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Nigel Hayes facepalm

Badgers forward Nigel Hayes hides his face after a gushing comment on a sports stenographer's appearance was caught by his microphone at a news conference last week in Los Angeles. Laughing at left are teammates Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky.

Lee Carey’s “problem” was one that most in academia would envy: She had gobs of money to grow her program but not enough students interested.

Carey, who runs the court reporter program at Madison Area Technical College, said high schoolers don’t tend to dream of a career as a stenographer, silently transcribing every word of court proceedings, press conferences and TV shows.

But maybe they should: Starting pay averages $45,000, and it can be done without a bachelor’s degree and is quickly growing, with a need for 5,000 new hires nationally in the next five years.

So how to get the word out that MATC just got more than half a million dollars in federal grant money for its program, allowing it to grow from the current on-campus program serving 30 students to a national program aimed at 300 students who can earn their degrees online and take advantage of the school’s mock courtroom laboratory on campus?

Let’s enter Carey’s wildest dreams for a moment: If only there was a charismatic basketball star who could shine a national spotlight on the profession. Maybe by starting press conferences with odes to the stenographers who write down his every word but otherwise go unnoticed by players and reporters alike? He could even flirt a bit with them, creating viral video moments.

As anyone with an Internet connection knows, that sequence played out in reality recently. Nigel Hayes, a high-scoring forward for the Wisconsin Badgers, made dreams come true for stenographers everywhere.

At the Omaha regional, Hayes busted out such words as “cattywampus,” “onomatopoeia” and “antidisestablishmentarianism” in a teasing effort to test the stenographers’ ability to spell them correctly on the transcript.

Then at the Los Angeles regional, where the Badgers won twice to advance to this week’s Final Four, Hayes opened with the word “syzygy,” which is the alignment of three celestial bodies, as the sun, moon and Earth during an eclipse.

Then he created a viral moment with a few words he said under his breath to teammates Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, who were on the dais with him.

“I had a little blooper,” Hayes said. “I told the stenographer lady she was beautiful and everyone heard me because the microphone was still on. It’s on the record now, so at least she knows.”

The affection is coming right back at him from stenographers.

“We are in love with him,” Carey said. “I so need to buy him a beer. He’s done more for promoting our profession than I could ever imagine. It was a wonderful week.”

Carey will need to hold off on the beer offer. Hayes is 20. But she’s already seeing new interest in the field thanks to his assist, with more calls and inquiries coming about the program and a national conversation about what stenographers do — and how much they get paid — that she believes will only lead to more people entering the field.

MATC’s program is one of just two in the state. Lakeshore Technical College near Sheboygan has the other. MATC’s got a huge boost in October with the awarding of a $550,000 grant from the U.S. Education Department to create the college’s first competency-based degree that can be done completely online or as a hybrid online/on-campus program. The grant will allow the college to offer start dates three times a year and hire a marketing employee to reach out to students.

Carey hosted a “stump the stenographer” event on campus last fall, and the marketing employee will also help. But Hayes brought some welcome attention to an often obscure profession, she said.

“We’ve been trying to figure out for years how to market this,” she said. “It’s a blessing in disguise.”

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Reporter, Wisconsin State Journal