Alumnus finds success with sports website

Courtesy Photo / Ryan Vaughn
Ryan Vaughn interviews 5 time state champion East Grand Rapids football coach, Peter Stuursma.

Courtesy Photo / Ryan Vaughn Ryan Vaughn interviews 5 time state champion East Grand Rapids football coach, Peter Stuursma.

Chelsea Lane

The chances of a high school athlete going pro are slim – about .16 percent on average, according to the NCAA – but now recent Grand Valley State University graduate Ryan Vaughn is giving some hometown heroes their chance to shine with his high school sports website, Varsity News Network.

Vaughn, who graduated from GVSU with a Master’s degree in communication in 2010, is a longtime sports fan who wanted to turn his passion into a reporting career. After he was unable to find a job at an existing publication, Vaughn launched West Michigan All Star, a website devoted to local high school sports.

Vaughn soon noticed high school football often stole the media spotlight, leaving little coverage for other sports and athletes.

“It kind of sucks that basically if you’re not a high school football player, you’re not going to get any coverage,” Vaughn said. “If you look at the way media is being run, high school sports coverage is continually regressing because they don’t have the resources they once did… We tried to come up with a solution to cover all those sports, and that’s where VNN came in.”

Vaughn developed a business plan for VNN as part of his graduate school project and then formed partnerships with local high schools. VNN currently features eight participating high schools, including East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills, Mona Shores and Kentwood, as well as contributions from four publisher affiliates.

VNN covers a variety of sports from basketball to volleyball to football. Since the site went live in August, VNN averages 1.5 million monthly page views.

Although for the moment VNN only focuses on West Michigan schools, Vaughn and his business partner, Matt Anderson, said they hope to expand VNN statewide and eventually reach a national scale in a few years. The pair has also considered creating a market for college scouts as the site grows.

VNN currently has four permanent employees and “spot employs” as needed, Vaughn said. Among VNN’s employees is GVSU senior and advertising and public relations major Heather Smith, who helps manage the site’s social media and public relations, including VNN’s Facebook page.

“Through Facebook I am trying to better understand what West Michigan high school students are interested in seeing,” she said. “I hope to see more area schools participating in VNN over the next year or so and give more students a chance to be recognized both for their writing and their athletics.”

So far, local athletes have responded positively to the extra attention, Vaughn said.

“If you’re out there playing on the court and then all of a sudden there’s a publication talking about you, then that’s pretty cool,” he said. “If you look at the statistics, 99.9 percent of these kids will never play again, so this is an important time in their lives.”

For more information on VNN, including partnership inquiries, contact [email protected].

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