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Fast Break: Samantha Steele

Longhorn Network reporter Samantha Steele is working to help people in rural Zimbabwe.

Longhorn Network hits the ground running Aug. 26, and reporter Samantha Steele is ready for the challenge of launching the new venture.

Steele has years of experience reporting on virtually every college sport imaginable at various networks coast to coast.

The Phoenix native is joining the Longhorn Network as a reporter; she will work at events, studio shows, and also contribute features.

Steele talks to Front Row about her affinity for college sports, her surprising reason for activating a Facebook account, and her recent month-long experience living in rural Zimbabwe.

FR: Most of your career seems to be devoted to reporting on college sports. Is that just a matter of circumstance, or do you prefer covering collegiate sports as opposed to the pros?
Steele: That’s on purpose. It’s not that I have anything against pro sports, I just enjoy college sports more. Say what you will about corruption in collegiate athletics, but there is still something special about it. There’s still an aspect of it that revolves around coaches helping high school kids develop into young men. I grew up admiring John Wooden. I’m not sure how many John Woodens are left, guys who care more about teaching than winning, but I like to think they’re out there. I also love that it brings attention to small-town America. How else would you have heard of Lubbock, Texas or Pullman, Wash.? I’d gladly take Saturdays in the fall and March Madness over the Super Bowl and NBA Finals.

FR: What are you most looking forward to among your Longhorn Network duties?
Steele: I’ve lived in five states in five years, so naturally, I’m excited to be in one place for a while and develop some relationships. For me, taking this job was primarily about the people. I wanted to be a part of something where I could engage in more than my usual three day visit in various college towns. Also, the chance to cover sports that don’t usually get much attention was an added draw. I miss playing, so getting to cover women’s volleyball and soccer is going to be really fun for me.

FR: How have you prepared for living in Texas?
Steele: Other than the humidity, it hasn’t been a huge adjustment. I grew up in Phoenix, but both of my parents went to high school in Texas and my dad used to coach basketball at Texas Wesleyan. Besides my disdain for the Cowboys, it’s a pretty good fit. Austin is like a strange mix between Berkeley and Birmingham. Picture a Prius with a gun rack. I’m not sure how, but I’m sure someone here has one.

FR: What was your favorite sport growing up?
Steele: There was a period of around 10 years where I was convinced I was going to be the next Mia Hamm. Then I realized I didn’t like running. Also, it was 120 degrees outside in Phoenix, so my focus moved to indoor sports for survival. Volleyball was my favorite sport, even though I wasn’t very tall or very good. I had some hops and hit with both arms so I used trickery as my primary tactic.

FR: You attended Liberty University. What was it like covering a young, growing athletic program?
Steele: I transferred to Liberty after living in NYC for three years. I’m not sure if you can make a more drastic move in this country. Still, it was a great experience. Those people became my family. Our games aired on MASN and Family Net, so instead of majoring in Broadcasting, I figured I’d just find a place where I could actually do the job before I graduated. It was the perfect environment for me to learn. Danny Rocco, the head football coach, coached with Mack Brown at Texas. They hire elite coaches and solid people at that school. I’m just glad I got to be a part of it.

FR: How important is social media to your job? What are the upsides and downsides to being active on Twitter, Facebook, etc.?
Steele: When I first started at FOX in 2009, I used Twitter on the sidelines to interact with fans at home. They would send me questions for coaches, or comments on the game and we would use some of them in the broadcast. At the time, some execs made fun of it, thinking it was a fad. To me, it was a cool way to engage with people at home and help them feel like they were a part of the action. Now, I use Twitter to talk to people who I would never get to talk to otherwise. I post sports related news and opinions, but I mostly talk about my severe sugar addiction. It’s like therapy. I like to connect with other Americans who were fed cake and cookies every day by loving, yet bake-crazy mothers, now struggling with the concept of breakfast without dessert. I activated my Facebook account because when I was in rural Zimbabwe, some kids — with no shoes, mind you — asked me to add them on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is a genius. The downside to social media is that it can’t communicate intent and it doesn’t have a “wait five minutes and think about this one” warning.

FR: You recently returned from a trip to Zimbabwe. Why did you go, and what impact did it have on you?
Steele: I was actually there for a month. That’s important only because there was no running water. For those wondering, that means no shower. I wear it as a badge of honor now. When people give me a hard time about working in TV, I always drop it. “I went a month without a shower.” One of my friends from Liberty is from Zimbabwe and returned home after graduation to start a non-profit helping orphans in Bulawayo. While I was there, I realized that the kids were really into basketball, which is still a new sport for them. I went around to the high schools and saw that the kids were playing on broken, dangerous asphalt, often without hoops or shoes and always without water. When a coach who makes $50 a month coaching six teams told me that he doesn’t require them to run much because they tell him they’re too hungry, I knew why I went to Zimbabwe. I hired a director and six coaches who will now be able to afford coaching the kids full time, providing them with basic necessities. I’m hoping to build new courts, pay for uniforms and shoes and eventually build an indoor facility with dorms, classrooms and plenty of room to play in a safe environment. I love that sports can be the catalyst to change lives and impact a community. That’s what I’m hoping for.

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