Photo of XU Commentators inside the Cintas Arena

Getting the call

Dec 2, 2020

5 questions with Xavier alum Paul Fritschner, who was more than ready to step into FOX’s broadcast booth

Last week, Xavier alum Paul Fritschner (’19) was in the right place at the right time. What do they say — that luck occurs when experience meets opportunity? Well, then you could say Paul was pretty lucky. But you also have to realize how much time and effort Paul puts into his craft as a television broadcaster. We wrote about Paul when he was a student, and we were so happy for him when he got to sub in as a play-by-play announcer for a recent live stream broadcast when the scheduled FOX production was cut at the last minute.

From the ESPN producer who sent him notes on-air, to the improv class that helped him succeed, here’s five questions with Paul as he reflects on the opportunity:

Q: How did your relationship with Xavier begin?

PF: My relationship with Xavier began when I was 10 or 11 years old and I started coming to basketball games.

I grew up in Northern Virginia but my Grandad was a Xavier graduate in the 1950s, and my Grandma was an Edgecliff alum. My Uncle Jim, who lives with them, has Down syndrome, and he and Grandad had two season tickets in the handicap section in Cintas Center. During Christmas break, I would visit them and we’d get to use the tickets — a nice usher would pull up a third seat for me — and I was just immediately hooked. By the time I got into high school and started looking around at schools, I really didn’t have to look anywhere else.

It was the perfect fit.

Q: How did you find out you were going to replace the FOX broadcast team last week?

PF: When FOX had a COVID-19-related issue with their production crew, the nationally televised broadcast of the Xavier vs. Toledo men’s basketball game was canceled.

One way to look at it was that Mike Schmaltz and I were simply lucky to get the chance to fill in and live stream the game on just a few minutes’ notice. But as a 2019 graduate of Xavier who has broadcasted five other sports for the Musketeers for four and a half years, there’s another way to look at it, too.

It’s that I worked hard enough during my time at Xavier to earn the respect and trust of my superiors so that when the opportunity presented itself, they were assured we would put on a high-quality show. Mike, a Xavier women’s basketball play-by-play veteran of over 18 years, had certainly deserved a chance like this.

Q: How did Xavier help prepare you for the moment?

PF: One of the reasons I came to Xavier was because I knew I could get on the air right away. And from day one, I was able to work with the Athletics Department and just jump right in. So I started learning about broadcasting and sports in my first year.

For my classes, I wanted to do something else, to learn other skills in case the broadcasting thing doesn’t work out. So I majored in sport management and public relations, and minored in business. You’ve got to have some sort of a backup. I know I’m a hard enough worker that I can network outside the classroom, too. But I learned so much in my other classes that I could apply.

One course that I took — one that was totally off the beaten path — was an improv class in theatre. And that improv class taught me how to think on my feet, how to be relaxed, how to be an active listener. All of which makes me a better broadcaster. It was invaluable. And it goes back to Xavier making you want to be a well-rounded person.

I actually still think about that class all the time.

Q: Who did you hear from, either during the event or afterward?

PF: Tom DeCorte, a Xavier alum and coordinating producer at ESPN, texted me at the first media timeout to make sure it was going well.

“FS1 broadcast got canceled because of COVID,” the text read. “You likely have a lot more viewers than normal. Remember your fundamentals, use the stage. Good hearing your voice.”

That just made me calm down and reminded me I’d done this before. But the most overwhelming comments Mike and I got were responses from all the Xavier fans who reached out to say we’d done a good job.

They really let us know we hit it out of the park. And yeah, my family was so excited — my Uncle Jim loved hearing me. My girlfriend did too. See, we were never on camera, so if you didn’t hear us introduce ourselves, you may not have known it was us. My next-door neighbor, who is a Xavier fan, said he turned on the game and thought the voice sounded really familiar. Only later on did he figure out it was me. 

Q: What are your reflections on the experience?

PF: First of all, the nerves — knowing I was sitting there with Mike, who was on my first-ever broadcast, which was a Xavier baseball game in 2016 — he always calms my nerves. We only had less than a few minutes before we knew we were going on the air, so you couldn’t get that nervous.

Overall, I feel like the second half was better than the first half. In the first half, I was very excitable and tried to talk about everything. At halftime, I took a deep breath and settled down, and the second half was a lot better.

Afterward, once we signed off, we had another game to do that afternoon, but I thought to myself, ‘Wow, we were able to make the best out of this situation.’ And I realized that I was sitting just a few seats over, to the left, of where I used to sit with my family when we first started watching the Xavier games when I would visit them as a kid.

The Cincinnati Enquirer even wrote a story about it all.

It was an incredible experience. All of the credit in the world should be given to the production and communications staff that were able to make that happen. Our whole team was able to pull off something I will never forget.

As told to Ryan Clark, Office of Marketing and Communications

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