New York sportscaster Harry Cicma has become a one-man sports conglomerate
By Ellen Tashie Frisina
Harry Cicma says he got his personality from his mother Carol, whose family is from Epiros and Peloponnesus, and his work ethic from his father George, who has roots in Macedonia.
“Work hard, be confident, aim high, have no fear” he says they taught him from childhood. And he followed that plan.
Cicma is best known now as the number three sports anchor for WNBC-TV in New York, where he also covers on-the-spot breaking news, recently including Hurricane Sandy. “I enjoy being able to do both sports and news,” said Cicma, 31, who lives in West New York, New Jersey. “Sports is my life, but I always believe in being a man of the people; and being able to be part of a community is the biggest honor I could ever have.”
Cicma’s story is one of absolute goal-setting, perseverance, and hard work. He knew television would be his life’s work as early as high school in Providence, Rhode Island, when he hosted a student-run television show “and everyone began telling me this is what I should do for a living,” he smiled. But always near the top of his life’s goals was professional tennis, a sport he took up at age 8.
“By the time I was in high school, I was playing US Tennis Association (USTA) tournaments and was recruited by Rutgers University to play Division I varsity tennis,” and major in journalism and political science, he said. Before he graduated Rutgers Cum Laude in 2004, he continued to play professional tournaments throughout the United States and was ranked as high as 75th in the world as a doubles player on the ATP Tour world team rankings, and 1262 individually. And this is where another Greek stepped in….
“My cousin’s neighbor, George Veras, was one of the best sports producers around,” remembers Cicma, “and when I was a college sophomore, my cousin introduced me to him, saying that Veras likes to support the Greek community.” The two met for lunch in New York City, Veras watched Cicma’s resume tape and saying “You’ve got talent” offered him a position as a “logger” for CBS Sports at the U.S. Open that year. A logger, Cicma said, is the first step on the television producing ladder, an entry level job that allowed him to meet other sports producers, and begin to network for a career position. Veras now lives in Ohio, and still works in the industry, and, “he still mentors me, giving me advice that I always listen to,” said Cicma.
During his college years, Cicma interned at several stations, including at WNBC New York, in the summer of 2003. “I knew this was the place that would be my dream job,” said Cicma, but admitted “landing a job in a top market like New York is almost impossible right out of college. I knew I had to start my career and build my experience elsewhere. But I never lost the goal of being at NBC New York, and I kept in touch with them throughout my career moves.”
Those moves included sports anchor stints in Sioux City, Iowa; Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Connecticut, News 12 New Jersey; and Springfield, Massachusetts “where I slept on an air mattress and counted my money every day wondering if I had enough to buy three meals,” he said, “but knowing that I had to keep moving forward to get back home to New York.”
The Greek work ethic kicked in double-time during this period of his life, as he drove to New Jersey every weekend “and slept on my friends’ couches” while he free-lanced for Time Warner News in NJ, and freelanced at sports production jobs, as well. “I knew that in order to get my dream job at NBC in New York, I had to immerse myself in New York teams and perfect my craft,” said Cicma, barely having time to sleep while keeping up with both his Weekend Sports Anchor job at CBS-Massachusetts and his free-lance jobs in New York and New Jersey.
The perseverance and work ethic also paid off for Cicma when he was hired by Billie Jean King to be the National TV voice of World Team Tennis, a pro tennis league, which is broadcasted on major TV Networks. “I met Billie Jean when I was 16 and playing a tournament,” he said, “and I approached her and told her my dream was to be a tv sports reporter.” Every year, for the next three years, he would see and speak to King at tennis tournaments, “and finally she gave me her email address and told me to stay in touch.” Of course he did, and “ten years after that first meeting, she hired me to be her tv producer and the TV voice of World Team Tennis.”
That also gave Cicma an opportunity to start his own television production company, and he now produces about 35 sports shows a year that are aired on regional and national television stations like SNY, Comcast SportsNet, Universal Sports Network and NESN-TV. The shows cover fencing, squash, polo, running and ping pong, as well as tennis, and “give leagues the opportunity to get tv coverage for their players and events,” he explained.
Cicma never gave up the goal of getting to his dream job at WNBC New York, and “almost 10 years after I interned there, they hired me in 2012,” he said. “It’s the place where I wanted to be my whole life.” The opportunities to cover sports and anchor at this major television network are “a dream come true” he said, becoming even more perfect when given the opportunity to “connect with the community” and cover breaking news as well.
One more important Greek connection, says Cicma, is his friendship with the most well-known Greek-American professional tennis player, Pete Sampras. “Sampras has been my hero from the time I began to play tennis,” Cicma says, “and now to know him personally is amazing.” In fact, Cicma points to a day recently when he was interviewing Sampras for a television feature. “While we were hitting a few balls, Jim Courier, the Tennis Hall of Famer, walked by and said ‘look at those two good-looking Greeks…the two best Greek-American tennis players in this country!”
“I can’t imagine a bigger compliment,” smiles Cicma. “These are people I truly look up to.”
Ellen Tashie Frisina is an Associate Professor at Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) where she teaches Public Relations in the School of Communication.