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Penn State Students Make History With Spanish-Language Big Ten Broadcast

Penn State students Carlos Garcia and Juan Mendez made history in early October after serving as the commentators for the first-ever Spanish-language broadcast produced for the Big Ten Network. 

Mendez lived the first 13 years of his life in Sogamoso, Colombia, before his family moved to Homestead, Florida, where he resided for about seven years. After that, his family relocated to Texas once he began his education at Penn State.

“I always grew up talking about sports and playing them with my cousins, my best friends,” Mendez said. “It was every day that we played soccer in Colombia.”

Garcia is a Cuban-American who was born and raised in Miami, Florida. His mother was born in Cuba and lived there for around four years before immigrating to the United States, and his father was born in the United States to a Cuban couple. 

“Sports were a pretty big thing growing up in my house and they still are,” Garcia said. “I wouldn’t specifically say sports broadcasting was big in my family, and I didn’t want to do sports broadcasting when I came to Penn State, but joining clubs like CommRadio gave me that experience on air, and that’s when my interest in broadcasting started to grow even more.”

The idea to broadcast a sports event in Spanish was born in their COMM 260W class, but developed over time. With help from their professor Steve Sampsell, the pair got the ball rolling. 

“I was having a conversation [with Sampsell] and he said, ‘You and Juan being the Spanish voices who do play-by-play broadcasting and who have that bilingual ability, you two should do something like this and don’t just limit yourself to CommRadio, blow this thing up, make this thing. Make it a huge deal. Go to the Big Ten Network, see if they’re open to it,’” Garcia said. 

Not only was the Big Ten Network open to it, but it was approved almost immediately. The network was already familiar with Mendez, who had previously worked with it on the Penn State Athletics production team, where he also participated in some broadcasting and play-by-play. 

According to Mendez, the opportunity to broadcast in Spanish was also made possible through a collaborative effort by Ross Woomer, a part of the production team for Penn State Athletics, and Jim Nachtman, the assistant athletic director for media and video production for Penn State Athletics. 

The broadcast proved to be a success. After the game, Garcia and Mendez’s phones were flooded with messages of support. 

“We got a lot of love on LinkedIn,” Mendez said. “We also got a lot of love from our Spanish professors, because we both have Spanish classes. And of course, the support and feedback from family itself is so meaningful.” 

Many people who reached out to the commentators said they appreciated that they could listen to a broadcast in their native language, which a goal of Garcia and Mendez.

“I think it’s important to bring awareness to the Spanish community here at Penn State and just show that even though this is a school that’s a predominantly white institution, there’s still about 8% of Hispanics, so they exist,” Garcia said. 

Garcia and Mendez were inspired to pursue this career path because, during their childhood, they listened to Spanish sports commentators. It was through watching these games that they became familiar with the specific style that the Spanish commentators have in comparison to the commentators in the U.S. 

“I used to listen to a broadcaster who worked for Fox Deportes in Spanish,” Mendez said. “He’s Argentinian, and he would bring so much energy into his broadcast, making it just surreal. I’d be watching games, and I’d just be so immersed in the atmosphere that it would just feel amazing every time.” 

When calling games, Spanish sports commentators are often known for having intense passion and emotion. Replicating that distinct energy was one of the challenges the students faced during their broadcast. 

“It’s all very stylistic, such as holding words for longer, almost like you are singing a melodic tone while talking,” Mendez said. “And then, of course, when a goal happens, I hold that word for as long as I can.” 

Although both students were a part of the broadcast, they had different roles. Mendez was in charge of the play-by-play, calling the game and summarizing what was happening on the field. Garcia on the other hand, was in the role of analyst or color commentator, meaning he was in charge of providing statistics, information on specific players, and analysis.

“Since I was in charge of knowing formations, knowing who’s doing what, and knowing why a coach is doing something, I felt that just being familiar with the game from playing it beforehand, and being familiar with it because of my culture and my background helped me to know so much about the sport,” Garcia said. 

Both students hope they’ll have the opportunity to broadcast in Spanish again and expand into other sports.

“I think the thought in the back of the mind was, ‘Well, if this goes good, or if this goes great, we can make this a thing that could potentially happen maybe another time.’ Another sport with a pretty big Spanish audience is baseball and that’s coming up in the spring,” Garcia said. 

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About the Author

Alex Waterman

Alex is a fourth-year student majoring in journalism and minoring in sociology. Her biggest accomplishment was reading 4000 pages of Game of Thrones this year, hoping her inner nerd would return. She is also extremely passionate about social issues. You can reach her at [email protected] with any comments or questions.

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