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10 Questions With Penn State Athletics Sideline Reporter Hannah Mears

If you’ve been to a Penn State sporting event over the past few years, you’ve probably seen Hannah Mears in action.

Right now, Mears works as an in-arena sideline reporter at Penn State basketball games and wrestling duals. She’s a senior studying broadcast journalism in Penn State’s Bellisario College of Communications, and she’s turned her passion for sports into a job with Penn State Athletics as a sideline reporter.

During football season, Mears hosted “Beaver Stadium Extra” — a show in which she’d interview current players, Penn State lettermen, and even a few special guests like the one and only Joe Jonas and Mason Young — the little boy who sent Jonathan Sutherland a heartwarming letter back in October.

Now that football season is over, Mears covers Penn State basketball and wrestling as a sideline reporter and in-arena host. We sat down with her to gain some insight into her life as a student reporter within the university’s athletic department.

Onward State: How did you get your current role as a sideline reporter for Penn State Athletics?

Hannah Mears: I guess spring semester of my freshman year, I had just made a connection with a professor on campus who I told throughout his class that I wanted to do broadcasting. I thought it was something I was interested in. I had interned — I guess “interned” is a loose term — but I had worked and shadowed ESPN when they came to Latrobe, Pennsylvania for “Friday Night Lights” for Steelers’ training camp. I sort of fell in love with the production side of things there, and it’s when I came to school when I thought that’s what I’d really like to pursue.

That professor got an email one day that was looking for somebody to potentially sideline [report], and they asked his opinion. He sent over my name, and I sat down with Arielle Sargent — who was the feature content producer before Mitch Gerber — and sat through a brief interview. From there, I met with [assistant AD for media and video production] Jim Nachtman, and they kind of threw me into the fire for the next football season and had me on the sideline. From there on, it sort of just built from whatever that day was until three-and-a-half years later!

OS: What’s your typical football gameday schedule?

HM: Okay, so football — those gameday schedules are pretty crazy. It used to be a little more hectic when I was new because they had to make sure we had the lay of the land and have our interviews pretty much pinpointed out. As we’ve gotten older, Adam Gilbert — the videographer and editor, we share the editing role now that I’m older — but he’s the main videographer for Beaver Stadium Extra. He and I more so collaborate through email with Mitch [Gerber] throughout the week. On a gameday, let’s say it’s a noon game — I have to get up at 5 a.m. to get ready. Adam would come pick me up at 7 a.m., and we’d be at the stadium by 8-ish. We typically get some b-roll beforehand, depending on what we wanted.

From there, it was sort of my job to make connections with the people I wanted to interview. I had to ask everybody. Most of the time, if someone were to say no, there’s nothing I’d be able to do about it. There was a lot of pressure in that way, but once that was done, we’d typically go back and either edit [the pieces] that night or the next day and push them out. A typical football day would typically be 13 hours. It would be a long Saturday, for sure.

OS: What are some of your favorite memories from covering Penn State sports?

HM: I think my favorite Penn State football memory was this year. I finally got to, as a senior, just stand on the sidelines of the White Out and kind of take it in. I got advice earlier that week from somebody who said, “if you’re ever stressed, take a second to realize how cool it is and just to take it in.” Knowing that was my last White Out as a student and professional working for Penn State Athletics, I sort of just stood on the sideline and looked around when everyone turned their lights on. I was just like, “Wow…this is so freaking cool.”

For basketball, a really cool memory would be this year: the court rush when Penn State beat Maryland. It was just really cool to be a part of knowing I could capture some of those moments and being a student to just enjoy it.

Wrestling actually probably holds some of my favorite memories. I grew up a huge wrestling fan because my brother wrestled, my dad wrestled, my cousins wrestled, and my dad coached — I go back a long time as a wrestling fan. And I grew up with a lot of these guys. I grew up with Vincenzo Joseph, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area. He’s someone who I’ve really followed in wrestling and is one of my close friends. To see him grow and win a national championship as a freshman — and win it again — I think those are some of the cool moments. Having been there for it was really cool.

OS: Who have been some of your favorite interview subjects over the years?

HM: That’s so funny, because I’m glad I’ve had more time to think about that! I did an interview with PSN-TV, and they asked me that question on the spot. My first response was Saquon Barkley, because we did have a class together freshman year. That was the class where I told the professor I wanted to broadcast, as well, and [Barkley] was always such a huge supporter of what I wanted to do and pushed me really hard to keep working towards it.

He always said, “I’ll see you on the sidelines one day,” and I’d say “I’ll see you in the NFL,” so it’s just a cool connection we have. Now to see him in the NFL — the next step for me is being on the sidelines. To take that first step and interviewing him at Beaver Stadium was just a cool sentimental moment for both of us. Obviously, I’m still working to get to the next level, but that was cool.

Ali Krieger was a really, really cool interview. She has impacted an entire nation of young women, and as a former soccer player, I like the women’s national team and following them a lot. To be able to interview her as an idol, but also someone you really respect, and to get to interview her about the World Cup and the impact she’s had on the nation — just a really cool moment for me as a young woman in sports.

Joe Jonas was a really cool interview. I never really imagine I’d ever interview someone of his status, so that was more of a fun, lighthearted interview. Some people got so starstruck by it, and they were like “were you nervous?” They told me five minutes before it was happening, so I didn’t even have time to be nervous. After I did it, I was really proud to get the interview done for the university.

OS: What made you want to get into journalism/sports media?

HM: If you were to ask me four years ago what I thought I’d do, I thought I’d be a doctor, so that’s good. But I played three sports in high school — soccer, basketball, and track — my brother wrestled and played football and baseball for a while. We grew up as an athletic, sports-oriented family. We were always competitive.

(Photo courtesy of Hannah Mears)

When I decided to go to Penn State and not pursue a sport anymore, I still wanted to be involved in sports somehow. I’m very personable and outgoing, I love to talk, and I love to get to know people. I think mixing in my personality skills with my love of sports, broadcast journalism was a no-brainer. That summer working with ESPN and some of their staff really solidified that this is what I want to do and where I want to be. I just want to be involved in the sports world somehow to share my passion and knowledge, but also to get those stories out of people because I like the personal connection of it as well.

OS: How much experience do you have in journalism/sports media outside of Penn State, and how did that help you grow?

HM: Coming into Penn State, I had zero journalism skills. I always loved to write, but I always thought I’d be a doctor. I was taking anatomies and biologies in high school — not any type of of broadcast classes.

Once I got to Penn State, obviously Penn State Athletics was my big kickoff for an internship. They have taught me how to film, edit, write, and speak in front of a camera. I’ve learned the most from them. I’ve also had affiliation with Shannon Furman from NFL Films. She’s been a really good mentor and role model to look up to. She’s very well-respected as an NFL Films producer and director. She’s been a really good mentor outside all this.

I also got to intern with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ video production department, which was really cool. That gave me more confidence in my abilities to shoot and edit, but to also make those personal connections in the hockey world. I had football, wrestling, and basketball, so hockey was really cool.

Penn State Athletics has pushed me probably more than anyone has. They always push me professionally, and they just want to see me succeed since they were the foundation of where I started. They also sent me to the NFL Scouting Combine last year.

(Photo courtesy of Hannah Mears)

I was the only person covering Penn State there, which was super intimidating as a junior in college. I hadn’t even flown much by myself before — it was only the second time — so I had to figure all that out, go to the hotel, go to all these meetings, watch the guys, and cover all those athletes there. I was a well-oiled machine by the end of it, but it was chaos — zero sleep. That experience has probably helped my self-confidence and prepared me for my future more than I could ever imagine. I was able to get really positive feedback.

OS: Who, if anybody, do you look up to in journalism/sports media?

HM: As a female, some females I’ve really followed closely are Maria Taylor, Holly Rowe, and Laura Rutledge — the female powerhouses in college sports. They all have their own different flair and everything.

Holly Rowe is so sweet in her interviews. She’s so genuine, and she’s just that person you want to be portrayed as. You know she has a level of respect for others. Maria Taylor’s more of that fun, outgoing [personality], and she’s very well-respected for her knowledge of sports. I see myself as a Laura Rutledge. She’s sort of a mix of everything.

Those women are just so well-rounded. They definitely know what they’re talking about, and they’re all personable. You can tell those are their actual personalities and authenticities. You don’t want to be that person who comes off as fake in person and professional on camera, so I’d rather be authentic in myself throughout the whole thing.

Erin Andrews, as well, is a really well-respected female reporter in the NFL. Sort of that person who’s the epitome of where you want to be one day, so I guess she’s who I idolize to be. I just want to be well-rounded and authentic.

OS: Where do you hope you’ll be in 10 years, and how has Penn State, Penn State Athletics, and the Bellisario College of Communications helped you reach those goals?

HM: I cannot thank Penn State Athletics and the College of Comm enough. I would be absolutely nowhere without all of my mentors, professors, people I’ve worked alongside that have helped build me and given me the confidence to be where I am. I owe absolute credit to everyone but myself. I owe my parents my success in terms of my work ethic that I was brought up with, but I’d be nowhere without the people I’ve met at Penn State.

Adam Gilbert, who I’ve worked alongside, does so much behind the scenes that no one even knows. He’d work himself to the bone to see me succeed — even before himself. He’s just that type of person. I would not look good on camera if it weren’t for him sometimes, so I owe him a lot as my partner through all this.

I think one of the biggest pieces of advice I got was from Michelle McMahon from the Big Ten Network. I asked her where her goal would be after the Big Ten Network, and she said “I’ve learned in this industry to not be complacent, but also to appreciate the moment and spot you’re in.”

It’s really hard for me to keep looking forward because I am really appreciative of where I am right now. A 10-year plan — I want to be on camera somewhere. I want to be on the sidelines and a well-respected woman in the industry and on the sidelines.

OS: What advice would you give anyone who has similar career aspirations to yours?

HM: My biggest piece of advice would be not to be afraid to be the person who stands out. Whether that’s in the classroom, in a social setting, within interactions with other people — I think being the person who participates in class can come off as a little annoying to some, but that’s where I got to be where I am. Being the person who’s willing to participate and go above and beyond — when people say “any questions” after a speech, for example, you want to be the person who has a question.

Don’t be afraid to be the person who stands out, and always learn to listen. People like to say they’re good listeners, but I never realized how horrible I was at listening until my first interview. Halfway through, I was like, “wow, I have no idea what this person just said to me.” That’s what’s helped me grow as an individual and interview — learning how to listen.

OS: What are you excited about in life right now?

HM: I think what scares the heck out of me, but what’s also most exciting is getting up every day wanting to challenge myself to be better. Whether it’s challenging myself at Penn State to be a better interviewer — that’s exciting because it scares me. It scares me to change and be different.

Change in the fact that I’m graduating — it’s so exciting, because where am I going to end up, but oh my God, it’s scary to graduate! I’ve been here for four years and I’m okay with being here for another four years.

I’m a very Type-A person, so I like to know what the heck’s going on, and I have no idea where I’m about to end up. It’s really exciting to wake up every day and see if there will be a new opportunity waiting for me. I’m motivated to find what’s next, but I’m excited to have the opportunities to get to that point.

OS: As per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?

HM: Wow, okay, I should’ve done my dinosaur research. My brothers and I used to love The Land Before Time. It was such a cool movie.

If I could be a dinosaur, I’d want to be a mix between Sarah the Triceratops and Little Foot from Land Before Time. It wouldn’t matter whether I was a triceratops or a longneck, but Sarah had that aggressive personality and got her way and stuck by her friends. I’d want to have her personality traits, but Little Foot always had that leadership and likability about him.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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