Penn HS, whose Athletic social media feed tends to focus more on a sports team rather than a high-achieving individual.
Fall Sports Stats with Football and Boys Cross Country being top content.
The above data would support the general commentary that circulates the MHS hallways, a feeling that media coverage fluctuates based on the status—or success—of a sport’s season, which can be disheartening for some student-athletes. “With the lack of support, sometimes our team can show no energy because there is no crowd to hype us up, [and so] we have to hype each other up. Although there is no student section, our team full of encouraging players help lift up the spirits of everyone,” said Girls Basketball Junior Addison Brugh.
Alltold staff reporters first began this series in November, at which time it was evident that the Athletic department was trying harder to maintain equitable coverage of all sports throughout the school. By February, Hickle and fellow Title IX Coordinator, HR Director Mr. Kory LaBonne, were approached for comment. Although both coordinators were surprised to see the slanted social media presence between various sports, they assured that the budgets between boys and girls sports are equal, though it may not seem like that at first glance. “It’s based on need…[and] is built on the number of participants, which is also influx,” said Hickle, with regards to the cycle of each budget instead of just straight numbers.
She added, “As far as I know, Mr. Huppert is the primary [owner of] the social media accounts. They [he and assistant AD Sherry Keyser] divide up sports [to advertise]. I don’t know that to be true, but when I look at the data, that makes me wonder [if there’s an] unintended consequence.”
By March, Huppert offered commentary regarding promotional priorities. He said, “You may have seen our coverage of Lilly Deeds in diving. She had a lot more coverage than the diver on our boys team. It wasn't because she was a girl and we were trying to avoid giving equal coverage, it was because the boy on our dive team finished 6th at Sectional…“And just like Liam,” added Huppert, “she's giving younger athletes a role model to look up to. That's something we want to promote. For 19 years, girls tried to do what Stephanie Paul did in 2004 and in 2023, Lilly did it. We let people know that Mishawaka has someone who has put in countless hours to be one of the best at her sport, and the reward came with [the] notoriety that she earned.” Deeds’ achievements were proudly backed by Coach Brian Heintzberger—who also mentioned the “all personal best swims in the finals” for the boys team, calling it, ”A great finish for our seniors.”
Winter/Spring Sport stats with Boys Basketball and Wrestling overtaking coverage.
Huppert is correct. There was coverage of Deeds when she went to State for diving, but the displeasure felt by those who feel ill-represented by social media feeds is not without justification—as the above data shows. Thereby, is this a problem with how the Mishawaka High School Athletic department manages social media, or does the problem stem from what the school culture places emphasis on to bring in money (football, boys basketball, and wrestling)? That is the overarching question. “We know how it is for football here—it’s a big deal. It would be nice if that type of feeling was there for every sport—whether it was girls or boys,” said teacher, Ms. Alicia Harkins.
With subject matter as multifaceted as this, it is easy for things to be overlooked and misunderstood. That’s why “seeking to understand,” said LaBonne, “...is so important…even just empathizing or validating the way someone is feeling… encouraging to seek the information that may be necessary when there is a misunderstanding of sorts. The dialogue can be so powerful. Even if there is a disagreement, seeing the different perspectives is what makes us better.”
In an effort to “seek to understand” and find answers to the concerns shared by students, parents, and teacher coaches, a new position was created by the school board at their most recent meeting on Wednesday, March 22nd. The job title, “Media Manager for School City of Mishawaka,” has reportedly already been filled—by Huppert—leaving a spot open for a new athletic director.
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