By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography by Aaron Patton
Taylor Eldridge and Travis Heying are having a great basketball season. They’re putting in lots of time in arenas and locker rooms and racking up some impressive stats – with Heying getting as many as 4,000 shots a game and Eldridge having thousands of fans and followers of his tweets, videos and stories.
The pair have been providing tag team coverage for The Wichita Eagle of a nationally ranked college basketball team – one some say is Final Four-bound – as the Wichita State Shockers play their rookie season in the American Athletic Conference.
“Ten years ago, if you would have said the Shockers would play UConn and beat them by 20 points, I would have said that’s crazy,” said Heying, a visual journalist who’s been covering the Shockers for The Wichita Eagle and kansas.com since 2005. “It’s been a seismic change.”
With 11 other member schools in Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, the American Athletic Conference covers a lot more geographic ground than that of the former Midwest-centric Missouri Valley Conference that the Shockers belonged to for the past 72 years.
The cities are a lot bigger, too – including Philadelphia, Houston, Tampa, New Orleans and Memphis.
“That definitely makes the trips more exciting,” Heying said.
And with the Shockers success and expected run in the NCAA tournament, the pair will be anxiously awaiting – along with fans and the team – to see where they might be headed for post-season coverage during March Madness.
While Heying is the veteran of the two, Eldridge is a newcomer to the field of full-time college sports reporting. This is his first season covering the Shocker beat.
For the past eight years, the Goddard, Kansas, native was a correspondent for The Eagle and two other area publications, covering high school basketball games in Wichita and surrounding communities. He supplemented his freelance earnings during that time with various other jobs.
When The Eagle needed to replace its Shockers beat reporter, who had taken a job with WSU athletics last summer, Heying suggested to its editor that Eldridge be recruited for the job. Heying, who covers a variety of assignments including high school basketball, had seen the following Eldridge had developed with his innovative approach to covering high school sports, doing in-depth analysis and posting on social media.
“I did that because I knew that it’s not enough to just cover the games anymore. You have to be savvy with social media,” said Heying.
Social media has really changed the game of covering sports, and Eldridge and Heying are always looking for ways to engage and satisfy the thirst of Shocker fans for any bits of insight. Covering a nationally ranked team often means their work catches the attention of other basketball followers too, as well as Shocker fans across the country and the 7,500-plus members of the closed Facebook group called the Shocker Faithful.
“If you want to know what’s happening with Wichita State basketball, you come to us,” said Heying, of The Eagle’s and kansas.com’s extensive Shocker coverage.
Eldridge tweets numerous times while a game is underway. During halftime, Heying sends first-half game shots to The Eagle to post on kansas.com and to the Associated Press to distribute to other news outlets.
After the game, the pair create as many as four videos: of Eldridge on the court offering a post-game roundup, of post-game press conferences with Shocker coaches and players and sometimes those of the opponents, and other less formal player commentaries.
Oh, and then there’s the traditional writing of a story and going through more photos to publish. With kansas.com – the website of The Eagle – the stories, photos and videos are posted within and hour or two after a game’s conclusion.
A few months ago, Heying produced a popular video that gave a behind-the-scenes look at how he captures photos in Koch Arena, the Shockers’ home court. He operates as many as four cameras during a game – one in his hand and three that are positioned and secured well before tipoff in places like above the rim or up in catwalks. Every time he snaps the camera in his hand, the remote cameras fire, as well.
“I do that because I try to not miss something. You don’t want there to be a play that determines the game and I miss it because a ref was in the way.”
In between games, Eldridge’s stories provides insights about the players and coaches who in Wichita have instant celebrity status as members of a much-loved hometown team – like the big heart senior forward Zach Brown has for kids or why junior guard and former Wichita East High School player Samaja Haynes-Jones prefers a different fit for his basketball shorts.
For Heying, he’s relishing his work of telling the Shockers’ season through visual media.
“I love covering it because I know how much it means to the people living here.”