More than 600 student skaters joined Al Roker ’76 on the ice in the Marano Campus Center March 31 to help break a world record live on NBC’s Today show as part of Rokerthon 3
WTOP General Manager Justin Dobrow ’17 was in the midst of planning for the biggest, most anticipated broadcast of the year—Whiteout Weekend—when he learned about a contest for college campuses to submit a one-minute video to host Rokerthon 3.
In the first Rokerthon in 2014, TV icon and Today show co-host Al Roker ’76 broke a world record by doing a non-stop, 34-hour weather forecast on NBC, and in the second Rokerthon, he set another world record by broadcasting a live weather forecast from all 50 states in seven days. Rokerthon 3 asked college campuses to make a video that showed off their “epic” school spirit, invited Roker to do a live weather forecast from their campus and described the world record the school would like to break during his visit.
“We spend weeks on Whiteout Weekend pre-production work, creating fun, dynamic videos with coaches and players to really entertain the viewers and put on a good broadcast,” Dobrow said. “The week of Whiteout I stay away from any other responsibilities, but now I had this Rokerthon video brewing in my head. We are Al Roker’s alma mater—I mean WTOP studios are named for him. This is a no-brainer. We have to submit a video.”
A team of staff and students brainstormed a variety of possible ideas and eventually landed on one that would showcase some of SUNY Oswego’s signature traits and strengths—cold weather, ice sports, a beautiful arena and a close-knit, fun-loving community. It was decided: SUNY Oswego would propose breaking the longest conga line on ice world record!
Initially, the team focused on creating a compelling one-minute video that would grab the attention of the NBC Today show producers who were selecting the winning campuses. They pulled together a group of students to demonstrate, on ice, how they would break the record. A cardboard cut-out of Roker even led the line.
“Will it be cold enough for us to conga on a frozen Lake Ontario or should we keep it indoors in our beautiful arena in the Marano Campus Center?” Dobrow asked in the video voice-over. “Come home to Oswego and give the weather forecast to let us know!”
Dobrow said he was very happy with the production quality of the submission, which included photos and footage from a variety of sources, including aerial footage shot by a drone with the assistance of campus videographer and Dobrow’s campus internship supervisor Jim Kearns.
Roker wasn’t involved in viewing the submissions or in choosing what campuses got selected, but he was happy to know that SUNY Oswego was well-represented.
“It was up to the producers and submissions that came in,” he said. “Oswego had one of the better submissions, and it just worked out. It was nice to see my alma mater represent itself so well. I don’t think I could be any prouder of the school than I already am.”
SUNY Oswego was the last stop—the grand finale—of a five-day trip to five colleges; the universities of Tennessee, Oklahoma, Loyola (Maryland) and Northern Michigan were the others selected to participate in Rokerthon 3.
When a Today show producer called Dobrow to let him know Oswego was a finalist, he wasted no time in dashing up to the seventh floor of Culkin Hall to inform President Deborah F. Stanley, who was featured in the submission video.
President Stanley mobilized the campus to ensure that the project received the support it needed to be successful. Now, the challenges of the record attempt became a reality.
Where would the campus find enough ice skates to equip the participants? How would the college recruit the 400 students needed to break the previous record of 353 set on Nov. 12, 2013, at the Ice Rink Canary Wharf in the United Kingdom? Would the college students who signed up actually wake up at 4 a.m. to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime event?
Indeed, they did!
On Friday morning, March 31, a total of 617 participants—nearly all students with a few faculty and staff members serving as team captains—passed through the turnstiles and swiped college IDs as adjudicators from Guinness counted each skater as he or she entered the ice.
Student choreographer and president of Del Sarte dance club Allison Anthony ’17 (left) raced around the ice to help the skaters with spacing and to get all the participants in sync with each other.
“I was really just trying to get everyone pumped up, helping them with the steps and reminding them not to let go of the person in front of them,” she said. “All week I had been dreaming of the conga and kept having a nightmare that the producers were going to make us do the steps in double time. But luckily they didn’t!”
Members of the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams, wearing their hockey jerseys and carrying large green and gold flags, and the Ice Effects synchronized figure skating team opened the Marano Campus Center rink for the record attempt as Roker came riding in on the Zamboni through a flurry of snowfall at center ice.
The conga line participants waited for their big moment, which came shortly after 8 a.m. They formed a serpentine line that wrapped around the edge of the ice and into the center. They skated in formation for five minutes before a crowd of hundreds of campus and community members to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s “Conga.”
Seventeen volunteer referees, stationed throughout the arena, monitored skaters to ensure each one accurately performed the familiar conga step while their hands were connected to the waist of the skater in front.
After a few deductions for line breaks, Guinness adjudicator Michael Empric announced that SUNY Oswego had shattered the previous record with a new longest ice conga line total of 593 people.
“We are truly thankful and proud of the participation of so many from our campus community,” President Deborah F. Stanley said. “Our students seized the opportunity because they had pride we could do it, and a fantastic team contributed intensive planning, collaboration and coordination. We showed the nation that when SUNY Oswego sets out to accomplish something, we come together to get the job done!”
As much as Roker said he enjoyed riding the Zamboni and helping the mini-Zamboni “Tiny Tim” throw T-shirts into the crowd, he said the highlight for him was seeing the campus come together to achieve a common goal.
“Although it was not a horribly serious goal, it was fun, and it really showed the esprit de corps of the campus,” he said. “Everything really moved as smoothly as it possibly could have. It was very joyful for me—from start to finish.”
For many of the seniors involved, they said it capped off an incredible four years at Oswego.
Rane Prieto ’17 (above left), a public relations major who interned in the Office of Alumni Relations during the spring, said she was grateful to get an insider’s view into the planning and implementation of such a major event. She was part of the team of students who helped with the submission video and was part of the student crew who welcomed Roker at the Oswego County Airport on Thursday, March 30 (see related story on page 23).
“I have this calling to be an event planner, which my major public relations, has prepped me for,” said Prieto, who was enrolled in six classes and two internships during the spring semester. “Doing this event meant so much to me, and I learned a lot about crowd control, time management, how the timing of things doesn’t always go as planned and how unforeseen things sometimes happen. This was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Despite being sleep-deprived and stressed from prepping for Del Sarte’s dance recital happening later in the day and being concerned that she might be late for her Quest presentation run-through with her professor at Rice Creek later that morning, Anthony said that nothing will compare to the feeling she had when the NBC producers handed her the framed Guinness record and invited her to do a victory lap around the 600 skaters who made it happen.
“Although I am not going into dancing or choreography, it is a passion of mine,” said Anthony, a zoology major who conducted field research this summer at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y. “It means so much to me that I was able to incorporate that passion into such a large-scale event and develop my leadership skills to help break a world record on national television. I can’t imagine a better way to end my four years at Oswego!”
And for Dobrow, who represented the student body as part of the Rokerthon steering committee, the experience gave him a taste of what he hopes to do professionally someday. In the course of a few weeks, he attended more than 20 committee meetings—often serving as the college liaison with NBC—and he dedicated more than 100 hours to planning Rokerthon, while maintaining his full course load and leading WTOP.
“I love project management and hope to be a production coordinator someday,” said Dobrow, who accepted a position as lead operations coordinator at NBC Universal in July. “Rokerthon—the whole thing—is really project management—looking at facility needs, technical aspects, coordinating that many people on the ice for live TV and thinking of everything from the little gifts the people in the audience will receive to ensuring the Guinness rules are followed. Rokerthon gave me incredible experience doing that.
“I’d wake up and think, ‘Is this really happening?’” he said. “A student submitted a video and it was accepted and the Today show came here and gave us over 17 minutes of national air time. Are you kidding me? Now, the nation knows that SUNY Oswego has a great community; great alumni like Al Roker; great faculty, staff and students who come together to support each other and to do this. This was definitely the best way I could have ended my senior year at Oswego. Just thinking about it gets me all fired up! I love this place!”
Fringe Benefits of Rokerthon
Although the highlight of Rokerthon 3 was the on-air breaking of a world record, the arrival of Al Roker ’76 and the NBC crew on Thursday, March 30, created waves of excitement across campus.
A team of students, equipped with a wooden yellow brick road, signs and banners, musical instruments and pom-poms, headed to the Oswego County Airport to give Roker and his team a proper welcome home. Music students played “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” as Roker in his favorite Oswego gear emerged from the Rokerthon jet repeating, “There’s No Place Like Home!”
Once back on campus, he surprised a few prospective students and their families by leading their Admissions Tour around campus (above). (Both students decided to attend Oswego after their star-studded tour.) Then Roker dropped into a meteorology class in the Shineman Center for Science, Engineering and Innovation, but he was happy to learn that among the students in class was his former professor and the founding dean of the School of Communication, Media and the Arts Fritz Messere ’71 M’76.
Roker chatted on-air at the WNYO radio station, popped into WTOP-10 and the Al Roker ’76 Television Studio, visited Littlepage Dining Hall where he worked as a student, swung by his old residence hall room in Onondaga Hall and stopped by the open skate rehearsal to give a pep talk to the students practicing the conga on ice. Roker’s presence on campus created a wave of excitement that built toward the setting of a world record the next day.
Student interns were even assigned to the NBC production team to assist with all kinds of tasks while the crew was on campus. They were leaders of student media organizations: Ian Dwyer ’17, Matthew Raynor ’17, Nick Costanzo ’18, JoAnn DeLauter ’17, Justin Penman ’18 and Melissa Wilson ’17.
After the record was broken Friday, President Deborah F. Stanley and Roker presented two lucky student skaters with a $5,000 check: PurePoint Financial provided the scholarship to Emily Notaro ’17 and the Oswego College Foundation funded the scholarship for Jasmine Gomez ’19.
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