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Poniatoski, Leonard living the ESPN dream

POSTED October 21, 2012
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

Torrington natives, Kevin Poniatoski (pictured above) and E.J. Leonard have gotten themselves noticed at the highest level at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. Rick Wilson tells their story.

                                         Poniatoski, Leonard living the ESPN life

             ORLANDO – Some might call it work. Kevin Poniatoski and E.J. Leonard call it `living the life.’

            The attitude is understandable – Disney and Mickey, 80 degreee days, palm trees, well you get the picture. Just another day in paradise. But, there’s more. There’s the best part – ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.

            Both Poniatoski and Leonard, a couple of high energy, don’t pinch me I might wake up 22-year old Torrington natives, are cutting their sports business and media production teeth at the dream factory, the leader in sports television – ESPN.

            Doing it all at Disney and in the fun and sun of Florida is an added bonus. As Poniatoski says – “I’d much rather be in Florida. “

            There’s a lot hard work to living the dream and making it a reality. But, there has to be a starting point and both need to point no further than to Michael Colangelo. A Torrington native who still owns a house in the city, Colangelo is the big deal here and a major player in the sports media business.

            Colangelo has won six Emmy Awards. Enough said. He is the Manager of Broadcast Productions and Operations at ESPN Wide World of Sports, a relentless creative energy who answers to few. Maybe, Mickey and Donald (I’m not sure about Donald) and several others here, but you walk with Colangelo and people step aside.

            Poniatoski, whose dad R.J. is a well-known area baseball umpire and basketball referee, is here on one-year internship that will run through the first week of next July thanks to Colangelo.

            Leonard, a 2009 Torrington High graduate, recently completed a pair of internships and is currently finishing up studies at the University of Central Florida. His college load prevents him from serving in a full-time capacity at ESPN. But he still goes in when he has free time.

            Poniatoski is frankly, in his glory.  A graduate of Springfield College, he wanted to get in to the business and spoke with Colangelo.

            “(Colangelo) was in Bristol and wanted me to go there,” said Poniatoski. “When he came down here, he still wanted me.”

            Poniatoski started his internship in July and has reveled in every minute so far. He is learning everything about the entire control room and when the Litchfield County Sports radio show was broadcast from the studio last weekend it was Poniatoski who was handling most of the graphics. 

            “They are teaching me graphics and everything about the whole control room,’ said Poniatoski. “There are so many different parts of the control room. I want to get a good basis to be well-rounded.’

            With numerous AAU programs using the vast and impressive ESPN facilities that include a multitude of fields, an arena, track and just about any other venue you might need Poniatoski did a lot of statistics and did a lot of live broadcasts.

            “You are making the kids feel like they are on ESPN,” said Poniatoski. “You are making stories for sports. It’s awesome.

            Poniatoski has also had the opportunity to rub elbows with some fairly familiar names and faces. He has hobnobbed with both Juan Howard and LeBron James’ sons. Former Notre Dame coach and college football analyst Lou Holtz is a frequent visitor to the studio. Steve Young has popped in.

            Poniatoski’s favorite moment was working with basketball legend Oscar Robertson.

            “He was announcing an AAU game and it was really cool to work with him,’ said Poniatoski who knows a legend when he sees one.

            Poniatoski is not exactly sure what direction he wants to go in the business although producing is a distinct possibility. He already has a leg up considering he has impressed the man that can help him make the dream a reality – Mr.Colangelo.

            “You are a good, hard worker Kevin,” Colangelo told him. “We’ll make it happen for you.”

            High praised coming from a man in high places and a boss that Poniatoski has attempted to muscle around in one of the office football games out on the field.

            Poniatoski has already sat down with MAC Commissionwe Rich Ensor about employment possibilities. There have been other feelers. In the meantime, he will continue living the dream, taking advantage of those free passes to the Disney parks and learning the ESPN control room.

            Leonard originally started as intern in 2011 with former New England Partriots strength and conditioning coach Tom Shaw who does a lot of work at the complex. At the same time he would often go into the studio and go through film clips that would help Shaw and do other odds and ends.

            In the fall of 2011, one of Colangelo’s assistants said they needed someone to do statistics for live baseball and Leonard started doing statistics for all sports while learning how to create graphics to insert on the broadcasts of games.

This summer Leonard interned for Mike Begonia cutting clips and doing statistics for live games and working the board in the control room.

Leonard’s major is business management and his minor is sports management. His goal is to work with a baseball organization and with Disney being the Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves, this is not a bad place to work on the dream.

He would like to get specifically into baseball operations and statistically how a player is progressing. For next Spring Training Leonard, with Colangelo’s help, is trying to get an internship with the Braves.

Kevin Poniatoski and E.J. Leonard, two young men working hard with high hopes and big dreams. Oops, did we say work? Two young men living the life, working the dream.    

For more from Rick Wilson click here