By Kim Constantinesco
Former sports reporter Ted Madden spent years covering the likes of Tony Romo, Dirk Nowitzki, and Josh Hamilton for Dallas’ ABC affiliate, WFAA.
However, according to Madden, being showered with champagne in the locker room when the Mavericks won their first NBA championship wasn’t a huge deal. Attending a Ron Washington press conference in order to dish the latest Rangers’ news? Just another day at the office. Working his way into the media scrum with a question for Dez Bryant? Frustrating, and quite frankly, because of the competitive setting, unfulfilling.
“The pro athletes give you their 10-minute window and there’s 20-25 of us reporters surrounding one player holding cameras or sticking microphones in his face competing to ask a question. I didn’t like it,” Madden said. “I like sitting down with a coach or a player and just chatting, and getting a good story out of it. I would say 20-year-old Ted would punch 40-year-old Ted in the face for not caring about that other stuff anymore.”
Madden’s jam for one of the top-ranked television stations in Dallas was covering high school athletes and coaches — the folks he could get one-on-one time with, who would look him directly in the eye and sincerely ask, “How are you?” before the interview started.
With that realization, Madden stepped down from his number three sportscaster position in December after 14 years with the station.
His favorite stories to cover were the ones about “regular people” overcoming the odds to live their best lives. He believes those are the narratives that truly deserve standing ovations from over 80,000 fans.
Take the high school football player who lost his leg due to a nasty injury during the season. The following spring, he was blazing laps around the track on a prosthetic leg.
There’s also the story of a high school basketball team who named a severely disabled student their honorary assistant coach, and let him score a basket on Senior Night. The coverage Madden provided propelled the community to buy the student’s family a wheelchair-accessible van.
“Those are the stories that tell themselves,” Madden said. “You, as a reporter, just kind of have to stay out of the way. As a storyteller, that’s what gets me fired up.”
Catching The Reporting Bug
Madden has been a sports fan his entire life. He grew up playing football, basketball, and baseball just west of Chicago in Aurora, Illinois. However, he knew he would never turn pro, so he began writing for his high school paper. At the time, he thought he wanted to be a sports writer, but once he got to Franklin College, he started calling play-by-play for the football and basketball teams. Then he jumped at the opportunity to do a weekly sports newscast.
“I gradually realized that with my skill set, it kind of made sense for me to do T.V. and not radio, or not just be a sports writer,” Madden said. “My dream at the time was to cover the Chicago White Sox, my favorite team.”
After earning his degree in journalism, Madden realized he couldn’t just vault into Major League Baseball. He had to work his way up the ranks, so he took an on-air job with KCFW in Kalispell, Montana. Then he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he worked at both KSLA and KTBS.
In 2002, WFAA came calling. They had just started their high school sports show, and offered Madden a contract position. He would make $1,000 per show and have the summers off. It was a good gig. Then when the station decided to get rid of their contract laborers, Madden signed on as a full-time employee.
His first two years on the job, he worked exclusively on the high school show shooting video and doing one story a week on a talented athlete or dedicated coach. By 2004, they made him the number two sports photographer, but he still did some on-air work as a reporter.
As the years passed, he found himself on-air more, and getting opportunities to do things like ride in the Goodyear Blimp, run in the 1996 Olympic torch relay, and talk to Jordan Spieth seven years before he won the Masters. He was even in the locker room with a microphone in hand when his Chicago White Sox won the World Series in 2005.
As much as Madden enjoyed those particular experiences, he didn’t particularly relish the “big events.”
“In 2011, when the Mavericks were playing for the NBA title, they had the first three games in Miami, two games at home in Dallas, and two more in Miami,” Madden said. “I went out there for the first set of games, came back to Dallas and was hoping Miami would finish things off in Dallas just so I wouldn’t have to go back to Miami. That’s how bad it is for me. It was really cool. I’m glad I was a part of it, but covering professional sports has just never been my motivation.”
What gave him joy was working the high school scene.
“I’ve met so many people and built so many real and meaningful relationships, and that’s what I like to do,” he said. “You don’t pull any real relationships when you cover the major sports, at least I don’t. I’ve got a list of maybe 50-75 high school head coaches I feel like I can call a friend. I can call them up, and if I needed something, they would help me out.”
The proof is there. Madden’s parting gift from WFAA was a football helmet signed by many of the cherished coaches he covered for 14 years.
Setting Yourself Apart
Since leaving WFAA, Madden took a job with the Mesquite Independent School District. He works in their communications department putting the shooting, writing, and editing skills he cultivated to good use.
“I’ve done a story on a high school counselor who has done a really good job of getting kids college credit while they’re in high school,” he said. “I’ve put together a piece on 8th grade students who went to one of the elementary schools and taught science classes.”
Part of the incentive for taking the job was to work regular hours so he could spend more time with his wife, Catie, his five-year-old son, John, and his two-year-old daughter, Julia.
“I always think in 10 years, maybe John would have thought it was pretty cool I was a sports reporter, but I’ll take the other side and go to all his games, and not have to worry about juggling my schedule,” Madden said.
Madden doesn’t see himself going back to covering sports in this lifetime, but he can definitely serve up some advice for those looking to break into the business.
“At channel 8, there are going to be at least 200 sportscasters out there that can take my job and do a pretty nice job of it,” Madden said. “You have to be willing to do all sorts of different things, and you have to find a niche. You have to find something you’re better at than everyone else to create a market for yourself; to create value for yourself. At least in our local television news industry, we’re a slowly sinking ship. No watches TV anymore. Everyone gets their news from other outlets linked to when they can hear what they want to hear, so you have to do something that sets you apart.”
To close out his career as a sportscaster, Madden put together an entertaining highlight reel of his career. It was posted on social media, but that’s not why he created it.
“I’m a chronicler by nature and I like to keep things, so that video is more for me than anyone else,” he said. “I’ll have that forever.”
He’ll also have the knowledge that the greatest story he will ever tell is the one he is telling, and living, himself.
— Ted Madden (@tedmadden) January 11, 2017