ESPN Coming To SS: ‘Worldwide Leader in Sports’ releases high school broadcast schedule

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, News-Telegram Sports Editor

Aug. 11, 2008 - The self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader in Sports" will be making Sulphur Springs its home. For a day, anyway.

ESPN released the schedule on Friday for the high school games it will be broadcasting live this season, and among the listings, as expected, was Wichita Falls Rider vs. Sulphur Springs on Thursday, Sept. 11.

The game, which will be played at Gerald Prim Stadium, will be televised regionally by ESPN2 (Channel 32 on Suddenlink cable).

The news that ESPN is coming to town was a poorly kept secret among Wildcat fans, but both Rider and SSHS officials were hesitant to announce itbecause it was not official. Actually, it still isn't official.

SSHS athletic director and head football coach Greg Owens said the contract with ESPN hasn't been finalized - and the schedule published by the broadcasting company had a caveat that the entire schedule was "subject to change." But, the fact that the game was listed among the 19 broadcasts ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU will conduct is a positive sign.

"ESPN still has to do a site survey where they will bring in a lighting guy to see our lights and where they can put up temporary lighting, and they will bring in a camera guy to determine where to put the cameras," Owens said.

New lights were erected at Prim Stadium this week, which will about double the number of candle lights hitting the field. But, ESPN will need to double the new amount for its broadcast, so the broadcasting company will bring in additional, portable lights.

The camera situation is a bit more tricky because the sidelines at Prim Stadium are narrow and the press box may not easily contain ESPN's equipment and personnel.

ESPN wants a homey, small-town Texas feel with a full stadium and exuberant fans, and they should get that. SSHS season tickets were a complete sell out, and even with an additional 500 seats being added to the visitors' side, it is expected to be a standing-room-only capacity.

ESPN first approached Rider and SSHS officials about playing one another in January, before the new alignments and schedules were released. Owens was told by ESPN that their game would be the No. 1 option on that night.

The draw for the television audience is two-fold. Rider is ranked No. 2 in the state, and although Sulphur Springs is not ranked in preseason polls, the Wildcats have generated quite a buzz with their exciting brand of play from last year. The second reason revolves around each team's quarterback.

SSHS senior Tyrik Rollison is ranked as the No. 2 dual-option quarterback (running and passing) in the nation and No. 2 in the state by recruiting service Rivals.com. Rider senior Shavodrick Beaver is ranked No. 8 in the nation and No. 3 in the state.

Both teams also have several other Division I prospects that make the story line interesting.

NOTES: The game will be played on Thursday rather than Friday because the UIL prohibits the live broadcast of high school games on Friday nights. ... The game will also begin at 8 p.m. to accommodate ESPN's schedule.

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