UNC Hussman students publish work about Olympic athletes with North Carolina ties

By Beth Hatcher

Olympic athletes represent determination, hard work and top-tier levels of graceful, skilled athleticism.

They’re also really, really hard to get hold of — especially during the Olympics.

Students in UNC Hussman’s “MEJO 390: Tokyo Olympics” class have been finding that out as they use the Summer School course to cover the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan, which began July 23 and end on Aug. 8, 2021. 

This is the third Olympic games the school’s students have covered as part of a class created by Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and John H. Stembler Jr. Distinguished Professor Charlie Tuggle. Unlike the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics, students are covering the Tokyo games virtually. Spectators are not allowed at the Tokyo games due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Taylor Bennett ’24, Emma-Blake Byrum ’22, Ellen Campbell ’22, Jacob Karabatsos ’22, Julia Roth ’23 and Kaitlyn Schmidt ’23 are the six students taking part in this summer’s “MEJO 390” class.  

The students were each assigned the task of covering three to six athletes — from rifle shooters to track and field stars — with North Carolina ties.

Pictured below, left to right: Team USA athletes rifle shooter Lucas Kozeniesky, rhythmic gymnast Camilla Feeley and track and field competitor Kenny Selmon were some of the athletes interviewed by the students. Photos courtesy of WRAL-TV and Taylor Bennett.


“I asked the students to walk the audience through the Olympics with the athletes and let them see the games from the athletes’ eyes,” said Tuggle, who tasked the students with producing multiplatform content to be aired and published by local NBC affiliate WRAL-TV and other NBC affiliates throughout the state.

Of course, before the students could tell the stories of the athletes, they had to get in touch with them — one of the most challenging and teachable moments of the Olympics work.

Roth said athletes’ social media and her own personal contacts provided avenues into her Olympics story sourcing. Roth, who is focused on broadcast at UNC Hussman, is also an athlete. She took part in three sports in high school — basketball, softball and field hockey — and currently plays on UNC’s field hockey club team.

“Learning how to find creative paths to the subject of the story, and then rework the narrative with what information you have available have been big lessons of this assignment,” said Roth, who wrote an article and created a video interview exploring the focus and philosophy behind the silver medal-winning performance by Lucas Kozeniesky, Team USA rifle shooter and 2017 NC State University graduate, in the 10-meter air rifle mixed team event. 

Roth also penned a piece and produced a video on Stan Okoye, a Raleigh native on the Nigerian national basketball team that beat Team USA in a July 10 pre-Olympics exhibition game — the first time an African team has beaten the U.S. men’s national team.

Click on the photo below to view Julia Roth's piece on Stan Okoye. Photo courtesy of WRAL-TV.


Like Roth, the other students in the class have a personal love and experience with athletics drawing them to sports journalism.

“Sports are like a universal language,” said Bennett, who produced a video interview with rhythmic gymnast Camilla Feeley, a sophomore at UNC who has dreamed of going to the Olympics since childhood.

Bennett hopes for a broadcast career in business journalism and said a lifetime of playing sports has prepared her for working hard. She was on her high school basketball, softball and cheerleading teams. “I wasn’t that great at any of them, but I loved sports. It was great to be on a team and have everyone working toward the same goal,” she said.

Schmidt hopes to make people feel like they’re at the event with her Olympics stories. Specifically, she wants them to feel the excitement of the events, because that is what sports are for her — excitement and fun. “Sports are something that people are super passionate about,” she said. Schmidt, a member of the dance team at UNC, also appreciates the elevated platform the class gives her work. “This class, and covering the Olympics, gives us such a big stage to put our work out on,” said Schmidt, who hopes to work at ESPN one day.

Click on the photo below to view Kaitlyn Schmidt's piece on Camilla Feeley. Photo courtesy of Feeley.


Schmidt produced a piece about 2018 UNC graduate Kenny Selmon, a track and field star who competed in the 400-meter hurdles, and how his family has supported his journey to the Olympics. She also interviewed the Garner, North Carolina, native.

Campbell noted how sports could bring people together. “I was very excited about taking this class because I love watching the Olympics,” Campbell said. “I love the sense of national pride that comes over the country when the Olympics comes around, and I love how sports can bring everyone together.”

Campbell is working on a piece about Crystal Dunn, a member of the bronze medal-winning USA women’s soccer team and former UNC student-athlete. Campbell, who played soccer for Howard Community College in Maryland before transferring to UNC, hopes to work for a news station in the Raleigh-Durham area after graduation. 

Karabatsos, who aspires to a career in broadcast or print sports journalism, said he appreciated the way sports journalism tests his skills as a storyteller. “When multiple outlets are covering the same sports event, you really have to get creative,” he said. To make his stories stand out, Karabatsos uses Tuggle’s advice of using descriptive language that makes people feel as if they’re at the athletic event.

Karabatsos will be interviewing Kevin Best, UNC's assistant athletic director for communications, who has helped coordinate Olympic sporting events since 1996 and has been coordinating swimming events in Tokyo. 

Karabatsos, another multisport athlete in high school — soccer, basketball and baseball — also relishes the teamwork he has learned from sports, lessons he applies to all aspects of his life. “The comradery of sports is something that I’ve always thought is so beautiful,” Karabatsos said. “There is a sense of community that you get from being on a team.”

The Olympic stage amplifies sports’ sense of community on a global scale, Tuggle said, another lesson for the "MEJO 390" students. “Sports are one of the ways people come together."