written by R.L. Bynum
Wake Forest alum Lepler has the ultimate job … and covers many other sports
ESPN’s impact in the last 30 years has led to practically every sport you can think of (and some you didn’t know existed) being televised on some sort of platform. More obscure sports that previously were only seen on shows such as ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” get international exposure from streaming broadcasts.
While jobs covering sports for newspapers have dropped dramatically, opportunities for versatile sports broadcasters continue to rise.
Among the many play-by-play announcers who have taken advantage of this is Winston-Salem resident and Wake Forest graduate Evan Lepler. Since first calling girls varsity tennis in eighth grade on cable-access TV in Sharon, Mass., he’s probably broadcast more sports than some of the nation’s top announcers.
“That’s all fun for me, for the most part,” Lepler said. “Doing a variety of sports is really a pleasure. It’s a fun challenge.”
ACC fans recognize him from his football and basketball play-by-play for Raycom, regional sports networks and ESPN3. But just this year, he’s also worked sports ranging from field hockey and volleyball to cornhole, ax throwing and ultimate frisbee. None of those last three would likely get that much attention without ESPN.
The broadcasters who have influenced him are as diverse as the number of sports he covers.
“There are a lot of broadcasters that I really enjoy listening to,” Lepler said. “I try to be kind of a mix of all of the people that I really like, with my own style mixed in. I’d say 30 or 40 broadcasters. And I try to incorporate things I like about each of them into the way I do my job.”
When the biggest ultimate frisbee competitions are televised, the announcer on the call will likely be Lepler, 34, who some have called the “voice of ultimate.”
“That’s what people say,” said Lepler, who was captain for Wake Forest’s club ultimate team. “Yeah, it’s strange and very flattering, cool and bizarre.”
Not many broadcasters would give up a minor-league baseball broadcasting job — and the potential for advancing to higher levels — to call ultimate games full time. But that’s exactly what Lepler did after being the voice of the Class A Carolina League Salem Red Sox for six seasons until 2014. He took over at Salem for Jason Benetti, the TV play-by-play voice of the Chicago White Sox who also frequently works ESPN broadcasts. Before going to Salem, Lepler worked one season with the Class A South Atlantic League’s Delmarva Shorebirds.
In 2013, ESPN signed a deal to televise competitions for USA Ultimate, the national governing body for the sport. Even though he hadn’t kept up with ultimate since college and didn’t know much about the stars, he accepted an offer to be an analyst on that coverage. That season, he worked with Mike Couzens, who calls numerous ACC basketball games, and with three other play-by-play announcers for a couple of more seasons before doing play-by-play exclusively since 2016.
After missing three Salem games in four years, he started missing as many as 35 games a year because he was working weekend ultimate events.
When ESPN agreed to air an American Ultimate Disc League game of the week on ESPN3 in 2014, the AUDL asked Lepler to be the voice of the league.
“At the time, I’m thinking back to what 21-year-old Evan would have thought about this offer coming sometime down the road,” Lepler said. “I would have been too over the moon about it.
“It’s still bizarre to tell people about because most people aren’t aware it exists,” Lepler said. “But it’s fun. I’m trying to help this league grow and gradually gain traction. And I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Once Lepler convinced the AUDL that he could do writing, video and podcasts if it hired him full time during its spring/summer season, he left the grind of a minor-league baseball season for a more reasonable work schedule in 2015.
“I honestly feel like every job I’ve gotten, has kind of been like a natural step,” he said.
He admits that he sometimes thinks about his old baseball job. He was a finalist for the play-by-play job for the Triple-A International League’s Pawtucket Red Sox a couple of times.
“But it’s a crazy lifestyle, obviously being on the road with a minor-league baseball team and being at the ballpark every single night,” said Lepler, who now gets to spend more time at home. That’s even more important now that he has a 14-month-old daughter.
“It’s seeing the schedule that folks do in baseball and that my friend Jason goes through and everyone does,” he says, explaining why he’s fine being out of baseball. “I would love to do college football, college basketball and ultimate for the next 30 years. And if I could do that, I’d be totally thrilled and just be a baseball fan on the side and do a few baseball games on TV here and there when the opportunities arise.”
Even with the AUDL job, it’s basically a freelance career for him. He’s fortunate that he gets benefits through his wife’s job as a career counselor at Wake Forest’s business school.
The Raleigh Flyers, who play their home games in Cary, are one of 21 teams in the AUDL, which was founded in 2010.
“There’s something to be said for becoming the voice of the sport and doing the biggest games in that sport,” he said, adding that he feels fortunate to be able to work some big ACC basketball games between ranked teams now and then. “To be able to do the biggest games in the national championships, in the world championships of the sport? That’s a pretty cool feeling.”
He’s traveled the world covering ultimate, including World Championships in Dubai, London and France. He expects to cover an event next year in the Netherlands.
In the last six years, he’s only missed covering one Big South Conference Women’s Tournament final. That was when he went to Dubai for the 2015 World Championships of Beach Ultimate.
He got some strange reactions at the basketball tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., when he told them he was leaving for Dubai. “It was crazy to explain to people.”
He has one more ax-throwing assignment this year, working with last season’s voice of the Salem Red Sox, Melanie Newman, at the World Axe Throwing Championship in Tucson, Ariz., next month.
After the AUDL season, which runs from early April until late July, his broadcasting focus turns to college sports. In addition to working his share of non-revenue sports, he’s on the call for four ACC football games on regional sports networks with two of those coming this month: Nov. 16 for the Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech game and Nov. 23 for a game to be determined.
The day after he broadcast N.C. State’s loss at Boston College last month, he was in Clemson working a volleyball match. So, some weekends can be hectic.
“I’ve had my share of five basketball games in five different cities and six nights. But those are fun,” said Lepler, whose first ACC football game was Pittsburgh at Miami in 2016 with analyst Takeo Spikes.
This school year, he’s working ACC football and basketball games for regional sports networks. In past years, he also worked games for Raycom.
Once he gets his football assignment 12 days before game day, he immerses himself in preparation.
“It’s fun to dive into everything and try to listen to every word that the coaches have spoken throughout the season, postgame press conferences and mid-week press conferences, to try to become as invested in the team as all the local fans are,” Lepler said.
“It would frustrate me when I was a student at Wake watching Wake games, and I didn’t feel like the broadcaster had gotten the global view of the season,” he said. “I could tell that they just read the game notes and didn’t really do much beyond that. So it’s important to me to try to get as close to the level of the local fan in terms of knowledge and investment as I can. It helps me to do a better job and stay on top of anything that might pop up in the game.”
His game preparation is more efficient than early in his career, though. Before the first college football game he broadcast in 2012 between Charleston Southern and Presbyterian, he learned the mascot of every player’s high school. That knowledge didn’t turn out to be that helpful.
“I’ve learned how to better prepare now,” he said.
After that girls tennis broadcast in eighth grade, he got plenty of other experience, including calling play by play for boys basketball with an adult color analyst during his sophomore year in high school and doing other broadcasts in high school.
His first paying broadcast job, for $75 a game, was play by play for some Wake Forest games during his senior year in college for ACC Select (the precursor to ESPN3 and ACC Network Extra). He first did soccer and field hockey games, and then several men’s and women’s basketball games during the 2006–07 school year.
“I think I was really, really fortunate, and in the right place at the right time, in the fall of 2006,” Lepler said. “I don’t think the Wake athletic department knew where to look so they reached out to me and I was amazingly fortunate and grateful to do all of those games.”
That fall, he also worked a Wake Forest-Duke women’s soccer game for the Fox Soccer Channel as an analyst after being recommended by Deacons women’s soccer coach Tony da Luz. His parents didn’t get that channel, but they went to his grandparents’ house in Massachusetts to see it.
“It was very exciting for them to see me on TV for the first time,” Lepler said.
After graduation, the first football game he worked was as the studio host for pregame, halftime and postgame on the Appalachian State radio network. His first game? That Sept. 1, 2007, 34-32 Mountaineers win against Michigan in the Big House.
“The game was on Big Ten Network, which they didn’t get on campus. So, I didn’t even see it on TV. We just could listen to it. But yeah, I’ll never forget that day,” said Lepler, a huge Boston Red Sox fan who remembers that also as the day that Clay Buchholz, in his second major-league start, no-hit the Baltimore Orioles 10-0.
During basketball season, Lepler will work nine East Carolina games for ESPN3 and expects to do his share of ACC men’s and women’s games on the regional sports networks. He may get more RSN games this season since Wes Durham will be working games for ACC Network instead of RSNs as he did last season.
“I just love calling games,” Lepler said. “It’s so much fun to prepare and then be the guy that is sharing information and bringing the excitement and telling stories to other people. It’s genuinely a passion and I’m very grateful that I get to do it. It still feels kind of tenuous, I still feel like I’m figuring it out, but I hope I can figure it out and do it for a long time.”
Tipping off my 19-20 basketball broadcasting journey alongside Stan Lewter… VMI-ECU at 7 PM on ESPN3! pic.twitter.com/LkAj0JBlG4
— Evan Lepler (@EvanLepler) November 5, 2019
His basketball season started with Tuesday’s East Carolina opener against VMI on ESPN3. His first ACC game this season will be a regional sports network broadcast of the Florida International at N.C. State game on Nov. 13. The last Wolfpack home game he called was one for the record books — and not in a good way. Virginia Tech won 47-24.
“Our open was all about how high scoring it was going to be,” Lepler said. “And then it became the lowest scoring game in modern ACC history at 47-24. And, yeah, that was a weird day.”
He joked about it with Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts at ACC Operation Basketball last month as Lepler and Brian Oliver, his analyst for that game, were eating lunch at the same table.
“ ‘I appreciate that you’re willing to sit down next to us and don’t forever, you know, scorn us for what happened that day,’ ” Lepler recounts saying to Keatts. “And, and he’s like, ‘why do you have to bring that up?’ But it was friendly.”
Whether it’s a bonkers game with inept shooting or a competitive one with a thrilling finish, Lepler is ready — no matter what sport — to be there for the call.
Jones joins CBS Sports
UNC alum and Shelby native Jonathan Jones joined CBS Sports earlier this month as an NFL insider. He previously covered the NFL at Sports Illustrated for three years and had been planning to leave before TheMaven laid off numerous staffers there.
Jones will regularly contribute to CBSSports.com and regularly appear on CBS Sports HQ and various CBS Sports Network programs.
Before SI, Jones was the Carolina Panthers beat writer for The Charlotte Observer from 2011–16. He was sports editor of The Daily Tar Heel during his junior year at Carolina.
Thrilled to join CBS Sports and the team’s fantastic NFL coverage. Pumped for what’s to come and appreciate all my friends and readers.
— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) October 31, 2019
C.L. Brown leaves The Athletic
UNC alum C.L. Brown has left The Athletic, says he’s working on his own now but still working out what’s next for him. He’s been on press row for many games already this season, including at the Duke-Kansas game in New York and UNC’s opener against Notre Dame.
Brown said he didn’t want to talk about his exit from The Athletic, but added that he left on good terms. His last story for The Athletic was a feature on N.C. Central coach LeVelle Moton.
Before joining The Athletic, he covered basketball for ESPN.com for four years and covered University of Louisville for the Louisville Courier-Journal for 13 years.
Charlotte Observer hires second Panthers writer
Late last month, The Charlotte Observer hired Alaina Getzenberg as its second Carolina Panthers beat writer, joining Brendan Marks on the beat. Their work also appears in The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun.
I’m excited to share that I’m now going to be covering the Panthers for @theobserver. I can’t wait to get to Charlotte.
— Alaina Getzenberg (@agetzenberg) October 25, 2019
Getzenberg, a 2017 Cal Berkeley graduate, came to Charlotte from The Dallas Morning News, where she was a sports producer. Previously, she was a sports researcher for CBS Sports TV and an associate reporter for MLB.com.
During her time at Berkeley, she was assistant sports editor and then sports editor of The Daily Californian.
Some N&O/H-S stories available only to subscribers at first
As part of a larger initiative at The McClatchy Company, some N&O and H-S stories are initially only available to subscribers. Testing of this began in late September.
Robyn Tomlin, the executive editor of both newspapers, said via email that this would be done for a small subset of their work and that won’t include breaking news or highly competitive stories.
Two examples are sports stories that appear in the list of notable N.C. stories at the end of this notebook: Jonathan Alexander’s feature on UNC receiver Toe Groves and Steve Wiseman’s story on Duke linebacker Koby Quansah.
The first story was published on the websites Oct. 24 and appeared in the Oct. 25 print editions. The second story went on the websites Oct. 23 and appeared in the Oct. 24 print editions. Both stories didn’t become available to non-subscribers until Oct. 26.
Subscribers calling up either story before Oct. 26 got the above message at the top of the story. Non-subscribers following the link got the below message instead of the story.
“We are selectively testing this on a handful of stories a week — focusing on stories that are unique or enterprising,” Tomlin said. “Other companies have been testing this concept. I know Gannett has been aggressive with these efforts, but I’ve seen others try it as well. So, we’re neither first nor alone. We’re focused on learning how to balance our efforts to reach as many readers as we can with our need to develop loyalty and engagement that results in subscriptions. We’ve seen really strong digital subscription growth over the last year, and we want to continue that trend.”
There remains a metered paywall for non-exclusive content, which Tomlin says generally allows three story views per month per device before users are asked to subscribe.
McClatchy Publishing Center staff being reduced
The McClatchy Publishing Center, based in Charlotte, is reducing the number of full-time equivalent positions by about 25% and, by the end of January, will be down to the equivalent of 66 full-time positions.
Six staff members were laid off, 18 full-time staffers took buyouts and five part-time staffers took buyouts, according to sources. In a two-tier pay structure, some staffers are set to get raises while others will have their pay cut.
Jeanne Segal, McClatchy’s director of PR and communications, confirmed the restructuring, but not the staff numbers.
“We don’t normally break out the number of layoffs by division, but I can share that these changes do not affect the page counts or news hole,” she said via email.
McClatchy had three publishing centers before consolidating into just the one in Charlotte, although a good number of copy editors and designers work remotely or at other newspaper offices. The design for 29 McClatchy newspapers, including The N&O and Herald-Sun, is done by the center. The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald are designed on-site in Miami.
As part of the changes, editors at individual newspapers will only determine which stories appear on front pages. Publishing center personnel will decide how stories are placed within sections.
Tomlin says that since there are several publishing center editors who work at The N&O’s Raleigh office, a publishing center editor in Raleigh will organize sections for The N&O and The Herald-Sun.
It's our GEICO Quote of the Game!
— FOX Sports Carolinas (@CanesOnFSCR) November 6, 2019
Labar filling in while Maniscalco recuperates
As Mike Maniscalco continues to recover from a medical procedure last month, Abby Labar has been filling in for him on Carolina Hurricanes television broadcasts of home games. It isn’t clear when Maniscalco will return. Labar still is scheduled for TV duty for the Thursday game against the New York Rangers and the Monday game against the Ottawa Senators.
Labar is scheduled to work on the crew with Lepler on the RSN Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech broadcast on Nov. 16.
Third N.C. AP basketball poll voter changes
For the third consecutive men’s basketball season, Luke DeCock, the sports columnist for The N&O and H-S, and Lauren Brownlow of WRALSportsFan.com are AP Top 25 poll voters.
Taking the place on the poll of Brant Wilkerson-New, the former News & Record of Greensboro sports writer who how is the publisher of HeelsMaven, is Bob Sutton, the sports editor of The Times-News of Burlington. It’s a return to the poll for Sutton, who was a voter for the 2015–16 season. Wilkerson-New had been a voter for the previous two seasons; but couldn’t be in the poll this season because HeelsMaven isn’t an AP member.
Brownlow story earns award
Brownlow won a Radio Television Digital News Association of the Carolinas/AP award for original web reporting for this story on Brenda Tracy.
Tracy has had many difficult personal challenges, most resulting from being sexually assaulted by four college football players in 1998. She now speaks to groups, mostly athletes, about what she went through.
The story is well done and worth your time.
ACC Network adds Boozer, others for studio shows
Former Duke All-American and two-time NBA All-Star Carlos Boozer has joined ACC Network as a basketball analyst. He will contribute as a commentator on studio shows.
Also added as ACCN commentators for studio shows as women’s basketball analysts are former Clemson player Kelly Gramlich and former Georgetown player Monica McNutt.
Gramlich previously was an analyst for game coverage on ACC Network Extra, ESPN+ and the SoCon Network and has called Clemson women’s games since 2015.
McNutt previously worked with FS1, Overtime, MSG Networks, ESPN and Washington’s WJLA-TV.
Familiar basketball analysts for ACCN games
Former Virginia players Cory Alexander and Dan Bonner, both with plenty of TV experience, are color analysts on ACCN men’s basketball games. Alexander has been an ESPN analyst since 2009 and Bonner has been an analyst on various platforms since 1977.
Two analysts new to the ACC region are Luke Hancock and Malcolm Huckaby. Hancock, a former Louisville player and a member of its 2013 team that won a now-vacated NCAA title, is the co-host of a sports radio talk show in Louisville. Huckaby, a former Boston College player, has been an analyst for ESPN since 2012.
ACCN will air 110 regular-season men’s basketball games.
CBS hires Love as golf analyst
CBS Sports has hired Charlotte native and former UNC golfer Davis Love III as a golf analyst. His first event for the network will be the January event at Torrey Pines, and he’s expected to work numerous PGA Tour events in addition to The Masters and the PGA Championship.
“With his playing experience, reputation and relationships across the golf community, he brings a unique perspective and insight that will enhance our broadcasts,” Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, said in a statement. “Davis is the perfect fit for CBS, and we look forward to him making the best broadcast team in golf even better.”
Love, 55, played for UNC from 1982–85, winning the individual ACC title in 1984 and was inducted in May into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
With a Shakespearean lede, Jeff Mills of the News & Record looked at the ramifications of a move from FCS to FBS, something that has been mentioned as a possibility for North Carolina A&T.
Although Appalachian State’s Cotton Bowl dreams likely died in a loss to Georgia Southern, this story on espn.com by Ryan McGee that ran before that game still provides an interesting look at the Mountaineers’ shift from FCS to FBS.
In The N&O/H-S, DeCock did extensive reporting in this story on the Apex Friendship High School football team’s shift to not allowing contact or tackling each other during practice. Could it be the future of a sport where the cases of CTE are up and participation levels are down?
In The Athletic, Joe Person wrote about the Carolina Panthers’ tag-team analysts on their radio network, with former players Jordan Gross and Jake Delhomme sharing duties. They replaced Eugene Robinson, who now is part of the postgame show.
In The N&O/H-S, Alexander wrote about the difficult path for Toe Groves as he escaped the projects of Nashville, Tenn., to becoming a wide receiver at UNC and the struggles created because his father is in prison. To get Groves, UNC coaches made a rare recruiting visit: To prison to talk to Groves’ dad.
In The N&O/H-S, Wiseman wrote about the improbable turn of events that led Koby Quansah to go from being born in Ghana to playing linebacker at Duke. It was never easy for his family after his father left them when Quansah was 2.
In The Undefeated, Lonnae O’Neal looked at how black quarterbacks have changed football and perceptions of leadership. Among the players she cites are former N.C. State star Russell Wilson and the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton.
In The Charlotte Observer, Brendan Marks wrote about an unlikely bond between Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey and a blind Paralympian.