This article first appeared on Scenic98Coastal
People from Ohio that I’ve met in the Scenic 98 Coastal area, are especially knowledgeable when it comes to sports. What I’ve discovered is that there is a mid-western tenacity to get involved and make a difference in their communities. We are lucky that those who have migrated to the Gulf Coast have so many ties to all things Sports!
I wasn’t surprised to learn that Simone Eil, Sports Director at WKRG is from Genoa, Ohio, and landed her first job in Mobile ten years ago as the Sports Reporter at Fox 10. Genoa, “It’s a village,” says Simone, is in northwest Ohio, close to Toledo, just off Lake Erie near the Canadian border. (That’s your geography lesson for the day.) “It’s cold and freezing up there,” she tells me.
Back home, Simone is a sports legend. She will be inducted into the Genoa High School Athletic Hall of Fame next week after earning 12 Varsity letters during her high school career — the first girl to accomplish this feat at GHS. During her career in Ohio, Simone earned All-State honors in basketball and cross country She ran track, as well. Simone was the first girl from Genoa High School to qualify for the state cross-country championships (she did it twice) and still holds school records in every sport.
Recruited by several schools to play college basketball, Simone always had her eye on Bowling Green State University. Her mom, dad, and many family members attended college there. Her father, Arthur, played baseball for the Falcons. Simone played combo guard (point and shooting guard), and started school as an Early Childhood Education major.
This is a good place to tell you that Simone is a high-energy gal and a self-described “tomboy.” In the second week of college, she was taking an education technology course that explained how to use a smart whiteboard. “It was horrible.” She went to her advisor to change majors. “What subjects do you like?” he asked. “None of them,” Simone replied. “I like to talk and I like sports. That’s it.”
The advisor responded, “You know, you can go to school to do sports broadcasting.” Simone says her whole world opened up at that moment. “It never dawned on me that I could go to school to be a broadcaster. It’s something I still laugh about today.” In high school, Simone was a radio color analyst for the Genoa Comets boy’s basketball and football teams so she had some exposure to the idea. “I had never considered the opportunities available in the sports broadcasting industry. I was pretty pumped up!”
After earning her undergraduate degree in Broadcast Journalism and her master’s in Education with a Sports Administration specialty, she started looking for a job. “Back then you sent DVD reels to stations, old school style. I mailed DVDs to dozens of stations throughout the country. It’s a competitive business and it can be a challenge to get your foot in the door. I may have heard back from one in thirty.”
During her college internship at the Fox affiliate in Toledo, Simone met Gary Yoder, the General Manager of the TV station. He then had the same position at Fox 10 in Mobile. She says she tried to be very involved while interning. She emailed Gary when she graduated and said, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but I met you during my internship in Toledo and I’m looking for my first TV job.’
Gary did indeed remember Simone as someone passionate and he fortunately had a position available. Gary brought Simone to Mobile for an interview. “At that time, the idea of possibly getting a job in a mid-sized market fresh out of college at 21, was pretty rare. I wanted to make a professional impression, so I wore a full gray suit,” Simone said laughing.
“The news director showed me around the area, including a visit to the Fairhope Municipal Pier and Alligator Alley in Daphne. It was hot and I was sweating bullets in that full suit, but I was offered the job as a sports journalist on my birthday and began in May 2013.” She tells me she was a “one-man band” in the sports department and did it all — shooting live, editing, and on-air reporting. She was it.
Simone says when she told her mom, Rebecca, that she had accepted a job and was moving to Mobile, Alabama, she said, “No, you’re not!” It wasn’t easy for a mom to see her oldest child move away. Simone said one of the best parts about her new position in Mobile was that she didn’t have to wear a suit every day to work. “I was as green as grass,” she says.
Two months into her job in Mobile, Simone received a LinkedIn message from the GM at KPRC, the NBC affiliate in Houston, saying that they were going to have a sports position opening in about a year, and would she be interested. “This was a top-7 market, but I was committed to three years in Mobile. When the job opened up that next spring, I told Gary about the offer and he agreed it was a huge opportunity for me, and he released me from my contract”. In May of 2014, Simone picked up and moved to Houston.
During her time in Mobile, she met Bart Sessions, now her husband, who, at the time, was the head football coach at McGill-Toolen. A long-distance relationship ensued. During her three years in Houston, Simone covered NBA Playoffs, the NFL, and the Astros. She had hit the big leagues at age 22, but she didn’t love the feeling of living in a big city. “I am a small-town girl. Even with so many great opportunities professionally in Houston, it felt lonely and not where I wanted to be long-term.”
Her relationship with Bart grew stronger, and when he took the head coaching position at Tuscaloosa County High School in 2016, after a stop at Spain Park in Birmingham, she moved to Tuscaloosa without a job. She and Bart got married in Ft. Morgan shortly thereafter.
While in Tuscaloosa, Simone was offered a sports anchor position at CBS 42, a Nexstar-owned TV station in Birmingham. She began in December 2016. Her first assignment was three days later, was covering the Alabama-Clemson National Championship game. In the meantime, Bart’s career took him to Gadsden City High School for two seasons, then to McAdory High School as head coach.
“A coach’s wife moves around a lot. I continued working in Birmingham at CBS 42 and loved it. While covering sporting events., I met Gerhard Mathangani. We became friends, now we are colleagues.” While in Birmingham, Simone won an Emmy and two AP awards for sports reporting, one for College Football Saturday that led into the 2:30 PM CBS Game of the Week.
She also won an Alabama Broadcast Association award for covering Tua Tagovailoa’s homecoming visit to Ewa Beach, Hawaii. Tua’s dad, Galu, had invited Simone to come to Hawaii to cover all the festivities. “It was one of the most awesome moments in my broadcasting career.”
Flash forward to December 2020, Simone and Bart decided it was time to move closer to “home” along the Gulf Coast. Bart accepted the head coaching position at Alma Bryant High School near his hometown of Grand Bay.
When Bart and Simone moved back home, there wasn’t a sports position available at the Nexstar “sister station” WKRG, but there was a news reporter opening. The company likes to promote from within, so she accepted the job offer and started on a Monday. On the second day of the job, Simone was told there would soon be a sports position open. “It was divine intervention,” she says. “TV sports is where I belong, so I was extremely grateful for the opportunity.”
On Easter morning, she and Bart found out they were expecting their first child. “God has a hand in everything that has happened to me. She tells me that she was ready to begin her “Mom era.” Their son, JP was born in December of 2021 and he completely dictates their lives. “I’m soaking it all up because I know this stage of our lives will not last forever.”
“Having a son is a game changer. I’ve lived and breathed sports all my life, as a player and now as a broadcaster. I’m so passionate about what I do and always know what’s going on. To be good as a sports broadcaster you have to have that mindset and always be ‘in the know.’ Now, I have this 25-pound toddler, who has a strong will of his own.”
“Having a child forced me to wake up every day and put my professional life second. JP and I spend every morning together before I go to work in the afternoon, I had to rewire my brain a bit when it comes to my professional life and priorities.”
“I’m proud that I’m learning how to balance being a mom and still be passionate about my job,” Simone said. “I want to serve as a good example and show that you can do both. JP is my number one, but it’s also a huge honor to be the Sports Director at WKRG.”
Simone says she doesn’t sugarcoat things and wants to help people be successful. ”People laugh at my personality.” Playing sports is in her DNA. Her dad, who coaches both boys and girls basketball, was her coach. All four of her siblings have been involved in college sports.
She has remained close to the friends she made during her first stint in Mobile and loves her work family at WKRG.
She says that she and Gerhard work well together. “In 12 years of broadcasting, I’ve never enjoyed working with someone as much as Gerhard. We balance each other well — and we both have a huge competitive spirit and drive to do excellent work. Hiring him was a dream come true and the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
What about the Scenic 98 Coastal area? “Southern hospitality is real. It’s strong. This is a special, special place to be. Everyone has always been welcoming. It’s a different way of living in the best way. Mobile is not a small town but has that close-knit community feel.”
Bart’s family is the Sessions family in Grand Bay. “Marrying into a well-respected, hard-working family has given us so much stability. We have a ton of community and family support here. Life is always changing as a coach’s wife, and these people have our backs.”
What about your mom? I ask. “She’s grown used to the fact that I live far away. But they come to visit often and love it along the Gulf Coast. Especially now that they can come to see JP, I’m kind of second fiddle to him.”
What do you do in your free time? “Well, Saturday is when Bart and I have the day off together. We attend college football games or watch college football. We went to see South Alabama play in two of their games to start the season.“
The best part she says is that JP is obsessed with watching the 6 o’clock newscast on WKRG. “That’s Mama!” he says, pointing at the television. We just might have another sports star in the making…
Thanks, Simone, I certainly enjoyed our visit!