A trademark of ESPN reporter Gene Wojciechowski’s storytelling is the ability to stir the heart, guiding College GameDay viewers every week through stories that span the spectrum of sports and life.
This Saturday on College GameDay Covered by State Farm (11 a.m.–noon ET, ESPN), Wojciechowski reports on Washington University of St. Louis forward Justin Hardy, a star player on a Division III powerhouse who is playing his senior season while managing a terminal cancer diagnosis. Below, Wojciechowski delves into the reporting process, Hardy’s enduring spirit and the transformational power of hope.
How did you hear about Hardy’s story?
Justin’s story had been reported locally – and reported well. [ESPN college basketball analyst] Jay Bilas and others within ESPN have been advocates for this, and producer Danny Arruda and I were asked to tell the story for College GameDay.
What was the reporting process like with this feature?
Danny and our crew began the process by filming an event in Justin’s honor at his high school in St. Charles, Ill. I joined Danny and the crew in St. Louis. In all, we spoke with Justin, his parents, his older sister, his oncologist, his head coach, and several of his teammates – either on camera or for background info. For the better part of 2-1/2 days, we were semi-embedded with Justin and the WashU basketball program. For that trust, we owe much thanks to Justin and all those involved.
What is one thing you hope viewers take away from the feature?
I wouldn’t presume to tell a viewer how to think after seeing a story such as this. But I don’t know how anyone could fail to be moved by Justin’s honesty, by the nature of the medical odds he faces, by the elegance of his iron will, and by an extraordinary brand of courage and inner strength that somehow overpowers Stage IV cancer for the length of a college basketball game. I’m incapable of fully understanding what it must take to do what Justin has done this season.
You’re known for features that elicit an emotional response from College GameDay viewers. Is there a point in your reporting process where you know a story will have that kind of impact?
Justin is the second-leading scorer on a team that began the season with national championship expectations – and he’s done so while playing with Stage IV stomach cancer. Everything about Justin’s story is impactful.
There are parts of the story that are undeniably soul-crushing, and other parts – the way all those around Justin are there for him, and he for them – that illustrate the ripple effect of one person’s life. Justin agreed to do this story because he wants to give hope to those feeling hopelessness in their own daily battles.
How can you not be moved by Justin’s openness and generosity of spirit? The short answer: You can’t.