Security is like Fort Knox at the Rose Garden on Saturday, Aug. 29. Sweats-wearing UFC fighters drinking Red Bull crowd the entrance, preparing for that night's big bout. Their arms are the size of a small Blazer guard.
Deep in the belly of the arena, Rebecca Haarlow—in jeans, a black cardigan and beige platform heels—is
preparing for a different and lesser-known event.
Haarlow is a sideline reporter for the Portland Trail Blazers, and it's Day One of her inaugural broadcasting camp for teenagers and adults.
Six campers, who each paid $350 to attend Haarlow's camp, are gathered in the Rose Quarter broadcasting studio, a cramped room jammed with video and lighting equipment. One of Haarlow's producers and a cameraman for the Blazers have agreed to act as counselors.
The campers, who range in age from 16 to 32, are sitting around a table trying to channel the essence of ESPN's SportsCenter broadcasters, preparing to test their chops with a teleprompter.
Matt Palumbo, a 32-year-old Lake Oswego resident, has attended broadcasting camps before but still struggles to find his own style as an announcer. He emphasizes his words in a way that suggests he's imitating a sportscaster instead of embodying one.
"Michael Vick debuts in EAGLES gear tonight, but appears in a Virginia BANKRUPTCY court this morning," Palumbo says, titling his head with each emphasis.
"Where's Matt in that?" Haarlow asks Palumbo.
At 29, Haarlow is one of the youngest reporters in the NBA. But it's not her age that fans talk about. Google the Princeton graduate's name and one of the top results is sidelinehotties.com. Much like Erin Andrews, the ESPN sportscaster who unwittingly became the subject of an online video after a peeping tom recorded her naked in a hotel room this summer, Haarlow regularly confronts questions about whether her looks or her skills are her strongest asset.
That may be why, when Haarlow announced her new camp this summer, some Blazers fans were skeptical.
"Is this a joke?" one person wrote on Blazersedge, a blog that's not affiliated with the team. "While her looks are anything but…her work is seriously lacking."
Another commenter was even harsher in his assessment of Haarlow. "I'm busy that week," the blogger wrote. "I'm attending the Pamela Anderson school of acting."
Haarlow says she doesn't read the negative comments. "People are going to say what they want to say," she says.
But while many Blazers fans are quick to criticize Haarlow, her campers are not. After two days of sports broadcasting camp, some declare Haarlow's job challenging.
"I had never been on camera before so I didn't know what to expect," says Kyle Johnstone, a junior at the University of Oregon. "It's hard to have to think on your feet like that."
On Day Two, the campers' first task is to practice on-camera banter.
Palumbo shares the platform with Johnstone. With free rein from Haarlow to discuss the topic of their choice, the two pick the state's oldest rivalry: the civil war between UO and OSU.
Palumbo is orange and black all the way, and Johnstone sides with the recently disgraced Ducks. Haarlow stands off camera, coaching between takes. Look at the camera, she tells them. "I never want to see your profile," she says.
Later, campers practice reading scripts while clips of a Blazers game play on monitors in the studio.
"This is what you see every night from LaMarcus Aldridge," they each read as a montage of jumpshots, steals and fast-breaks flash on the screen. "On the floor he is as predictable as he is reliable. After battling an early-season slump, LaMarcus Aldridge's offensive game has taken off."
Broadcasting camps may not be commonplace, but several do exist across the country. Haarlow is a veteran of these camps; when she was starting out, she attended several. But since none of them focused on sports broadcasting, Haarlow decided this year to start her own. (Although Haarlow is a Blazers employee, the camp is not connected with the team.) "To be a better a broadcaster, you need to work with the equipment," Haarlow says.
The final exercise of the two-day camp was learning how to interview players courtside.
Ella Reider, a senior at Grant High School, exemplifies how difficult the seemingly simple task of microphone placement can be. She looks professional in gray slacks and heels, but she stands at just over 5 feet, and her task is to interview fellow camper Tim Kelly, who is at least a foot taller.
To pick up Kelly's responses on the microphone, Reider has to move her arm beyond its natural range of motion, which looks as awkward as it appears to feel.
"You can interview your friends and practice in a mirror as much as you want, but it's a whole different game when the lights go on and the camera is rolling," Haarlow says.
Johnstone admits it was tough talking his parents into shelling out the money for the camp. He, at least, didn't regret it. Neither did Palumbo, who put the cost in perspective. "Six years ago, I went to a camp in Southern California that cost 3 1/2 times as much and had a lot more people," Palumbo says. "This camp was worth every penny."
Rebecca Haarlow plans to offer her sports broadcasting camp again. More information is at rebeccahaarlow.com.