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ESPN casting call comes to ‘Burgh

So, you want to star in a sportscaster reality show.

You’re not alone.

ESPN’s open casting call for the next SportsCenter anchor has weaved through five cities and attracted nearly 3,000 contestants.

Among them were a 70-year-old woman, a former Harlem Globetrotter, two ministers, and Wednesday at the Sports Rock in the Strip District, two Pitt football players.

Wide receivers Chris Curd and Yogi Roth were among 200 contestants who tested their sports knowledge and argumentative powers before a panel of judges that included ex-Steelers stars Andy Russell and Rocky Bleier, college football expert Beano Cook and Penguins winger Steve McKenna.

About 15, including Curd, made it past the pop quiz and 10-minute debate. They advanced to interview a celebrity and audition in front of a camera.

Any of them could be called back for further interviews and still are eligible to win a contest that will travel through 29 cities before the real competition begins.

“Dream Job,” billed as “The Search For The Next SportsCenter Anchor!” will kick into gear Feb. 22 with an “American Idol”-style competition in which contestants will compete in a number of sportscaster-related activities.

A panel of judges, plus viewers, will cast votes and eliminate contestants after each round.

The competition will take place over six consecutive Sundays, after which a winner will be crowned and awarded a one-year, on-air talent contract with ESPN.

Jill Balmer, 56, of Allenport, was among the lucky 15. When she arrived at work, she had no idea she’d be auditioning for SportsCenter six hours later.

Balmer’s boss at General Industries in Charleroi spotted the ad for “Dream Job” and immediately e-mailed her.

“His e-mail said, ‘This is you,’ ” Balmer said. “I’m kind of known as a sports nut, but I had no idea I’d be here. Look at my hair. I didn’t even wash it.”

The great unwashed included folks of all sizes, ages and colors. The majority, however, neatly fit the coveted 18-34 male demographic.

“It was everything I expected,” said Gregg VanVoorhis, 26, of Gibsonia. “It was a grueling test of your sports knowledge and an on-the-spot test of how you can talk under pressure.”

A man from Morgantown, W. Va., arrived at 3:45 a.m. for the 10 a.m. start, fearing the long lines that marked auditions in Los Angeles and New York.

Quiz questions ranged from relatively easy (“How many Super Bowls did the Buffalo Bills reach?”) to very challenging (“Where was Manute Bol born?”)

Answers: four and Sudan.

From there, contestants were put in groups and peppered with questions such as, “Who is the greatest athlete of all-time?”

This led to intense debates.

After that, most were sent home. The rest, such as Curd, interviewed a celebrity (in Curd’s case, Russell) and read scripts in front of the camera.

According to casting producer Rebecca Shumsky – who also spots talent for the show “Fear Factor” – Curd has skills.

“He was really well-spoken,” she said, “and he’s nice to look at.”


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