Inside a Marian Central classroom – surrounded by her classmates and one of her favorite teachers, Kay Hansen – Jen Lada realized she was in her element.
There was just something about standing up in front of the speech and composition class delivering speeches and telling compulsory stories that resonated with Lada, a 1998 Marian graduate from McHenry. Blessed with the ability to write and deliver compelling oral accounts, Lada knew that by honing her craft she could turn it into her life’s work.
Lada, the confident and well-spoken athlete who led Marian’s cross country and track teams to success during her tenure as a Hurricane, now has the opportunity to tell her stories from a platform most broadcast sports journalists envy. Last week, after several years as a sports anchor and reporter at Fox 6 in Milwaukee, Comcast SportsNet Chicago hired Lada to help anchor and report in the nation’s third-largest TV market.
Lada replaces Nicole Darin, who left in November to join Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic in Maryland.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” said Lada of emerging as a national talent. “I think if I start thinking about the eyeballs and [the magnitude], it might be detrimental to my success. I just want to go out there and do the same thing I’ve been doing, be a little more polished and continue to improve.”
Little has been more fundamentally important professionally to Lada, 32, than excelling at what she does, and she’s taken every opportunity to ensure she is seen as one of the brightest young faces in broadcast sports.
In another classroom at Marquette University, Lada heeded the advice of a classmate and started to consider sports journalism. At a time when female sports reporters and anchors still were rare, Lada saw an opportunity to combine her sports acumen and love for athletics with her passion for telling stories. Her male counterparts were pursuing their own sportscasting dreams alongside her, and as soon as Lada dabbled in it she realized why they considered it the perfect medium.
When she joined Fox 6 in 2006, Lada quickly separated herself from the stereotypes that have long plagued female sports reporters. Understanding that the sports journalism world is dominated by men, Lada poured herself into assignments and provided whip-smart analysis to debunk any perception that her career was built on her bright smile.
Respect followed. Amid the outpouring of support Lada has received since taking the freelance position with CSN are notes on her Facebook page and Twitter messages from Fox 6 fans, many male, who will miss their Milwaukee sports expert.
“It’s a quest for credibility,” Lada said. “I try not to make it a gender thing, but I know the fact that I’m [female] contributes to the challenges. There are so many more allowances made for male counterparts, I think. And when a female, particularly a sports broadcaster, seems to not be in the know they are often written off as ‘insert insult here.’ That’s infuriating at this stage in the game, and I think it’s an archaic attitude. I will continue to convince those people that they’re wrong.”
This determination will surprise no one who knew Lada in high school, of course. The Marian Central Athletic Hall of Fame inductee spun yarns too well to go unnoticed. Each time she walked to the front of the classroom during her speech and composition class, the one Lada likened to the movie “Dead Poet’s Society,” her classmates must have seen flashes of the professional Lada would become.
Now the humble Lada wants to show them how far she still believes she has to go.
“I don’t want to be satisfied,” Lada said. “I don’t want to become acutely aware of how big of a deal [working for CSN] is. I just want to continue to improve.”
• Maureen Lynch is a freelance sports writer. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.