During this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, alumna Courtney Lyle (’12) of ESPN and the SEC Network will deliver NBC’s play-by-play for men’s and women’s field hockey alongside Olympic ice hockey medalist and analyst A. J. Mleczko. When the announcement was made, Lyle tweeted, “Athletes dream of playing in the Olympics. Announcers dream of calling them. I couldn’t be more excited to be part of NBC’s field hockey coverage this year!!! Dream Come True!!!”
Lyle and Mleczko will broadcast from NBC studios in Stamford, Connecticut, beginning August 1. “We will have a feed of the match from Tokyo and call it live off the monitor, just like we do for other remote broadcasts,” said Lyle. Twelve teams have qualified for pool play. (Neither the men’s nor women’s US teams qualified.) Eight teams will make the quarterfinals.
To prepare, Lyle watched all the previous field hockey matches from the Rio Olympics, talked with friends who played the sport, and researched each team. “I enjoy that part of it,” she said. “I love a good challenge. It’s an honor, too. It’s been fun to dig in and read about these amazing individuals who have a shot at a gold medal. I hope to be able to share their stories as the games continue. That’s my favorite part of my job.”
Lyle gained many skills that prepared her for this moment while studying and working at UT. “When I was a freshman, Link Hudson and Barry Rice, my mentors in UT Athletics broadcasting, gave me more and more responsibility—a lot of extra work producing features, doing camera work, and writing. They gave me a chance, a shot. I will be forever grateful to them for believing in me.”
“UT is where I learned what I wanted to do with my life. When I walk onto campus, it does feel like family,” said Courtney Lyle.
Motivated and Prepared
Lyle’s love of sports and her goal of becoming a sportscaster go back to her childhood in Brentwood, Tennessee, and her dad, Paul Lyle, who graduated from UT’s College of Communication and Information in 1976. “We used to go to Brentwood High football games on Fridays, drive to Knoxville on Saturdays to watch the Vols game, then drive back on Sunday to watch the Titans. We had that love together of watching sports.”
She got an early start in broadcasting thanks to Brentwood High teacher Mark Madison’s TV production program and public access channel WBHS-9. “It was unreal,” said Lyle. “As a freshman in high school, he’d give us a camera and say, ‘Go out and shoot something.’ Then we’d come back and he’d tell us what was wrong with it. Lessons he taught me I still use today.” She did play-by-play for football, basketball, volleyball, softball, and baseball games for two years. Senior year she stepped behind the camera as a director for Brentwood High football broadcasts. “We had seven cameras and three replay machines. I said to myself, ‘This is exactly what I want to do.’”
The summer before she started at UT, Lyle interned with Titans Radio, attending the team’s training camp, interviewing players, and carrying out other duties. “When Courtney interned for Titans Radio,” said Mike Keith, the Voice of the Titans, to the Tennessean, “I told everyone they’d better be nice to her, because she would be big-time someday.”
She started as a student assistant with UT Athletics broadcasting for Hudson and Rice. “I used to sit in their office in the basement of the Communications Building and do my homework. If they were going out on a shoot, I asked if I could go along. I wanted to let them know I was serious.”
Lyle covered all Lady Vol sports and was a feature producer for The Pat Summitt Show. “I went to Pat Summitt’s basketball camps when I was young,” said Lyle. “She is still a huge role model for me. My senior year I was the producer for The Pat Summitt Show. I went to practices, so I had the opportunity to watch her up close. I remember when she won her 1,000th game. Erik Peterson and I had a feature on that historic moment ready for the show the next day. Watching her reaction to that feature—it was an amazing moment.
“With Courtney, no detail is left undone,” said Hudson, “and she always strives for excellence. It’s a credit to her that she has embraced the entire video production field, because it makes her an excellent storyteller and reporter.”
In Knoxville, Lyle worked twice with ESPNU Campus Connection—as a sideline reporter for a softball game in 2010 and a student field reporter in 2011. And in the summers before her junior and senior years, she interned at ESPN at its headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. She was a production assistant for the 2010 World Cup, Summer X Games, the NBA draft, and Major League Baseball.
After graduation, Lyle started at WMAZ-TV in Macon, Georgia, as a sports anchor and reporter. After 15 months, she joined Knoxville’s WBIR as a weekend sports anchor, covering all UT teams, traveling with the football team, co-hosting high school football show The Blitz, and producing features.
“The biggest thing that has had an impact were the relationships I built at UT with alumni and people in the journalism department who helped me along even after I left the university. For example, one day Bob Kesling called me at WBIR and asked, ‘Are you interested in doing play-by-play?’ Bob had me come over to campus and we called a Lady Vol game off a monitor as an audition. He saw something in me and believed in me. That eventually helped me get hired full time at ESPN.”
Starting in 2014, Lyle worked with UT Athletics, doing play-by-play for select Lady Vol basketball games on the ESPN app. In 2016 she was hired by ESPN as a play-by-play broadcaster for the SEC Network, calling softball, basketball, and volleyball games.
A Scholarship Endowment
On May 15, 2017, Lyle’s dad died of cancer at 61. While at UT he worked at WIVK-FM as the station’s first sports director. For more than 20 years he was the general sales manager for WKDF-FM and 104.5 The Zone sports radio in Nashville. He then started his own company, Brentwood Advertising. Remembering his passion for UT, sports, and broadcasting, he established the Courtney Lyle Endowment for Journalism Excellence Scholarship to honor his daughter and students like her in UT’s College of Communication and Information, with dreams of becoming media broadcasters.
“He always fostered my love of sports and he always gave me great advice,” said Lyle. “It’s really special to have my name attached to the scholarship, because UT is where I found my passion. Every time I work a UT game, it feels like I’m coming home. It’s great to see so many familiar faces in the journalism department and the athletic department when I come back to Knoxville. It feels so special. UT is where I learned what I wanted to do with my life. When I walk onto campus, it does feel like family.”
See NBC’s field hockey website for a schedule of Lyle’s events.
View Lyle’s Checkerboard Chat from July 14.
Brooks Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org, 865-974-5471)