Marshall alum Jerod Smalley fulfills dream of covering Olympics
Jerod Smalley has always dreamt of Olympic glory.
As a multi-sport athlete at Cabell Midland, followed by a successful track and field career at Marshall, Smalley has continued doing what he loves in his post-MU career by bringing sports to the masses as a sports director at stations from Topeka, Kan. to Columbus, Ohio.
Today, Smalley is Sports Director at WCMH in Columbus and, recently, received a dream assignment – covering the Rio Olympics for his station and affiliates throughout the country.
How was Brazil? What was it like in-person at the Olympic games? What brought him to Marshall in the first place? We asked Jerod those questions and many more in this edition of Alumni Spotlight.
HERD HEAVEN: Tell us a little about yourself?
JEROD SMALLEY: I am from Huntington, specifically Barboursville. I went to Cabell Midland and graduated in 1997. I finished at Marshall in 2001 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.
HH: Who was your favorite professor at Marshall?
JS: I had several, but I was one of the first classes there to have the legendary Dan Hollis in the broadcast track. I learned many, many things there I still use today. And Dr. Bailey at WMUL was an outstanding teacher.
HH: Tell us one of your favorite memories during your time at Marshall?
JS: From calling football and basketball games at WMUL to road trips with the track team to many, many, many hours in Smith Hall, I loved my experience there. I also felt like I knew most of the people there – the advantage of a moderately sized school.
HH: Why did you choose Marshall?
JS: It was close to home, affordable and had the major I wanted to pursue.
HH: You wear a lot of Marshall green when you travel, how often do people recognize MU?
JS: All the time. It’s an easy conversation starter. While talking to you in the Rio airport I’m wearing a Marshall hat. No “Go Herd” just yet, but I’m sure one is coming soon.
HH: Do your coworkers enjoy all of your Marshall gear living in OSU country?
JS: I think they do because it’s different – and it’s not a rival school of OSU! If I was a Michigan grad and had my desk covered in maize and blue, that wouldn’t go over so well.
HH: Tell us a little bit about your post-Marshall career?
JS: My first job was in Topeka, Kan. As the sports director there. Then, a year later, I came back to WSAZ as the weekend sports anchor. Then, in 2004, I moved to Columbus and WCMH. In 2006, I moved to the sports director role and that’s where I am now.
HH: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
JS: I love telling stories about people. I find people endlessly interesting and the fact I get to tell their stories to an audience is a wonderful opportunity. It’s hard. It’s not glamourous or all that lucrative. But no two days are the same and I’ve never been bored at work. It’s a privilege.
HH: Tell us a little about your athletic background?
JS: I played football and threw shot put and discus in high school where we had some nice success – a couple state track titles. I walked on at Marshall and threw shot and hammer for the four years I was there and had a ball doing it. It’s a shame the track team, or the track itself, is gone. But what they’ve done with campus is remarkable. I’m hopeful men’s track can make a comeback there.
HH: Are the Olympics special to you considering your background in Olympic sports?
JS: Absolutely. I remember watching the Olympics as early as 1984 and finding it fascinating. I even remember moments from opening ceremonies, like in ’92 when an archer shot a flaming arrow over the cauldron to light it. As a huge track and field fan, this is the ultimate showcase.
HH: What led to your trip to Rio?
JS: I worked for my parent company, Media General, to provide live reports and web content to my station and about 14 other NBC affiliates across the country. I was able to visit Chris the Redeemer and Copacabana Beach early in the trip, but when the games started, it was all business for 16 straight days.
HH: How was Brazil?
JS: I think many of the perceptions of Brazil are off, but not entirely. It can be a dangerous place and street crime is a major problem. Credit card fraud and other moderate problems seem to happen more often there. You have to be quite careful to do the trip. The favelas, frequent political corruption and contaminated water are very real problems. However, it’s a beautiful place and I found the people to be remarkably friendly to me, even the ones who didn’t speak English. They did their best to help. I’m glad I went.
HH: Tell us about the photo you posted online that was a hit in Marshall country?
JS: I wanted to show the folks back home we made it! I don’t recall Marshall having many Olympians in its recent history. I recall Lea Ann Parsley from the winter games and her Skeleton silver medal. I had several people from the U.S. ask about the hat, and many more sent notes about the photo through social media.
HH: From someone that has never been, describe the atmosphere at the Olympic games?
JS: It’s a real, powerful feeling. If you’re lucky enough to go, you should. Seeing all the countries represented, hearing all the different languages spoken, yet all those people playing the same sports and enjoying the time together…it’s a fascinating cultural experience.
HH: Back home, you do a lot of work with Autism, tell us a little about your work?
JS: I have two sons, ages 10 and 8, who are diagnosed with autism. They’re beautiful kids and have completely changed my attitude and outlook. Being gone on long trips like the Olympic trip is hard because they change so much in short periods of time. Autism is hard, but it’s not bad. It’s just a different experience. I want to make sure other people who have kids on the spectrum have access to the best therapy and information they can get. I’ve chaired our local Autism Speaks for a few years and at the station we created an autism focused show to raise awareness. It’s been a life-changing experience and we have a long road ahead.