Award-winning Southeastern student broadcaster overcomes disability
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
by: Tonya Lowentritt
STUDENT BROADCASTER OVERCOMES DISABILITY - Dylan Domangue of Houma, a recent Southeastern Louisiana University graduate, won first place in the nation honors and numerous other national and regional awards as a student broadcaster at the Southeastern Channel despite having cerebral palsy. His inspirational story is the subject of a special documentary to air at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 5, on the Southeastern Channel. Domangue was recently hired as a news reporter-anchor at KALB-TV Ch. 5 (NBC) in Alexandria, La.
HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana University student Dylan Domangue had more of
a challenge than most on his way to becoming one of the top student broadcasters in
the nation. He had to overcome cerebral palsy.
“12 seconds at birth,” a special documentary about Domangue’s remarkable journey and triumph in the face of an incurable motor disability, will debut on the Southeastern Channel at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 5.
The 17-minute program covers Domangue’s story from childbirth, when he first became afflicted with cerebral palsy, through his four years at Southeastern, where he won multiple national and regional broadcasting awards for news, sports and videography, including first place in the nation for both news videography and a live Southeastern football game broadcast he produced and directed for ESPN-Plus.
“We’re very pleased to offer this amazing story of Dylan Domangue’s rise from a childhood of disability to an unprecedented collegiate career as one of the nation’s best student broadcasters,” said Southeastern Channel General Manager Rick Settoon. “Dylan’s uplifting story should serve as an inspiration and encouragement to all, especially those with disabilities, that one’s dreams can still come true with unyielding focus, perseverance and a great amount of heart.”
Domangue produced the documentary himself for his Comm 498 senior portfolio project in the Department of Communication and Media Studies taught by Department Head Dr. James O’Connor. The program is framed around Domangue talking on-camera about his life story, while thumbing through a scrapbook of photos and clippings from early childhood through middle school and high school all the way through his time at the Southeastern Channel.
“Since I have been in college, I have wanted to do a project involving some kind of research or story about those with a physical disorder,” Domangue said. “I have met many amazing people in my lifetime who battle physical disorders who are all role models in my life, because they have made the most of their life despite having something holding them back.”
“I have always considered myself as just a normal person and not particularly anything that special,” Domangue continued. “However, over the years, many people have told me that my story is inspiring, so when I sat back and thought about everything I have had to overcome in my life, I knew it had the potential to be a special story that everyone needed to hear.”
A native of Houma, Domangue not only produced, shot and edited the documentary, but also conducted all of the interviews in the show, including those with his parents, Josh and Krista Domangue, and grandparents, Deborah and Karl Unbehagen. He also interviewed friends, cohorts and teachers from childhood through college.
“12 seconds at birth,” as the show title implies, begins with Domangue’s birth when he was deprived of oxygen for 12 seconds, causing permanent brain damage and cerebral palsy resulting in muscle, joint and bone problems that have affected his walking movement throughout his entire life.
Despite his disorder, Domangue tried to participate in as many normal childhood and youth activities as possible, including baseball and bowling. At age eight, he was named the Louisiana poster child for young cerebral palsy victims to help raise money for those battling disorders.
“The hardest part about having this disorder as a kid was actually accepting the fact that I had a disorder,” Domangue said. “I never wanted to see myself as being different and my parents never treated me as such, but as a kid, you see everyone around you with normal functioning legs, and I was the outlier. Being different as a kid is tough because people will stare and make you feel that you are less than what you actually are. Trying to understand why I was different as compared to everyone else was hard, especially at an early age.”
“I cried a lot as a kid because I was teased, picked last for teams at school, and couldn’t do activities as well as other kids,” Domangue said. “However, my parents raised me to not think down about myself, because if I worked hard, I could do everything that the other kids could do. My parents treated me as if I never had a disorder, and without that mindset that they instilled in me, I know I would not be the same person I am today.”
Domangue relates how the biggest challenge occurred at age 11 when a sudden growth spurt stretched the muscles in his legs, causing severe pain and requiring 18 major surgeries. He had to wear leg immobilizers at night to keep his legs straight to avoid his muscles getting tighter than they already were. The result was even greater gait dysfunction.
He was forced to give up baseball, which was devastating for him because of his love of sports. He joined the school band to stay active, and he never wavered in his commitment to excellence in the classroom. A consistent honor roll student who aced Louisiana standardized tests and won math and spelling bees, Domangue won an international Yes I Can! Award given by the Council for Exceptional Children in 2010 for the top academic achievement for students with disabilities.
Yet he never lost his burning desire to one day become a sports broadcaster.
“If I could have done so in the fifth grade, I would have jumped straight into college to become a sports broadcaster,” he said.
Domangue said his life changed dramatically for the better when he enrolled at Southeastern and started working at the Southeastern Channel.
“The Southeastern Channel has played a huge role in making my dreams come true,” Domangue said. “I had always wanted to be a television broadcaster, but I had zero experience when I finished high school. Going to Southeastern was truly the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I was able to start working at the Southeastern Channel from the first day that I stepped foot on campus.
“Over the last four years, I have been a part of an amazing crew of people covering Saints, Pelicans, and all Southeastern athletic events. I was able to work for numerous ESPN-Plus broadcasts while going to many broadcast conventions,” Domangue said. “I always said that I am blessed to have never worked a day in my life, because this is a career that I’ve always wanted to do, and I am so thankful to have gotten my start at the Southeastern Channel. Now that I’ve graduated, I look back at my time here, and think that I have no idea what direction my life would be if I did not choose to go here.”
Domangue said that when he first began working for the Southeastern Channel he was initially nervous that his disability might play a factor in how well he could report.
“Over the four years I was in school, I did reports where it is clear that I do have something wrong with the way I walk,” Domangue said. “However, not one person looked at that as a negative. In fact, everyone at the channel was in full support of who I am, and that meant everything to me in overcoming my disability. I was blessed with a supporting cast around me who could see the passion I have for this field and how I won’t let anything stop me.”
“Immediately, when Dylan started at the Southeastern Channel he knew exactly what he wanted to do,” Settoon said. “He wanted to be a sports reporter, anchor and play-by-play announcer, and we were able to start working him into these roles in these shows and programs right off the bat. It did not take long for him to start making waves of really how good he was. He started working his way up the ladder in a hurry.”
What followed was an impressive string of national and international awards for Domangue’s work both in front of and behind the camera on both the national and regional levels. The Society of Professional Journalists tabbed his news videography first in the nation and his sports videography second in the country twice. His producing and play-by-play announcing resulted in first in the nation honors from College Broadcasters, Inc. for a Southeastern football broadcast. His producing and live game directing enabled a 2019 football game for ESPN-Plus to win National Finalist recognition as one of the top four in the nation given by both the Broadcast Education Association and the College Sports Media Awards. The broadcast was also honored by the Emmys in the Suncoast region of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with a Student Production Award.
As a news and sports reporter, Domangue won top regional awards given by the SPJ, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press College Broadcasters, and the Southeast Journalism Conference, made up of 40 universities from an eight-state region in the southeast U.S. The Suncoast Emmys nominated him for “On-Camera Talent,” and he received Emmy scholarships worth $5,000 per year for three years. His “Big Game” live, weekly sportscast won first place Associated Press College Broadcasters honors twice and was nominated for a Student Production Award by the Emmys.
“Dylan’s accomplishments at the Southeastern Channel have been staggering, especially considering his disability.” Settoon said. “In fact, despite all of the really good students who’ve come through the Southeastern Channel over the years, Dylan is probably the most multi-skilled student that we’ve had both in front of and behind the camera, both in the studio and in the field.”
“Never in a million years could I have dreamed about all of the awards that I’ve achieved over the past four years,” Domangue said. “I’ve been a part of some great telecasts that have placed tops in the entire nation. To have my own work recognized nationally has truly been a blessing. Every moment, every show, every week, and every story I covered was an amazing experience. The amount of opportunities that are given to students at the Southeastern Channel are truly second to none compared to any other school in the nation. There are so many shows that students can work on, whether it is behind or in front of the camera.”
Despite the rigorous physical demands of both live and remote television production on a daily basis, Domangue’s disability never entered the thought process, according to Settoon.
“In four years he never once mentioned or talked about his disability, never used it as an excuse,” Settoon said. “He never wanted anybody to feel sorry for him, pity him, give him anything, or provide any special treatment. In fact, he’s been the student that has most wanted to tackle the newest and most difficult challenges, including the most physically taxing ones, and in doing so he became probably the best student leader we’ve ever had in 18 years at the Southeastern Channel, one who all of the other students looked up to.”
Prospective employers also easily overlooked his disability. Upon graduating this past May with a double major in communication and marketing, Domangue fielded several on-camera job offers, including the one he accepted as news reporter-anchor at KALB-TV (NBC) Ch. 5 in Alexandria. He has been filing daily reports covering the city council, police jury and other stories throughout the central Louisiana community since he began in mid-June.
Domangue is focused on going as far as he can in his television broadcasting career, and he wants his documentary to be an encouragement for others with disorders like cerebral palsy.
“Just because we have something that limits us, we shouldn’t let that hold us back,” Domangue said. “We should always set goals and every day strive to reach them no matter the obstacles in our way, and never give up no matter what we pursue in life. Having a disorder does not have to be what defines you in your life. You write your own story. Do not let others write your story based off what they think of you. I believe this documentary offers a sense of hope to these people who have disorders.”
According to Settoon, “12 seconds at birth” will re-air multiple times during the next few weeks on the Southeastern Channel and will be available for Video on Demand on the Southeastern Channel’s website at thesoutheasternchannel.com.
In the past 18 years, the Southeastern Channel has won over 400 national, international and regional awards, including 20 awards from the Emmys. The Southeastern Channel can be seen on Spectrum 199 in Tangipahoa, St. Tammany, Livingston and St. Helena parishes and on Roku and Apple TV. Its live 24-7 webcast can be seen at thesoutheasternchannel.com and on Mt. Hermon WebTV.