Jenn Bates grew up in Florida under the influence of an adventurous, sports-loving family: Her mother, Robin, a school teacher, has a passion for baseball and planned family vacations to visit ballparks across the nation; her father, Phil, is a preacher’s son turned drummer in a band who now is a highly respected attorney; and her two older brothers played any and all sports while growing up.
Bates has been attending or participating in sports her entire life, beginning as a newborn on the sidelines of her brothers’ soccer matches. Bates was a young athlete as well. “I was a tomboy, but I also loved wearing dresses,” Bates said. “It’s a part of being from the South – girls wear heels and dresses – I still do.”
Bates’s career in sportscasting was launched at a young age. The middle and high schools she attended in Pensacola had a broadcast journalism classes, and Bates eagerly took the lead on sportscasting assignments.
While attending the University of Florida, Bates was involved in nearly every aspect of the Gators’ news and sports coverage including print, radio, production, running the cameras and eventually serving as sports director.
After graduating from Florida, the 21-year-old packed up her dog, Lou Gehrig, and drove over 2,500 miles from Pensacola, Florida, to Tri-Cities, Washington, for her professional debut on KNDU as the weekend sports anchor.
Bates driving route took her through the Kansas City area. “My Mom and I saw the gold crown on Kauffman Stadium and talked about how we needed to go watch a game there someday,” she recalled. As fate would have it, Bates has been able to attend numerous Royals games with her family at “The K.”
The opportunity to join KWCH’s Eyewitness Sports team brought Bates to Wichita in 2008, and she has become one of the most influential sports personalities in town. The recent transition from sports anchor to co-anchor of the morning and noon broadcasts was a quick one. In fact, Bates was on the road covering the Royals in the American League Championship when she was informed about her new role. By the Monday morning following the World Series, Bates was on set.
Bates has comfortably settled in along side co-anchor Scott Evans. “I am a morning person and I always have been, so this schedule suits me very well,” Bates said. “Scott and I have a great connection. … We are both very positive people and are committed to bringing authenticity and good news stories to the table.” She is looking forward to the opportunity to share more of her personality during the morning newscast, joking that viewers will hear a few corny movie lines and Seinfeld quotes interspersed at random.
“People ask me all the time if I miss Florida,” Bates said. She acknowledges missing her family and being nearby the beach, of course, “but Wichita absolutely feels like my home.” Bates refers to a quote by “Mr. Cub” Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, “You must try to generate happiness within yourself. If you aren’t happy in one place, chances are you won’t be happy anyplace.”
The sentiment of Ernie Banks resonates with Bates. “My mom is the most positive and happy person I have ever met, and I try to be the same way,” she said. “I know it’s a good day if I have made somebody smile.” One of the many ways Bates spreads smiles is by baking for her friends and co-workers. Rumor has it that her gingersnaps are legendary.
Bates volunteers one afternoon a week at Victory in the Valley’s Hospitality Centre located at the Cancer Center of Kansas. The Hospitality Centre is a relaxing atmosphere where cancer patients and caregivers can enjoy refreshments and activities while waiting for appointments. While volunteering over the past two years, Bates has built lifelong friendships. The men enjoy talking sports with Bates, while with the ladies, “well, we can talk about anything from cooking, fashion and our pets.”
“Cancer seems to touch everybody,” said Bates, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor. Bates learned about Victory in the Valley from co-worker Kim Setty and felt drawn to support its mission when Setty lost her battle with breast cancer. Bates now serves on the board of directors in addition to her weekly shift at the Hospitality Centre.
Bates says she is honored to share her time and her smiles with the patients and their families. “I feel that most days that I get more out of volunteering at the Hospitality Centre than I am giving,” said Bates. “We celebrate the good days, and share some tears. The survivors are so inspirational and help put things into perspective.”