MUSKEGON – Emily Vanderstelt began to pursue photography as a member of the yearbook staff at Oakridge High School during her sophomore year.
Never did she imagine that two years later, she’d be seeing and experiencing what she has in her senior year. She is looking through a different type of lens now.
Vanderstelt, 17, is thriving as a student volunteer for CatchMark SportsNet. In covering West Michigan Conference football and basketball contests, she has taken photos, recorded videos, conducted interviews and provided in-game updates for CatchMark.
Montague senior Kiara Mikkelsen and Ludington junior Claire Allen also are taking part in the student volunteer program with CatchMark. In addition to adults who volunteer their media services, it all helps CatchMark SportsNet blanket the West Michigan Conference with coverage and helps provide the volunteers with marketable skills.
In the process, Vanderstelt has met so many people and forged new relationships. She has grown as a person.
“I really like it a lot. It’s definitely, like, the more I do it, the more I want to keep doing it on the side, even in college,” said Vanderstelt, a 3.8 student, who plans to attend Hope College or Central Michigan University and study psychology.
“I like the friendships that it creates. I’ve become really good friends with Cam (Thompson, Whitehall basketball standout) because I’ve interviewed him (three times) now and we talk about it every time. He always thanks me for covering him, so we’ve become really good friends. I just like talking to people, like every time I have an interview.”
Vanderstelt had no prior experience conducting interviews, such as she does for CatchMark. It has forced her to step out of her comfort zone.
On the flip side, being interviewed by a person their age seems to put high school athletes more at ease.
“Me and the students get along really well. I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to ask you these questions,’ and I’ll get a little nervous and they’re like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m nervous, too,’” she said with a laugh.
Vanderstelt has gone after opportunities as opposed to waiting for them to come to her.
As a junior, being part of the yearbook staff no longer fit into her class schedule, so she created her own niche: Team photographer for Oakridge’s football squad.
Previously, Vanderstelt and Oakridge football coach Cary Harger had what Harger called a “rough patch” in the student-teacher dynamic. They moved past it. Vanderstelt launched the “Oakridge football pictures” Facebook page last fall.
Because Vanderstelt already knew Oakridge’s football players, many as classmates, they were comfortable with her taking photos, even candid ones. She gained the trust of Harger and his program.
It was at the Oakridge vs. Whitehall varsity football showdown last September when Vanderstelt was introduced to CatchMark SportsNet crew covering the Game of the Week at Russell A. Erickson Stadium.
Photos by Scott DeCamp and Billy Mann | CatchMark
Soon, Vanderstelt was taking photos for CatchMark as well as for her designated Facebook page. Eventually, she added video and interviews to the mix – even branching out beyond Oakridge to cover sporting events involving other schools in the West Michigan Conference.
“From my point of view, she is confident in her abilities as a young lady, handling school, and her extracurricular activities, which now take her throughout West Michigan,” Harger said. “There is a lot of growth and maturity that comes with high school and she definitely found hers. I am proud of her.”
Vanderstelt’s life has not been without adversity or challenge. In October 2019, older sister Brooklynn Ranae Root passed away unexpectedly at the age of 21.
At first, Vanderstelt was very emotional and did not want to talk about it. Her perspective has changed as time’s gone by.
“I’d say, like, after my sister passed away, I wanted to live for her more,” said Vanderstelt, the daughter of Lee Vanderstelt and Maria Toman. “That influences me a lot and everything that I do is for her.”
At one time, Vanderstelt considered a nursing career path because she’s long been inspired to help others. For example, during kindergarten, rather than playing with her peers, she wanted to help the librarian put away books and organize things.
But the more Vanderstelt thought about it, she said she could not bear to see patients die. She’s steered away from nursing and toward psychology.
“I was like, ‘What else can I do that will really help people?’ And, like, I’ve seen all this mental health stuff and people who took their own lives,” she said. “I want to help people and I don’t want people to take their own lives anymore.”
As for now, Vanderstelt gives of her time to CatchMark SportsNet and to the athletes and schools that the media outlet covers.
Her efforts are not at all lost on the players and coaches she’s covering and getting to know.
“I mean, it’s great. I really appreciate the coverage and stuff,” Thompson said. “I feel like she knows how to communicate, too, a lot because we’re around the same age and stuff. It’s just amazing how well she does it, too, with what age she’s at. I just feel like it’s really good for her and she’s got something good going on.”
Whitehall boys basketball coach Christian Subdon has been thoroughly impressed by Vanderstelt, whom he described as a confident, take-charge type of person.
From their first interaction to their most recent, Vanderstelt has made quite the impression on Subdon.
“I think she’s done a phenomenal job. It was (at) Oakridge the first time I got to interact with her. She stopped me right after (Subdon and Oakridge coach Tracy Ruel) shook hands,” Subdon recalled. “She introduced herself and she gave me very clear and concise directions on what she wanted and how she wanted it done, which is really impressive for a kid to do.
“She didn’t know me, right? She came up and she just let the kids know exactly and she made them feel at home because she was joking with them a little bit, which makes it good because no one’s great at interviewing at first. She did a really good job.”
Vanderstelt has had such a positive experience, she is strongly considering pursuing photography more after high school and maybe even turning it into a side business.
She’s grateful for her opportunities with the CatchMark student volunteer program and would recommend it to anybody regardless of that person’s interests.
“I would just tell them to go for it and if they ever needed help with anything, they could come to me,” Vanderstelt said. “Like, if they needed advice on where to go or how to stand or the angles, I can teach them that. But I would say, 100 percent, go for it.”
If you are interested in becoming a student volunteer for CatchMark, then contact Scott DeCamp at email@example.com.
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