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ESPN job keeps Janesville native on the road

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THOMAS J. MILLER
August 6, 2009

Packer fans watching ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Tuesday saw Chris Mortensen do a report from a cheese factory in Little Chute.


Janesville Craig graduate Bill Roach was behind both the idea for the piece and the camera shooting the footage.


Roach, a 1978 Craig graduate, is a long-time cameraman for ESPN. The sports network is doing a 21-team, 24-day report, traveling from camp to camp on a bus. One player from each team puts a decal of the team's helmet on a large map on the back of bus—including Clay Matthews from the Packers.


That bus rolled in front of Roach's house in Madison early Tuesday morning.


"They picked me up at 2:30 a.m.," Roach said in a phone interview after completing the day's shooting at Packer camp. "I was chipping golf balls in my front yard."


Roach will be on board the "Mort goes to Camp" bus for nine more days. The group went from Green Bay to Mankato, Minn., to visit the Vikings' camp Wednesday and will be in Chicago today, Indianapolis on Friday and then Detroit.


He eventually will end up at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., before flying back to Madison.


Roach originally entered the University of Wisconsin with the plan to major in education.


But he accepted an internship at WISC-TV, and has been behind the camera ever since.


"Tom Bier, a Janesville native and then news director at WISC-TV, was the one who gave me the opportunity to take the internship and get my foot in the door," Roach said.


He spent his last semester working as Rock County correspondent Joel Despain's cameraman out of the Rock County Airport. Despain also was going to the UW, and the two got a prime assignment in that final semester.


"I covered the World Series when the Brewers were in it in 1982," Roach said. "I was just amazed. The camera was better than a gold card.


"I didn't have a press pass or anything. I just had the camera and said I worked for Channel 3, and they said to just go on in."


Security has been amped up immensely since then, but the camera has taken Roach to every continent.


He recently was in South Africa videotaping World Cup soccer features.


Roach just earned his fifth Emmy award for being part of the group that did an ESPN feature on Richard Jensen, a recovering methamphetamine addict, who went back to college at age 36 and joined the wrestling team.


Roach earned two other regional Emmys while shooting news or features for WISC-TV, and two national Emmys were for pieces he did for ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown."


He worked with legendary CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt. One segment was for "CBS Sunday Morning" and the essay was shot at Crex Meadows Wildlife Refuge in Northern Wisconsin in the fall.


"He liked that footage so much he called me and sent me a photo," Roach said.


Roach worked at WISC-TV for 10 years, and then basically branched out on his own.


Two years ago, he spent 242 days on the road. Last year it decreased to 195, and that might be decreased again this year.


The travel required is second nature to him.


"It's just part of what I do," Roach said. "You get kind of sick of airports and delays. This bus tour is different, and I'm working with fun people. But it's just the first day."


Pro football will keep Roach on the road for most of the fall.


His work at ESPN and the NFL earned him a rare Brett Favre autograph.


"I was working with Chris Berman," Roach said. "We were doing stories on the Packers right before they went to the Super Bowl.


"Favre asked Berman if he wanted anything signed," Roach said. "Berman said, 'No,' and then he turned to me and asked if I wanted anything signed.


"I told him I didn't have anything to sign, but then I said sign my camera. Favre said he had never signed a camera before."


Roach, who was working independently at the time but was still with WISC-TV, said it was the television station's camera.


"I know they saved it," he said. "It probably exists somewhere."


After finishing up his 11-day stint with the Mortensen crew, he will be in South Bend, Ind., to do a piece on the Notre Dame football team Aug. 16.


He then has an assignment for Lands End, before finishing a piece on a blind high school football player in Emporia, Kan.


That will just begin Roach's busy period and keep him away from his wife, Nan, more often than not.


She understands. He met Nan while working at WISC-TV. She is the creative services director at the station.


They have two children. Ben attends UW-Milwaukee and will graduate in December, while Mackenzie will graduate next summer from Edgewood College and might go into law.


Mackenzie just spent a semester studying in Italy, and the rest of the family joined her to take a Mediterranean cruise.


Traveling just seems to be in the family blood—even when if it means riding a bus to Green Bay or Mankato or ...



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