Southern Pines native Kristen Balboni has always felt most alive in the middle of the action. It doesn’t seem like long ago when she was cheering on the track at Pinecrest High School and thirteen years later, she’s still on the sidelines — this time, as a sports reporter. Jobs with ESPN, Fox Sports and Stadium Sports moved her all over the country and now, Kristen is finally back in North Carolina as a team reporter for the Carolina Panthers.
We caught up with her recently to chat about what it’s like to interview Snoop Dogg, how she preps for game day, and why she’ll always return home to the pines — no matter where the sports world takes her.
How did you break into sports reporting?
I grew up in a household that really loved sports. Even as a cheerleader at Pinecrest I was always the one explaining the game to people. So, after taking some regular broadcasting classes and covering some pretty tragic stuff, I was like ‘I’m not cut out for regular journalism.’
One of my professors at UNC, John Sweeney, started the sports communication program in the journalism school. And then ESPN came to our class one day, and they talked about internships. They needed stats and info interns, which I had experience in. I was offered a job with them after that internship.
Describe Your Typical Panthers Game Day
So, a typical game starts at 1:00 on Sundays. I get here to the stadium around 8:30 or 9 a.m. Right now, we’re going through all of the protocols for Covid, and I have to get tested every day. So, we get through all that and, you know, I have my little tracker that I wear that shows if you’re within six feet of another person.
Then, I grab my radio equipment and head to the sidelines for the pregame show. If it’s a home game, I’ll head to the studio after for a digital pregame show. Then I do some hits throughout the game and after the game, it’s time to interview the players for digital and radio. After that, it’s time to start thinking about next week.
Who have you been the most star-struck to meet?
I met Darius Rucker once and I almost lost it. I grew up listening to Hootie and the Blowfish, and I remember being like ’10-year-old Kristen would never believe this.’ I also interviewed Snoop Dogg once when I was in L.A.
Is Snoop Dogg nice?
Oh, he’s soooo nice. It was incredible.
Have you had any funny interactions with any Panthers players?
I feel like the highlight of my offseason with the Panthers was getting Christian McCaffrey to give me a scouting report on his three pound dog. named Olivia on a walkie talkie. The serious football guy broke down his his like little mini golden doodle’s stats, which I thought was great.
How have your roots in Moore County affected who you are today?
Oh, my gosh, it’s everything. I think growing up in a small that has so many, just nice people around is special. The tools I was given at Pinecrest helped me get into Chapel Hill, and everything happened from there. I want to eventually get back here — that’s how much I love it. My husband and I were so excited to move back to North Carolina so we can get up this way more often.
Where do you like to eat when you come home?
I was hoping you’d ask this question. The answer is Vito’s. I grew up going there for all of my birthdays, when I came home from college and when I come home now, that’s the first place I want to go. I also love Betsy’s. The perfect Saturday is spent eating at Betsy’s and walking around downtown Southern Pines.
Okay, more: Are those binder clips used to attach Matt Rhule’s shield to his visor?
HAHAHA. That is an excellent question. I know it’s a struggle to take a headset off without your mask coming off, so maybe that’s where the invention came from? Either way, I’m going to find out and let you know.