Even at a young age, ESPN’s Courtney Lyle knew she would be exactly where she is today.
“I started in middle school knowing I wanted to be in broadcasting. I set my sights wanting to work for a major network, which happened to be ESPN. It’s not like I walked up to people saying I would work for ESPN someday, but it was in the back of my mind. I remember getting the offer to be full-time. I remember thinking that this is what I’ve been working for, and it has been worth every holiday and family gathering I missed.”
Lyle didn’t grow up playing sports like most people in the industry. However, her background of going to sporting events with her dad blossomed into her love for the games.
“We used to go to my high school’s football games on Fridays, drive to Knoxville on Saturdays to watch the Tennessee game, then drive back on Sundays to watch the Titans,” she said. “I found that spark for sports through him and found an avenue to use it with sports broadcasting. I was never good at playing sports, so it was good to find a way to stay in sports.”
When listing some of her biggest mentors, her dad shone at the top of the list.
“My dad passed away in 2017 after a battle with cancer. With him, it was never a case of I couldn’t do it because I’m a female. At the time, there weren’t a lot of females in sports. But with my dad, he knew I loved sports, and he had the background in broadcasting. It was something that brought us together.”
During high school, Lyle worked for the high school TV station at Brentwood High School, WBHS-9. Her dad would stay up late with her helping with questions to ask the football coach the next day.
“I remember him telling me that one day, I wouldn’t need his help anymore,” she said. I would just know the questions to ask. I thought it would never happen. When you’re 15 years old, it’s daunting to go in there, sit down for 30 minutes and interview the coach when you’ve never played football. I was really grateful for him to be that resource to me, to be that person who believed in me. He still has a huge impact on my career.”
Lyle smiled as she remembered one of her favorite moments seeing her dad while she was working for WBIR in Knoxville.
“I was on the field during a Tennessee game which my dad always had season tickets to. Even though there were hundreds of thousands of people at the game, my dad whistled. I looked up knowing it was him,” she laughed. “He was standing at the top of the lower section waving at me. It was great having him as an influence in my life.”
Along with her dad, another figure stood out in her career while in high school working for the TV station.
“The teacher at the time who started the channel was Mark Madison. He pushed me and was hard on me. There were times I would leave school and be really frustrated because Mr. Madison wouldn’t like the project I was working on and made me change things. I realized later on, he was trying to make me better because he saw my potential. When I went to go work in Knoxville, I already knew how to call most sports games and how to write features and all that kind of stuff. It was all thanks to Mr. Madison.”
In college, Lyle worked for the women’s athletic programs at UT and helped produce the Pat Summitt Show her senior year.
“My senior year was her last year of coaching,” she said. “I grew up going to Pat Summitt’s basketball camps. I grew up going to Lady Vols games. To me, she was everything. She was how you are supposed to work hard. She set the example for women in sports including the position I’m in today. It was an honor to work on that show and go to practices and get to know the players.”
Lyle currently works for ESPN and SEC Network as a play-by-play commentator for numerous sports including volleyball, basketball, and softball. She was never afraid to enter the field although not many women were working in it.
“I never thought about the sport industry being male-dominated,” she said. “My parents were very supportive. They never said it was going to be hard because I was a female. My dad once told me I could be a news reporter and go into a war zone, or be a sports reporter and cover a football game which he knew I loved. I never had the fear that I couldn’t do it.”
She expressed her favorite thing about her job even though she thought it seemed odd to most people.
“I love when my producer counts me down when we’re coming on air,” she gushed. “That is the best feeling in the world. There’s an adrenaline rush knowing you have to keep the attention of the audience who’s watching you. It’s nerdy, but I love it.”
Lyle’s proudest moments are always when she can walk away knowing she and her crew had a great show.
“When that happens, it means your whole crew was on the same page, you did your prep work, and your storytelling was at its best. I did the SEC tournament championship game this year, and there is nothing like getting off air and having that euphoric feeling of knowing you got to crown a champion.”
Lyle knows she is in the right job, but she does wish she could go back and talk to her younger self about one thing.
“I would tell myself not to take things so seriously,” she smiled. “I was very serious about my jobs growing up. I know that usually isn’t a bad thing, but I could’ve lightened up a little bit. Since then, I think I have. I have fun with what I do. I absolutely love my job and can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Featured image via Courtney Lyle
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