GREENFIELD – Longtime radio and TV teacher Bill McKenna is retiring after nearly two decades at Greenfield-Central High School, and a former student is taking his place.
Max Holtzclaw knows he has big shoes to fill in replacing McKenna, a popular educator with a reputation for making class both informative and fun.
“To say Bill is difficult to replace is an understatement,” said Jonathan Hudson, who heads the high school’s radio and TV department and has worked alongside McKenna the past nine years.
Since 2002, McKenna has been a regular fixture not only in the classroom but out in the community, taking his students on the road to broadcast high school sporting events and other local happenings.
He’s filmed more than 400 sports events since the school launched a partnership with NineStar Connect a decade ago, and has helped students create an ongoing stream of fresh content that is broadcast on the company’s in-house cable channel.
McKenna teaches students on the job, whether they’re producing a live show that’s broadcast throughout the high school or loading up equipment to film a sports match or special event on the road. Students have filmed at sites like Lucas Oil Stadium, Gainbridge Fieldhouse and the Indiana State Fairgrounds, all in the name of gaining real-world experience.
“We’ve taken them all over the place,” said McKenna, who considers it a privilege to have taught the ins and outs of broadcasting at Greenfield-Central over the past 19 years.
“This place is magic,” said McKenna of the school that has been his second home.
“Everything is about the kids, these wonderful kids,” he said. “When they get here (as freshmen) they’re not really kids anymore, but they’re not adults. They’re in this misty area where they’re going from playing with toys to getting a car, filing their first taxes, and moving out into the world and becoming adults. ”
McKenna’s heartfelt connection with students and his broadcasting skills have earned him respect among both his students and peers.
He was honored by NineStar Connect on May 14 after his final high school sports broadcast – at a New Palestine High School softball game – when David Spencer, the company’s director of marketing and public relations, presented him with an Honorary NineStar Member Award.
“When NineStar established their partnership with Greenfield-Central Schools, Bill was there at the inception and jumped in with both feet, helping in any way he could make the partnership a success and beneficial to students and the community,” Spencer said.
Holtzclaw said it was McKenna’s influence that led him to pursue a degree in video production and telecommunications at Ball State University, where he graduated in 2018.
Since then he’s been working as a camera operator and producer at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Anderson, where he’s in charge of recording races and concerts and overseeing all the facility’s audio needs.
Holtzclaw said he’s looking forward to transitioning to teaching this coming school year.
“I’m excited to see what the future is going to bring. I’m excited to inspire the next generation, and to see how they inspire me as well, ”he said.
McKenna said it’s a dream come true to have a former student as talented as Holtzclaw take over the reins at the school.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it is for me to have a former student succeed me. I expect so many great things next year with Mr. Hudson and Max, ”he said. “Max is steady as a rock, and he’ll get the job done.”
As the school year drew to a close this week, McKenna looked around the high school recording studio – with its collection of cameras and faux brick walls – and reflected on the fond memories he made there.
“Greenfield has such a unique culture. I’m just going to miss it so much. Every kid that walks through these doors has greatness in them, ”he said.
McKenna hopes his passion for broadcasting has made a positive impact on students, who grew to know him as a kind but relentless taskmaster.
“I’m either happy-go-lucky or really intense. It all depends on what we’re doing at the time. When the kids are working hard and all the pistons are firing, I’m the happiest guy in the world. But, man, when they’re not, I’m the devil, ”he said with a grin.
Broadcasting piqued McKenna’s interest from an early age, ever since he was a student at Howe High School on the east side of Indianapolis.
After graduation, he earned a degree in broadcasting from the now defunct Center for Instructional Radio & Television in 1983, and a telecommunications degree from Indiana University in 1988.
While he’s been happy to stick with broadcasting over the years, McKenna has known many former broadcasters who have opted to move on to other professions as the field continues to change.
“It’s tough business, and it’s changing all the time,” he said.
Among the biggest ongoing changes is technology, said the veteran educator, who started his teaching career filming with VHS tapes.
“We’ve got archives of VHS tapes at the school with thousands of hours of kids’ work on it. I’ve saved everything we ever did here, ”he said.
Today’s rapidly evolving technology not only allows students to create higher quality work, but it allows them to create their own content.
“It used to be, if kids wanted to shoot something, they’d come to me to check out a camera. Now they just do it on their phone, ”said McKenna, who is looking forward to what the future may bring.
While he’s not sure quite what he’s going to do in retirement, McKenna said landing another broadcasting job isn’t out of the question.
“I don’t know what my long term goals are. Everything presents itself in time, and I think something’s going to present itself, ”he said.